Steve Dunham’s Trains of Thought
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Derailed trains of thought
“Après moi le déraillement”

Off the Deep End: Office Survivor

Bathroom Security 
Back to School 
Clockstoppers Are After Me! 
Coffee Bandits 
Take Your Dog to Work Day 
Fudge Factor 
Monkeys With Typewriters 
Poster, Poster, on the Wall 
Some Like It Hot 
Stealth Office Work 
Power Napping Is Back 
Office Supply Security 
Office Survivor 
So ‘Survivor’ Is Rigged 

Although partly inspired by places I have worked, this chapter does not, as far as I know, reflect the actual personnel practices of any company where I have and is not intended to represent any particular company. And most of it I just made up.

Bathroom Security

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2005

Don’t let your bathroom become a crime scene.

“Why do we have combination locks on the bathrooms?” a co-worker asked me. (This is really true.)

“What a stupid question!” I replied. “If an unauthorized person should make it past the electronic locks and onto our floor of the building, those combination locks are our last line of defense to keep someone else from using our bathroom.”

I had, I hoped, rescued another naïve youngster from the clutches of ignorance and boosted the security consciousness of our staff. However, I knew that ignorance and laxity go hand in hand, even into the bathroom, so as unofficial bathroom monitor I stepped up my guard against toilet intruders.

I should mention that security has other benefits, such as efficiency. I had an electronic monitor installed on the bathroom wall to track the comings and goings of all lavatory users. It reads their company badges and, if someone remains in the bathroom for more than one minute, sends an email message to the employee’s supervisor.

Security isn’t just about hardware, though. Protecting our bathrooms requires policies and procedures, along with punishment for people who don’t follow the rules.

It wasn’t long, however, before I discovered a security violation: against all regulations, employees were giving out the bathroom combination to visitors. “These people,” I thought, “just don’t know how to ‘connect the dots’ and put together a picture of the threat.” The persons who gave out the bathroom combination lost their security clearance and bathroom privileges, did not get raises this year, and had reprimands added to their files. But the damage had been done. It was only a matter of time before a terrorist gained access to our bathrooms and did something heinous, like carrying out a suicide attack and flushing himself down the toilet to jam up our plumbing.

As it happened, my fears were well founded. A non-employee made it past our layered defense and into the bathroom. One of our dedicated custodial staff discovered the attack, but the intruder had fled, and the damage was done. One of the toilets was out of commission, and there was toilet water on the floor. Someone had crippled part of our critical infrastructure and caused havoc from which it will take a long time to recover.

Could this have been prevented? A federal commission is examining that question right now, but any patriot can see that our bathrooms are vulnerable. If a criminal can gain access to a bathroom that was defended by electronics and combination door locks, how can Americans safely go to the bathroom? The answer is that we cannot.

Sadly, most of our nation’s toilets are unprotected. In countless places, anyone can walk into a public bathroom without even passing through a metal detector. Many homes and even offices have bathrooms that are totally unsecured except for a flimsy lock on the door. Transportation, restaurants, recreational facilities, and even churches are complacently waiting for disaster.

“How,” you ask, “can I prevent my bathroom from turning into a crime scene?” Fortunately, there are industry “best practices” that you can implement. First, post a sign warning that yours is not a public bathroom. Second, require two forms of photo ID from anyone who wants to use the bathroom. While the person is actually in the lavatory, do a Google search on the person’s name to see whether this is somebody on some kind of watch list. Subject each person to a pat-down search. Make all bathroom users remove their shoes. Finally, do not share your bathroom lock combination with anyone. Do not even write it down.

If we make the effort to secure every bathroom against intruders, we can all enjoy the freedom and security of safe toilets. It will require money and sacrifices, but we will no longer have to wonder who is taking so long in the bathroom.

Steve Dunham is a lavatory security consultant.

Back to School

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

“Don’t make me go back there,” I pleaded. “I still have nightmares about it!”

The company wanted volunteers to go to a career day at a local school. Well, a career morning, not really a whole day, but even that might prove traumatic. Also, to emphasize that we would really be volunteers, we would not get paid for it.

I decided it was time to confront my demons. Maybe school wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. After all, it was a long time ago. But I do still have nightmares about it. In fact (yes, this is really true), my mother still has nightmares about being back in school, and I am not allowed to tell you how long ago that was. Think “Truman.” No, not The Truman Show. President Truman, in the previous century.

What do we have nightmares about? We dream that we can’t get our lockers open, or don’t know what class we belong in, or didn’t do our homework. This shows that school is perfect preparation for what teachers call “the real world.”

In the school of my dreams, I cannot remember the combination to the padlock on my locker. Actually, in real school, I had two lockers and two padlocks, one for my report cards, old lunch bags, school books, and other things I didn’t feel like taking home, and one for dirty socks, moldy towels, and other gym stuff.

In the good old school days, I needed to remember only two combinations, because this was only training for the real world, where I have to know passwords to use my computer, to read my e-mail, to use my timesheet, and to use a different computer, plus a secret combination to open the lock on the bathroom, and even more combinations and passwords, but I forget what they are. If I had done better in school, I might be doing better at work today. Remember that, kids!

Also, many years after I stopped going to school, I am still wandering the hallways. The office building where I work does not have numbers or signs on the doors, so I and my co-workers have to look at things like scratches on the walls to help identify our corridor. This is much more challenging than the good old school days, when the classroom doors had numbers on them. Kids, you have it so easy now!

Then there is the question of homework. In the good old school days, we had until the next day to finish our homework. Now, in the morning, we go to meetings (kids, meetings are a lot like classes); then we have a break in the company lunch room, where, just as in school, the smart ones bring their lunch. As soon as we return to our desks, we get a call from the boss, who wants to know whether we have finished the homework he assigned us one hour ago. This is the real world, kids.

“Steve,” you ask, “what about the artificial socialization of school? You spent years in a group of people the same age and didn’t interact with others who were older or younger except to pick on them or get picked on. How does that relate to the real world?” OK, this question must be from a college student who has not entered the business world yet. But I will answer it anyway. It is true that the people in my “team” (that’s like a class, kids; it has nothing to do with fun sports) are not all the same age, but otherwise it is exactly the same. We have a “teacher,” and we have a “vice principal” who assigns punishments, and everybody picks on everybody else.

So, kids, when your teachers tell you that you are not ready for the real world, they are wrong.

One final word about socialization: at work we have computer systems that we cannot understand, electronic timesheets that do not work the way they are supposed to, and telephones so complicated that we cannot use the features except by accident. When I was in school, there were always kids snickering in the back of the classroom, and I think I know what they are doing today. It would explain the snickering in the computer department.

After reflecting on the causes of my nightmares, I realized that maybe I could help others by going back to school for just one morning.

“Kids,” I told them. “Look at me. Do you want to turn out like this? Of course not. And the good news is, you do not have to grow up and memorize passwords and get lost in the hallways and do homework on your lunch break, because you are all good with computers. The power to shape the world is in your hands. Thank you. And please stop snickering.”

Steve Dunham is a former student and is receiving therapy.

Clockstoppers Are After Me!

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

How come I can sit at my desk for what seems like hours, then glance at the clock and see that it has advanced only one minute? I sometimes seem to be caught in a time warp. Thanks be to Hollywood, because this year’s documentary Clockstoppers explains that and a lot more.

I used to think I was clumsy. So did other people; in fact, some of them still say so, but now I am onto them.

For example, not long ago I was sitting at my desk, when suddenly my coffee was all over the place, soaking papers, dripping into drawers, and wetting my clothes and the carpet. I unfairly blamed myself, until I saw Clockstoppers and realized that my co-workers must have frozen the moment on me and moved my coffee mug right next to my elbow.

As further proof, these coffee spills have happened twice, and you can still smell the coffee in the carpet.

And then there is the daily morning hunt for my coffee mug, to see where the clockstoppers hid it the day before.

If I didn’t know for sure that my co-workers are out to get me, I might think that these were just playful pranks. However, the glee in their eyes when I trip up tells the whole story. I will go to make a pot of coffee and five minutes later see clear water in the coffee pot instead of in the brewer. Or I will find my lunch sitting in the microwave oven, but the oven is not turned on. Very funny, my clock-stopping co-workers.

And then there was the time when one of my co-workers pointed out that my shirt was inside-out (this, like all the other incidents I have just mentioned, is really true). That must have taken some effort by the clockstoppers.

However, they have not limited their efforts to these unfunny practical jokes. There is intense competition in our office, and now I have figured out how my co-workers manage to finish work ahead of me every day. In late afternoon, when I am struggling to catch up, they are chatting. I’m sure that even then they stop the clock from time to time so that they can joke about me.

So why don’t I just report these work-disrupting clockstoppers? Because I have proof that the whole company is out to get me, that’s why. No, there is no use running to the authorities. My solution is inspired by another movie: Revenge of the Nerds

Steve Dunham is on to you, and to all the other people who are out to get him.

Coffee Bandits

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2000

I caught them red-handed. I went to the company lunch room to get my morning coffee and there were two guys ahead of me filling a coffee pot from the machine, one cup at a time. I warned them that I would pass out on the floor if I did not get my cup of coffee within one minute. This would have dire consequences, because eventually I might be missed by some of my co-workers or even my supervisor. Just as I was about to collapse, they finished, and I obtained the half cup of coffee that the machine grudgingly dispensed to me.

I am a “Team Leader,” so getting between me and my coffee is more than rude and selfish, it’s sabotage. I owed it to my “team” to pursue the saboteurs.

A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime, and the next morning, there they were. A technique I sometimes use when investigating a crime is to confront the suspect; it often prompts a confession. These two were shameless. They were not only saboteurs; they admitted that they did not even work in my building. They worked next door, but our office has better coffee. They did have identification badges for our company, but these could have been clever forgeries.

You might assume that these two crooks are now behind bars, or fired, or at least drinking the coffee from their own office. You would be wrong.

If you have been an office worker for more than two days, you might assume that the company is investigating the level of coffee consumption by real employees. You would be right. You might assume that the company is wondering whether it can afford to provide the workers with free coffee. Right again. The “Stay Awake” poster cunningly placed opposite the coffee machine may be more than an advertisement. The poster itself may be enough. The company provides free motivation, in the form of a poster, obviating free caffeine, in the form of coffee.

An old-timer at the company told me that about four years ago, the bosses noted that more coffee was being consumed on our floor than on any other. Even though our floor houses the only division with a night and weekend shift, the bosses, even without my powers of deduction to assist them, pounced on the obvious and more sinister explanation: employees must be stealing coffee.

I have been in the workforce long enough to know that there are kleptomaniacs who will steal things that are free. I realize too that kleptomaniacs do not necessarily steal things they have a use for. The office worker who leaves with a backpack full of binder clips may have an apartment full of binder clips, but this does not mean that the employee actually wants the pilfered office supplies. The thrill of getting away with it may be all the person seeks. There is emotional fulfillment in admitting to wrongdoing too, so solving the crime and curing the problem may be part and parcel of the work of a “Team Leader.”

You might now assume that the coffee bandits are exposed, that the kleptomaniacs are cured, that all is sweetness and light (two sugars and some of that powdered stuff), and that here in corporate paradise, the coffee is flowing along with the milk and honey (or powdered stuff and artificial sweetener). Wrong again. Lately I have been working extra hours, and drinking extra company coffee, which is sure to arouse suspicion. To divert attention from the high levels of coffee consumption on my floor, I have started getting my coffee on another floor.

I have become my enemy.

Steve Dunham is a former coffee detective.

Take Your Dog to Work Day

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

Take Your Dog to Work Day is the best workplace innovation in many years. Having co-workers’ pets running around all day is the perfect excuse for not doing any work, not that I necessarily need an excuse.

June 20 was the fifth annual Take Your Dog to Work Day, according to a story in the Fredericksburg, VA, Free Lance–Star. This is really true, although I’m wondering how I overlooked the first four of these annual events. How could I have missed the dogs running around at work? I swear I was awake.

Pet Sitters International, which sponsors Take Your Dog to Work Day, hopes that “the pooches will have employers everywhere considering the positive impact of pets in the workplace.” The organization “encourages dog owners to bring their four-legged friends to work with them … to see where they go and what they do all day.” Are the dogs supposed to see what their owners do all day? It sounds like the owners might turn the dogs loose and see what happens. Let slip the dogs of work, as Shakespeare might have put it.

Anyway, it is supposed to be a nice time for dogs, their owners, employees, and even employers. One employer is quoted as saying that the staff “wanted a fun, bonding time with [the dogs] at the office.”

So the dogs will be running around trying to bond with me, which I guess means sniffing me, licking me, and putting their paws on me. I can see where I might get tired of this. The one-day-party atmosphere could turn into a “Get away from me” atmosphere. I could find some less demanding excuses for not doing any work. Take Your Dog to Work Day could have another negative effect, too: what if my boss decides to see where I go and what I do all day?

However, you don’t have to read very far between the lines to see that pretty soon every day will be Take Your Dog to Work Day if employers everywhere realize the positive impact of pets in the workplace.

“This event is increasing in popularity,” says the news story, which quotes the Pet Sitters International public relations manager as saying, “We do know thousands of businesses from coast to coast and from border to border who just can’t wait for this day to come around every year.” All my best friends feel the same way.

Steve Dunham realizes the positive impact of pets in the workplace.

Fudge Factor

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

“Do you have plenty of money?” Yes.

“Do you have any major debts?” No.

“Are your books all in order?” Yes.

OK, so all my answers were lies. But I was trying out for the new reality-based TV show, Fudge Factor. To get on the show, you must lie about your finances. In fact, I lied about everything, telling them that I am a corporate executive, because that is another requirement for getting on the show. I stood to win a golden parachute, a company loan that I don’t have to pay back, and a “Get out of jail free” card. And stock options, but I told them they could keep the stock options. Any company that would have me for an executive wouldn’t have stock worth owning.

Getting on the show was pretty easy, because in the tryouts they ask only softball questions. The live competition, however, separates the white-collar criminals from the petty thieves. They started out with a hardball question: “If you were President of the United States, how would you rescue the stock market from its current death leap?”

The other executives (well, they said they were, but they might have been lying too) gave convincing answers, such as “I would raise interest rates” or “I would lower interest rates” or “I would encourage supply-side tax relief.” So maybe they really were executives. But you don’t win at Fudge Factor by telling plausible-sounding half-truths. You win by sincerely telling outrageous, stupid lies.

“I would make a speech on Wall Street and tell them all not to do what I did” was my answer. Already I was ahead by a thousand points.

“How do you justify cutting employees’ health care coverage while increasing your own benefits?” was the next hardball question. The executives said they were only trying to ensure the stability of the management so that the employees would have at least some health care coverage. Wrong answer. You don’t justify it. You can’t justify it.

“If I become rich, it will benefit the whole world, because I will spend all the money, providing jobs for millions of people,” I said.

Sincerely telling outrageous, stupid lies gets you through only round one of Fudge Factor. Then come the challenges. Did we dare to put 100% of our retirement accounts into penny stocks and junk bonds? I sure did. My retirement account equals only a few months’ pay. I gladly risked it to get that golden parachute.

At this point I was about ready to retire, even though I am quite a ways from retirement age, and not even old enough to join AARP. I watched the executives cower as we entered the final challenge: Would I dare to follow President Bush’s suggestion and invest some of my Social Security earnings in the stock market?

I gulped. I stammered. I hesitated. Yes, I knew fear. After all, I was not a real executive with access to insider deals and other ways to make my stock valuable. There I was, without a net, without a parachute of any color. And I lost.

So someday I will have to leap into retirement without a parachute or even an umbrella. At least I will have my Social Security, won’t I? Except I heard that the government would like to “privatize” Social Security, and turn it over to the same people who beat me at Fudge Factor. Maybe the government will even let them run the Social Security system from jail.

Then I will need to find a different source of retirement income. Where could I find a job that would give me an actual pension after, say, four years? I know! I will run for president. Then I will be rich, and it will benefit the whole world, because I will spend all the money, providing jobs for millions of people (allowing for the fudge factor).

Steve Dunham has made a career out of appearing on imaginary game shows.

Monkeys With Typewriters

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

If a roomful of monkeys with typewriters (or computers) typed randomly forever, could they create the works of William Shakespeare? This question is on the minds of many office workers, along with another question: Do these monkeys work in my building?

The Federal Transit Administration, for example (and this is from an actual e-mail I got), is offering “Threat Management and Emergency Resoibse ti Bus Hijacking Seminars.” Not bad for a roomful of monkeys, you might say, and if they could be trained to use a spell checker (something that eludes many humans), their work would be outstanding. On the other hand, it might put a lot of humans out of jobs. I don’t want anybody monkeying around with my career.

I knew it was time to start investigating the matter when I received a hot tip. My friend Joe at Beltway Bandits, Inc., called and told me about the “hotel” in his building. Those of you who are not office workers are probably thinking that a “hotel” in an office building means luxurious accommodations provided at government expense. No, this kind of hotel does not have a bed, a TV, a minibar, or even a bathroom. It is a “hotel” for workers because they get to use it for one day (or work all night if they’re lucky) and then check out. “Hotel” office workers do not get their own desks, phones, computers, or a nameplate by the door, unless they write it by hand and tape it to the wall, except that they aren’t allowed to tape things to the wall. It’s sort of like an Internet café, except it isn’t any fun.

My friend suspected that this cloak of anonymity was hiding more than a bunch of unhappy workers, and since there were no names by the door, it would be a cinch for me to stride into the “hotel” pretending I was looking for someone and catch the whole lot of typing monkeys red-handed. I opened the “hotel” door without knocking and asked, “Is Bobby here?”

To my surprise, there were no monkeys, and a woman looked up and answered, “I’m Bobbie.”

“Oh, uh, sorry,” I stammered. “Wrong Bobby.” I went back to Joe’s office and glared at him. “There are no monkeys in your hotel,” I said. “If you find out that somebody here is typing Shakespeare’s plays, let me know; otherwise please don’t waste my time again.”

Just then a manager strode in and handed Joe a floppy disk. “We need twenty copies of this report. It was due at the Department of Waste two hours ago.”

“Well, at least we’ll run a spell check before we print it out, OK?” asked Joe.

“No spell checks!” growled the manager. “Just print it!”

While Joe set to work on his rush job, I quietly followed the manager back down the hall. He held his badge up to a sensor by a locked door. I held mine up too and followed him in. “What do you want?” he growled.

I went out on a limb and said, “I’m here to get the banana order.”

“Where have you been?” he demanded. “We needed those bananas yesterday!”

I took his order and when I got outside I saw a truck pulling up, loaded with bananas. Yes, I was sabotaging a competitor and interfering with a government contract, but I told him, “You have the wrong address.”

A week later I saw that Beltway Bandits had gone out of business. I didn’t read anything about out-of-work monkeys, so they must still be typing somewhere. I just hope it’s Shakespeare.

Steve Dunham’s columns are written by monkeys with typewriters.

Poster, Poster, on the Wall

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2000

“Vision,” it says. I had to check, even though it has been opposite my office door for almost three years. It’s supposed to inspire me, or maybe make me work harder. Obviously, it hasn’t worked—unless on a subliminal level. Do I have visions at work, the way I’m supposed to?

If I drink enough coffee, yes. Working for a government contractor, I had to take a drug test to get the job. It revealed psychotropic amounts of caffeine and sugar in my bloodstream—enough to induce visions. This is in accord with company policy.

Another poster exhorts me, “Some people dream of worthy accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them”—not to put too fine a point on it, eh?

“Stay awake, Dunham,” I repeat to myself, chanting the mantra of the motivational poster. “Do accomplishments.”

This poster telling me to stay awake is cunningly placed opposite the coffee machine. Hypnotized by the mantra, I return to the coffee machine again and again so that I can stay awake and do accomplishments, unlike my pitiful co-workers who merely dream about worthy accomplishments. They are not team players.

Then I return to my office and, motivated by the other poster, start having visions. It is a vision of zebras. Yes! One day, while cruising the halls, I ventured around the bend beyond the coffee machine and halted in my tracks at an arresting sight: a poster showing a herd of zebras. “Cooperation,” it says.

Obviously the company knows our needs better than we thought. Visionaries like me are reminded to seek transcendental states at work. The slackers down the hall are reminded merely to stay awake. The bickering, feuding department beyond the coffee machine must learn to cooperate.

I staggered back to my office, covering my mouth to stifle the laughter. Presently my amusement became covetousness. Never mind the company’s wisdom, why should those undeserving Hatfields and McCoys at the other end of the building get to have a funny poster?

Covetousness became compulsion. I had to have that poster! And my vision (surely the company would approve of this) became a plan: I would switch the posters when no one was looking.

I confessed my secret desire to a more experienced, jaded employee, who doubted that anyone would notice. What cynicism! But then, if the messages truly are subliminal, she might be right. All I had to do was await my chance. From time to time Ms. Jade would ask about Operation Zebra, and I had to reply that it was still only a vision.

One more cup of coffee put me into action—or maybe it was another poster that did it. I walked up to the poster outside my office, grasped the frame, and lifted. Nothing. It was stuck. I pushed. It wouldn’t move. I shoved. It wouldn’t budge. It must have been bolted to the wall. Slinking back to my office in despair, I confessed to myself that Operation Zebra was a complete failure.

But I am still under the influence of the “Vision” poster. The company is right; the efficacy of the posters is proven. The vision of zebras will not go away. Suitably motivated, I volunteered to help with our department’s move to the new building. I will use this inside position to get myself an office suitable for visions: a window, definitely; maybe pillows on the floor and incense. And definitely zebras.

Steve Dunham is motivated by posters.

Some Like It Hot

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2000

“It’s freezing!” “It” is one of my office mates, who is cold-blooded. The warm-blooded workers are fine.

The weather is, at least by my New England standards, mild—in the forties. Let it get on the cold side—say, below twenty—and you’d better keep your mouth shut if you enjoy it. This is part of a new temperature-based bias, for which we who like it cold need to invent a catchy name, such as “temperaturism” or “thermometerism,” if we hope to obtain equal rights, pity, media coverage, and heat-free offices.

Yes, we are a discriminated-against group. Let us have a real cold snap or, God forbid, a few inches of snow, and we will feel the wrath of the cold-blooded majority. They treat us as though we have brought on the cold weather simply by desiring it. Believe me, if we could control the weather by wishing, we’d get a lot more snow than we do.

Six months later, when the majority have their way with the weather—that is to say, in the shade, the temperature is approximately the boiling point of lead—they will gloat and talk about how wonderful the weather is. Those of us who are sweltering are expected to suffer in silence.

True, there are other factors. Those of us who like to walk outdoors, for example, can get along fine in the cold. We walking types also benefit from the snow when it’s time to cross the street. As any of you who have tried to cross a street are aware, drivers do not bother with stop signs. Drivers think that those red octagonal signs are warnings to pedestrians to keep out of their way.

But a foot or two of snow on the ground changes the balance of power dramatically. Now the shoe is on the other foot, or the tire is on the other wheel, or something. Anyway, all those cars that were whizzing through the striped areas euphemistically called “crosswalks” now cannot stop at the corner. The practical effect of that on pedestrians is nil, because those cars weren’t going to stop anyway. The big blessing is that most of those cars can’t even get away from the curb.

No wonder the vast majority hate us.

But we’re fighting back. We’re gaining political power. We’re going to get temperature-based discrimination classified as a hate crime. We’re going to get our heritage—all the major blizzards ever recorded—mentioned in the history books. All the Ivy League colleges will have to offer courses in “Arctic Studies” and “The Positive Effect of Cold Weather on World Culture.”

We’ll get paid family leave every time it snows. We’ll have no-heating sections in every office, restaurant, public building, bus, and train.

And in the summer, when it’s a few hundred degrees outside, we’ll get our revenge. “It” will still be freezing, bundled up in a coat for protection against the air conditioning.

Steve Dunham is a victim of temperature discrimination.

Stealth Office Work

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

Doing nothing at work but not getting caught is my specialty, or at least you would think so considering the helpful advice I have provided in the past. However, it has its downside. In fact, I have gotten so good at keeping my activities (or inactivities) concealed from the prying eyes of managers and other busybodies that when I actually do work, they remain blissfully unaware of it.

The other day, a co-worker and I were struggling to finish a project on time. We took only a ten-minute lunch break, during which we basically did other work, such as checking e-mail from clients, and we finished the job only a few minutes behind schedule. Whew! We grabbed some refreshments and were enjoying a well-deserved chat when the manager walked in. (This whole paragraph is really true.)

I could have salvaged this situation, but I panicked and broke all my rules. I ended up trying to convince the manager that we had been working nonstop for five hours. Big mistake. The worst thing you can do is to let the manager gain control of a situation. Also, do not think it’s easy to have the manager catch you working. It doesn’t happen that way. The One-Minute Manager, who was supposed to catch people doing something right, went out with the 1980s. (There wasn’t really a hyphen in “One-Minute Manager” either; like the managers of today, he was not strong on English.) Nowadays, the One-Minute Manager isn’t trying to catch people working, he is eating the employees’ cheese. Also, notice that even the One-Minute Manager had trouble finding people actually doing work.

Getting caught working is even harder than getting caught not working. The fact is that you are probably not on the manager’s radar screen at all. If you are, you are probably a target of his empire defense system. So you cannot expect fate to hand you a serendipitous encounter in which the manager walks in when you are working hard. Even if he did, he probably would not know what you are doing. No, the only way to survive is to be in control at all times.

Here are my rules for managing the manager:

  1. Let him know who’s boss. Remember, he doesn’t understand your job, so don’t let him tell you how to do it.
  2. Never admit anything. Anything you say can and will be used against you.
  3. Count everything as work. If the manager walks in while you are discussing football, say, “I wish we could just do our jobs, but [insert a client’s name] always wants to talk about the Redskins, so now I have to keep up with football just to do my real job.” Be sure not to specify your real job, even if you know what it is.

You will notice that these three rules involve statements that are not technically true. However, the fad for reality-based management has run its course. People have even stopped looking for their cheese. They know where their cheese went. The One-Minute Manager ate it and disappeared.

Steve Dunham works with stealth office technology. These are not his actual work habits, but it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?

Power Napping Is Back

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001

Power napping, the easy road to success, wealth, popularity, maybe weight loss, and certainly power, sure has taken a low profile lately. So when my supervisor asked me, “Steve, have you been napping at work?” I knew what he was really asking: “Steve, how did you become so powerful?”

Like other people who have reached the pinnacle of fame, I decided to share my secrets with the masses by writing about them in a book. I don’t have enough secrets to fill a book yet, so I am providing this one in shorter form. Please try to stay awake as I explain power napping.

Everything you heard about it is true. What is important is what you haven’t heard.

First of all, the secret of power napping is “Don’t get caught.” Yes, some very successful people besides me have cashed in by writing about power napping, but they didn’t become powerful by letting their bosses or their jealous co-workers see them asleep.

The second secret of power napping, and just as important, is: “If you power-nap at work or at school, look as if you’re awake.” On the train, it’s OK to be perfectly obvious about power napping; in fact, it advertises how powerful you are. It says: “You pieces of plankton at the bottom end of the office food chain may have to work on your laptops while commuting, but I am so powerful and secure that I can sleep, and I won’t miss my stop either.” People who sleep past their station are not true power nappers. You also will have noticed that some people nap while driving. This does exert power over others but does not lead to success, wealth, or popularity.

You are probably asking, “How can I nap at work and not get caught?” I will now reveal the three Principles of Power: First, try to have an office with a door. Second, adjust your workload so that you have time free to nap. Third, if anyone suspects that you have been asleep, deny it. Just the other day, for example, a co-worker said to me, “Steve, you must have been asleep when you were editing that report.” Of course I denied it.

I used to have an office with a door. I even had a sign that I could legitimately post that said, “Do not enter.” When the company moved to a new building, though, I found myself in an office with three walls and a roof—essentially a lean-to. “Boss,” I complained, “there’s no door.”

“Sure there’s a door. It’s glass,” he replied. “Be careful not to bump into it.”

I have been careful. My fairy-tale existence also recalled a story about people who could see somebody’s clothes unless they were unfit for their job. I got the message and have been careful to walk around the spot where the door might be.

That brings me back to your question about not getting caught. The first thing I did was complain about glare on my computer screen and position it so that my back would be to the spot where the door would be. I mean, where the door is. I also turned off the screen saver and the poorly named “sleep” option for saving power. Now anyone who passes by sees my back and something work related on the screen. I sleep with my hand on the mouse.

Now you are able to use my secrets to gain power, lose weight and so on. Just don’t let me catch you.

Steve Dunham has an office with three walls and possibly a door.

Office Supply Security

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

Employee take-home pay is shrinking, unless you count office supplies. Supposedly (I read this in a purportedly factual source), the average employee takes home almost $4 worth of office supplies every day.*

This is a shocking figure, because I personally do not take home any office supplies on purpose,† which means that everybody else must be taking home more than $4 worth.‡ On the other hand, the number may include paper clips for which contractors charge the government $5 apiece.

To investigate this crisis, I interviewed Rob Pilfer, proprietor of Robs Office Supplies. “Rob,” I asked him, “at wholesale or even normal prices, what could a person do with $20 worth of office supplies every week? I personally like office supplies, but I just can’t imagine what I would do with that many.”

“If something is free, you can find a use for it,” said Pilfer. “For example, I use those little spring clamps instead of clothespins, and I’m wearing one for a tie clip right now, in case you didn’t notice. Furthermore, there’s no reason an office worker should ever have to buy paper, pens, tape, paper clips, floppy disks, printer cartridges, coffee, or, for that matter, furniture. You’re thinking too small, that’s your problem. Did you ever hear the Johnny Cash song about stealing a car one piece at a time? You could start a business with all the stuff that’s there for the taking.”

That was enlightening. It made me wonder what the typical employer thinks of this. I. C. Nought, the human resources director of Waterspend LLC, was happy to comment. “If someone is enterprising enough to start a business with stolen office supplies, that is the kind of entrepreneur we want on our staff,” he said. “Really, we are always buying new furniture before the old stuff wears out, so if employees can turn a buck on it, we respect that kind of initiative.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Myopia Ltd., which takes a harsh stance on pilfering. The company’s vice president of employee monitoring, John “Big Brother” Whipper, explained why high-ranking managers must micro-manage office supplies. “The temptation is too great at the employee level,” he said. “The only people who are above temptation, and therefore above suspicion, are managers with salaries in the six-figure range. To catch a thief, it takes money.”

Every special interest in Washington deserves its own think tank, and this is no exception. Halfway between the White House and Capitol Hill is the Institute for Office Supply Security. The institute believes there is a crisis in office supply pilfering. The institute produces a manual, “Countering 21st-Century Threats to Office Supply Security,” which recommends that all office supplies be kept in a vault, with the combination known only to people cleared for Special Access to Office Supplies. Anyone who has a provable need for stationery, for example, must fill out a requisition, get approval from three levels of management, and present two forms of picture ID.

The institute also recommends that employees who really need photocopies go to a copy center on their own time and apply for reimbursement. The manual also says that employees really ought to provide their own office supplies. Under “Talking Points for Managers,” it states, “We don’t provide clothes or lunch for employees. Coming to work prepared is their own responsibility.” To help companies reduce overhead expenses, the institute will hold an Office Supply Security Summit at which top counter-embezzlement experts will address the crisis in overuse of office supplies and discuss ways for emergency responders to meet the challenges of today’s threats.

Reading between the lines, I think their motto must be, “You have to spend money to stop losing money.” But it does seem like a lot of to-do over $4 a day. Now I can’t make up my mind whether to start an office supply security company or an office supply store.

* This is really true. Everything else is made up.

† Actually, this is true too.

‡ And this is a logical deduction.

Steve Dunham is fighting the office supply pilfering crime wave.

Office Survivor

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001

Our company, taking a lead from television, has moved to “reality-based” workforce reduction.

At one time, employee “termination” seemed to be the wave of the future, mainly because it was cyborgs from the future who disposed of the unwanted employees.

At our office, there was a woman in charge of the Person-Hell department. They called her Terminator. Partly human, mostly machine, she was the scourge of the surplus employee. Sent here from the future, where humans are “resources” and robots do the work, she eliminated anyone who was not a team player.

Once I received something about a “Staffer Day planning/execution meeting.” (This is really true.) I suspected that “staffer execution” might be meant literally, so I did not go.

Termination is falling out of favor, however. Corporations (at least legally) are people too, and they want to be liked. Bodies of employees lying about and terminators running around using the F word make a company seem unfriendly.

The immense popularity of the “survivor” shows has inspired a new way of getting rid of unwanted employees: let them get rid of each other.

Now each division is organized into “teams.” Every week we face challenges, such as trying to access the company intranet from home, or trying to find out how much vacation time we have left. Naturally, some people are better suited to these challenges than others are. I, for example, managed to do both of them. In the corporate Darwinian scheme, though, I do not receive company kudos or merit raises for succeeding; rather, I receive votes from other employees. The other team members are not so well fitted to survive, and at the end of the week we have to vote one of them off the team.

The company likes this reality-based aspect, because when it comes time to remove the losing team member, the company has an advantage over an employee who does not know how much vacation time he has coming.

If ability and intelligence at work were the only criteria, they could have declared me the winner at the end of the first week. As those of you playing the game know, however, ability and intelligence are not a guarantee of winning. In fact, they are not even required. The way to really get votes is through something we used to call “office politics.” In the “office survivor” game, we call it “forming strategic alliances.”

To put it bluntly, if you are friends with the right people you can be voted an office survivor, all other considerations aside. But there are other considerations, mainly that when all your enemies are gone you have to fight your friends. “Cunning” and “Ruthless” might be my middle names, but I still had difficulty when we got to the final round.

So here I am, sitting at home, and I can no longer get through to the company intranet or even discover how much vacation time I have coming.

But I heard that a company is hiring in Australia. Outback, here I come!

Steve Dunham plays Office Survivor.

So ‘Survivor’ Is Rigged

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001

“Is Office Survivor a rigged game?” That’s what people keep asking me after revelations that some scenes in the TV show Survivor were staged, that contestants may have been coached, and that sometimes the rules were bent to help a certain player get ahead. Is it possible that Office Survivor is not always played by the rules either?

(In Office Survivor, employees are organized into “teams”; together they face challenges, such as filling out time sheets and meeting artificial deadlines. However, they also compete against each other, receiving votes from fellow employees, and each week someone is voted off the team.)

Having made it through several rounds of Office Survivor, I am now a “key player,” which not only reflects my popularity and skill, but makes me a tempting target for envious employees of less ability and intelligence. Also, several employees with whom I had formed “strategic alliances” were dropped from the team in earlier rounds. So some players are viewing me as vulnerable.

The sniping has already begun: “Were any of the scenes staged?” All right, yes. When I smoothly accessed the company intranet and found out how much paid time off I had coming, even to the tenth of an hour, that had been rehearsed. It took a lot of practice ahead of time, but let me emphasize that when I won that challenge, I did it live. Even though I had rehearsed it several times, each time, including the televised attempt, was a real challenge.

“Did anybody coach you with ‘suggestions’?” Yes again. To access the company intranet from home, I had to get help from the “information” technology people. However, this is true for nearly all the contestants. Everyone on the team needed help to pass this challenge. Also, before imposing one of the artificial deadlines, one client did ask me how long the work could reasonably be expected to take.

“Did anybody bend the rules to help you win?” I am getting tired of these questions. Let me just say, to anyone who is tempted to view me as a vulnerable target, “So what if Office Survivor is rigged? I still won.” That should impress you and make you think twice about asking any more questions.

Now here is the question that is on my mind, and on the minds of players and viewers: “Will these revelations affect the ratings?” That’s a major concern. Right now, Office Survivor remains the most popular game in the area. People keep playing not only because it’s fascinating, but because no one wants to lose.

As CBS said about the TV show Survivor, viewers “know the challenges are real, they know the emotions are real, they know the outcomes are real.” The same principles apply to Office Survivor. I predict that the game will retain its appeal through the next season, at least until “sweeps week,” when upper management cleans house, at the lower levels anyway. After that, they may come up with a new game, maybe “Who Wants to Be a Retiree?”

Steve Dunham wins at Office Survivor, even though it is rigged.

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