Confessions Of A Silicon Valley Office Manager

Move over, Canterbury Tales! I’ve found a new source of debauched entertainment: San Francisco Confessions!

https://thebolditalic.com/sfconfesses/home

A couple are NSFW such as “I Lie About Being Monogamous” but this one is okay and full of “learning experiences”:

The Horrifying Things I’ve Seen as an Office Manager in Silicon Valley

https://thebolditalic.com/the-horrifying-things-ive-seen-as-an-office-manager-in-silicon-valley-8b572c6a7c72

Anonymous, 27 February 2020

I received the Slack message at 10 p.m., right before jumping into bed to watch an episode, or three, of The Office. I know I should snooze my notifications, but I never do — the anxiety that comes with a later barrage of messages at once is too much.

Dude, unplug. Seriously. Being on-call 24-7 is more stressful than anything in the workplace short of a female employee claiming you’re the daddy when filing for maternity leave.

This message was from a salesperson at the startup where I work, a guy we can call Greg. Greg could be described as a kvetch; something is always irritating him, and he is not shy about letting me know. You see, as an office manager, it’s my job to grit my teeth, listen, fulfill every last request he — or any other employee — has while being grateful for the stock options and health insurance.

Thanks, Bob. Can I call you Bob? I feel much better about crippling my career advancement in order to enjoy the beaches of California while young enough that I actually can. Instead of encasing my bad back in a cubicle for twelve hours a day like go-getters such as you, I exercise it daily in hikes and kayaks. I am going nowhere in life with more peace in my heart than a Zen Buddhist in a massage parlor.

Less, of course, the government’s efforts to kill me. Which is why I have a blog.

Maybe one day, you’ll be ready to enjoy life, too, Bob, in those golden years… er, moments… between “stock options vest” and “stress-induced heart attack”.

Maybe not.

Greg’s requests are usually for the specific whey protein that he’d like in the office…

Tell him No. “No” is a magical word. Used correctly, it magically inspires employees to not confuse their personal responsibilities with yours.

…but this one was different. This message was a picture of a toilet clogged with shit. 

You might be wondering how I responded to Greg. The answer is that I popped a Klonopin, started a free trial of Headspace, and made plans to deal with the situation in the morning.

Had you not answered the phone, you would still have dealt with the situation in the morning… after a good night’s sleep with no clogged toilets named Greg in your dreams.

Just ‘cuz your office is wireless don’t mean you can’t unplug. For real, dude!

While shocking in visuals and time of day, this was not an isolated incident — in fact, shit is a common motif in my story. I’m frequently torn from my desk—where I might be doing $250,000 in expense reports, planning office events I’ll be forced to attend, dealing with building management, or a wide variety of other tasks—to flush people’s poop for them.

What did you expect when you hired Ganges monkeys? In fact, that might be a big part of the problem here.

Bob, do you have hiring/firing authority as the office manager? If you do then fucking fire Greg yesterday. But I’m guessing you don’t. Senior management hires vibrant wage slaves then tasks you, the office manager, to make them as productive as Real Americans. You are stressed because that’s impossible. You’re trying to make useless people useful without the power to either terminate the problem cases or punish the disobedient. Or, very likely, the ability to reward the competent, who are overwhelmingly white, male nerds.

If you don’t have firing authority then quit and find a better job, because some turds don’t want to be polished, like Michelle “The Man” Obama.

To be clear, people don’t walk by my desk and say, “Hey, I just left a floater in the men’s room, would you mind taking care of that for me?” but they might as well. A helpful hint for people in the tech world (and beyond): Pressure-assisted toilets, the kind we environmentalist Silicon Valley types love, need some time for their tanks to fill up. So, if you’ve gone into the stall after someone has just left and it’s now not flushing, chances are the toilet is not broken, it’s just not ready for your massive Sweetgreen dump yet.

Seriously, bro. Terminate EVERYBODY who lacks the ability to operate indoor plumbing. You will lose nothing of importance. Harambe is not going to write the next killer app.

Being an office manager in Silicon Valley is a difficult and thankless job that’s lowered my self worth more than anything I can think of. But the larger takeaway is that the tech industry’s culture of providing abundant perks has cultivated a level of employee entitlement that I find shocking. It can be so extreme that it isn’t sustainable for facilities staff to cater to effectively.

I’ve already taught you the magic word.

The infantilization of tech workers that I witness on a day-to-day basis is alarming but inevitable when everything is taken care of for them: Meals and snacks are prepared to their requests, dishes they throw in the sink will magically disappear, and their free kombucha spilled all over the floor will be cleaned up by someone else. It’s this very environment that leads people to believe that it’s appropriate to send a picture of human shit via Slack at 10 p.m. to the office manager, effectively ruining the one thing that relaxes them: reruns of The Office.

I never intended to become an office manager, much like Pam Beasley. I don’t see it as my career, or at least I hope to God it isn’t. In a past life, I was an academic, a broke and jaded “intellectual” barely treading water in an American Studies doctoral program in the epicenter of coastal liberalism.

After four years of sitting through seminars in which people snapped in agreement with one another and where prefixes like “post-post-” were common, I decided to pursue more creative endeavors. Of course, I needed a 9-to-5 to support this lavish lifestyle of sitting in front of my laptop writing painfully Sarah Vowell-esque essays. I applied for this job at a startup and somehow convinced them I was up to the challenge. And just like that, here I am.

They were looking for a doormat. Somebody so insecure and desperate for money that they could use him as a safety fuse between themselves and the consequences of their bad decisions. They found… you.

Welcome to the Hell you deserve, Bob. You hid in the overpriced university system because the real world of independence and consequences scared you, which is also why you neglected to develop any marketable skills by the time you ran out of money while working on the next Great American novel. Which, let the record show, was No More Mister Nice Guy. Not whatever psychosexual bromance your professors convinced you was art.

Prove them wrong. Go ahead. Take a risk, learn a practical skill and quit accepting maltreatment just because you’re desperate for cash. Tip: Your stock options will NEVER vest. It’s just a mind trick to make you work for free.

God help me, I love giving that advice to Leftoids because I know they’ll never take it. They’ll sneer at me for trying to sabotage their lives, then their smartphone will ding with Greg’s latest, unsolicited report on office hygiene.

At first, I enjoyed the job. I was nearing my late twenties, and I’d never made more than my $24,000 a year stipend, and I was now making significantly more to order snacks, accept packages, and leave at 5 p.m. sharp every day. My boss was cool, we liked the same music, and during our interview, he told me that this job was his day job until his band hit it big, so we were on the same page. But the honeymoon period only lasted a month or so, and soon I realized the job was not just ordering snacks and accepting packages, but also managing calendars, planning events, dealing with vendors, basically making sure anything anybody wanted was given to them, regardless of if they were capable of doing it themselves. I had become as jaded about the tech world as I had been about academia.

Unless there was dramatic turnover, that one-month period was the transition to Bob’s regime. Which means Bob is 100% to blame for this outcome.

The requests I receive daily and the way I’m expected to handle them creates an overall hostile work environment where I’m disrespected and made to feel less than on a regular basis. Over time, demand after demand, I’ve come to resent the employees in my office, which is a shame since many of them are perfectly nice people whom I’d have no problem with under normal circumstances. If you work at a startup, consider this a wake-up call in how you treat people in my position at your company. You might end up relieving them of their daily Ativan binge on their morning BART ride.

Come on, Bob. Who’s the common denominator? I assume mirrors can reflect your image.

Nowhere is the entitlement in my office more evident than in the realm of office temperature. In my office, there is a Slack channel dedicated to the temperature where “team members” can engage in lively discourse about how cold or hot it is in their respective sections, with the expectation that no matter how they are feeling, I will rush to adjust according to their individual preferences. How do they go about asking me to adjust the temperature? Politely, you might think. But unless you consider nothing but a snowflake emoji or a flame emoji, or even nothing but the words “hot” or “cold” polite, you would be wrong. In other words, I am expected to drop everything at the sight of an emoji to adjust the office temperature any time any single individual feels slightly uncomfortable.

A case in point. What temperature do YOU want the thermostat at, Bob? Set it there and the next person who complains, tell them it’s at the level you want. End of topic. They can wear a sweater or shorts, as they please.

This is a perfect example of a manager afraid to lead.

I keep the office between 71 and 73 degrees, yet on numerous occasions, I’ve seen one person post a snowflake and the person directly next to them post a flame. So, as it turns out, the folks in my office not only seem to have no respect for my time, they seem to have very little consideration for the preferences of the people around them.

Your perception is correct. They have no respect for your time.

In an office of close to 300 people, catering to individual needs such as this is impossible, yet when I bravely approached the executives about my struggles, I was told to continue doing it. Apparently, it is more important for twentysomethings to feel babied than it is for them to put on the goddamn free hoodie I put on their desk the night before they arrive on their first day of work.

One manager, 300 people? That’s not doable. Thus, Bob, you must delegate authority. The men you see being social instead of working? That means they’re available to be “floor sergeants” or something. Task them with the distracting petty issues in their assigned work “sector” then support their decisions within all possible reason.

Do not, repeat, do not form a committee.

Now, instead of actually adjusting the thermostat, I simply walk to it, pretend to push some buttons, and go back to my seat.

Managers can’t be passive-aggressive like that. Just say No!

Lighting is another major source of drama. Ideally, we would all work and live in inviting, open spaces bathed in natural light. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the privilege of living and working in a Dwell magazine spread, and artificial light is a necessary evil. In my office, employees will stop at nothing to mitigate the effects of the evils of lightbulbs, and by that, I mean that they constantly demand different ones.

Set a policy and enforce it. Any policy. Consistency matters more than what you actually decide.

I can’t fault my co-workers entirely for the way I feel. Part of the reason they have become so brazen in their requests and their behavior is because of how we interact. I’m overly friendly and overly accommodating. When faced with the daily passive-aggressive comments and inane requests, I try to summon the courage deep within me to set boundaries and set the precedent that while I’m happy to satisfy reasonable requests, my top priority is to ensure the day-to-day operations of the office — but I fail. In other words, I’m a friendly doormat who resents that part of my job is to reinforce this industry’s culture of prioritizing the comfort and feelings of others over people in my type of position.

That’s good, Bob. Truly. Recognizing the problem in yourself is the first step in improving yourself.

But here’s the cold, hard truth: Either you change and learn to be a hard-ass, or you are not competent as a manager. You can’t stay where you are. The situation will not magically improve, except by using the magic word, “No”.

I was there myself, a nerdy bookworm and martyr-on-demand. I also saw the need to grow out of that and I boot-strapped myself. It took some time, I made some mistakes, but I like myself better as a hard-edged leader than a human toilet to be fed other peoples’… problems.

That’s something you were probably never told in all those ego-fluffing leadership classes you were given: being the leader means you can’t be friends with your subordinates. It might be why you subconsciously refuse to improve even when you realize you need to. If you take the job of leadership, however, then understand, it’s more important for you to be a sturdy brick than an emotional tampon.

It’s harsh. It’s true. Join us and you’ll lead a thousand instead of three hundred, with a lighter heart than you have right now.

The culture my company and Silicon Valley at large supports turns otherwise decent people into demanding individuals who believe their comfort and convenience is more important than anyone else’s. My hope is that, if you’re reading this and work in tech, you’ll better understand that office administration is an underappreciated yet integral part of the industry’s success.

No, Bob. Nobody can fix you but you.

 

6 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Silicon Valley Office Manager

  1. “Bob” need not worry about his shitty, demeaning job for much longer. A startup that wastes money on catering to the every whim of it’s spoiled, entitled, UNDERPERFORMING employees is going to close its doors for good in no time at all. “Bob’s” employer is a late-1990s Dotcom redux and will soon go the way of all the Dotcoms. Ask me how I know that …

    Like

  2. Hence my tip that his stock options aren’t ever going to vest.

    Although I’m curious… how do you know that? There are many signs but I’m happy to hear your perspective.

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  3. In my 30s I thought people would appreciate my efforts.
    In the 40s, I didn’t even appreciate my efforts.
    Now, in my 50s, I don’t try so damned hard and get a LOT more done.
    My 60s are starting to look GOOD

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First IT company I was at offered stock. Not even options; immediate stock shares. That company went belly-up within a couple years after I left. And the stock share value went down while I was there.

    Second IT company I was at offered stock options, which had to vest later. And this company was at least 10 years old at that point, and was a leader in their field.
    That second company went belly-up within a couple years after I left. And the stock values apparently went to 0, or close enough.

    Anyone see a pattern? Other than the one where companies go bankrupt after I leave. I’m pretty sure I did not cause the downfalls either ha ha.

    The only company I was at where the stocks rose in value was non-IT.

    I think vested stock options may be a good idea for leaders/management, where the people claim that their performance is so valuable that they should be paid 200 thousand USD just to make decisions. If your leadership is that valuable, let’s see the results over the next few years, and we’ll reward you according to the results.
    But for standard workers, just doing the productive or overhead work, I think pushing them to take part of their pay in stock is pretty bad. They probably need every dollar they are receiving. And likely do not have the investment knowledge to be buying stocks anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Offering stock to employees was a thing until Enron ruined it. Then the tech sector brought it back for regular employees. It’s a form of speculative compensation.

    The number of tech companies that make it and become valuable can’t be that great, but I don’t know That market.

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  6. Very simply, startups don’t have money to spend on extravagances like ridiculous employee perks. It’s an egregious waste of investor money that is being diverted away from the one thing that startups have to stay focused on in order to even stay alive: turning out quality product as cheaply and efficiently as possible in the early stages in order to get profitable as soon as possible. In order to do that they have to watch every dime spent during the startup phase (where exactly the “startup” phase of the business life cycle ends is admittedly up for debate). This is especially crucial for the tech industry.

    What I saw back in the late 90s/early 00s in the two Dotcom startups I worked for was an emphasis on everything other than efficiency and profitability. “Branding” and “image” were gods, while actually producing revenue-generating products and services with available resources ALWAYS took a very distant back seat. At the same time, executive “leadership” burned through money as if they were heading Fortune 100 companies that were industry titans.

    Both of these companies never saw their second year of existence. “Bob’s” employer appears to be on a similar trajectory. The corporate culture certainly seems to rhyme with that of the late 90s, the height of the Dotcom Bubble Era.

    Liked by 2 people

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