Northern Intelligence


I’ve been back at work for a few months now, and so far things seem to be going well. The only real problem I’ve encountered so far is my Bruce Banner-like tendency to go through pantyhose. I’m not exactly sure what it is about early mornings that turn me into the Incredible Hulk, but I’ve gone through eight pairs in the last two months and its worse if I’m running behind schedule. (Don’t make me tardy; you wouldn’t like me when I’m tardy.)

There’s nothing in the dress code stating that I HAVE to wear pantyhose with skirts, but I showed up for my interview here wearing a perfectly co-ordinated dress/cardigan combination, complete with stockings, pearls and five-inch heels. Now it feels like if I come to work in beige slacks, it was all a lie. You see, when it comes to office attire, I’m kind of old school in my thinking. I believe that dressing like a professional involves solid colors, pantyhose with skirts, and always -ALWAYS- heels. (Basically, if I could be an assistant in Mad-Men time era, I would, only without all the alcohol and adultery.) Does that mean that I don’t believe in color or individuality? Of course not; that’s what deep-red crocodile pumps were invented for. But I think that there’s also a limit to how much “personality” people should be showing at work.

I’m cautiously optimistic about my future with this firm. I’m already a little sad that I’ll eventually have to quit. (Isolated postings have a max of five years.) I can totally see myself building my career here, which is unusual for me. Normally, jobs turn out to be a lot like past guys I’ve dated/crushed on. They seem great at first (i.e. good manners, he open doors for you, or offers comprehensive dental coverage), but then something always happens to ruin the Honeymoon ( i.e. I discover that he snores, scratches himself in public, or hires schizophrenic managers who become convinced the entire team is after her job).

But my biggest disappointment with my past jobs was the lack of professionalism I ran into. My husband liked to point out that I was working in the customer service field, where the hiring process was, shall we say, LESS THAN RIGOROUS. And yes, call centers and retail stores tend to be more relaxed than white collar professions. But I still feel that it doesn’t matter what sector you work in, there are some things you simply don’t bring to work with you. That’s part of the reason why I am so glad to be working with the people I am. Anything beyond my boss’s schedule is strictly her business, not mine, and the only thing I know about her family is to put them straight through when they call. I don’t think these boundaries are cold or unfriendly; I think it’s what the boss/assistant relationship should be.

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Now, I’m not saying that I am the MOST professional person. There have been occasions at my past jobs where my brain couldn’t catch up with my mouth, or slightly inappropriate South Park ringtones were heard because I forgot to put my phone on Silent (thanks, Mom), but my point is this: I’ve never cornered a complete stranger in the parking lot while I cry about my divorce and subsequent custody battle. (That? Was awkward.) I’ve never shouted across an office floor that my husband was being a total (BLEEP) and that’s why I called the cops on him. And I’ve definitely never forced a co-worker to sit through a long and detailed analysis as to why I was single. (If she had let me get a word in, I could have ventured a guess as to why.) This kind of behaviour is the main reason why I’ve avoided every company holiday function -until now- like it was the Plague.

Let me just state for the record that it’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I DON’T KNOW YOU. I used to work for a call center in Ontario and it drove me crackers when other employees would turn any office gathering into a therapy session. Maybe your childhood issues ARE the driving forces behind your cigarette addiction; it doesn’t mean you tie up a staff meeting campaigning for longer personal breaks. You’re in a cubicle, not on a sofa, so man up already. For seven months, I was subjected to INCREASINGLY inappropriate conversations flying over my head as people around me felt compelled to share every detail of their lives outside of work. (If I wanted to work with the Kardashians, I would.)

Frankly, I blame reality television for the intrusion of personal information at work. People have gotten so used to watching celebrities become famous by sharing every aspect of their lives, that now the person at the next desk thinks we want to know as much about them as we do about Brangelina. Just because there is a small (and very exclusive) population who manages to make a living from bad decisions and a lack of modesty (Paris, I’m looking at you), it doesn’t mean that it works for the rest of us. Regular people need to be able to keep their jobs, and a big part of that is not creating a situation so awkward no one in room wants to make eye contact with you. And Shannon Doherty is the only person on the planet who can actually make more money from being fired.

(Sidebar: I watch/read a lot of entertainment news. Can you tell?)

So, please, Future Co-workers, keep your water-cooler conversations family-friendly. If you want to discuss the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy (RIP Henry), I am all ears. If you’d rather share your hilarious “beer-bong and nudity” escapades, not so much.

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