The workplace is passive aggressive. Corporations are complex organisms meant for information sharing – a petri dish for the conception and breeding of unspoken rules about communication, meetings, emailing, slacking, etc. There is too much to know and too much to do.
This Wasn’t in the Training
Because the workplace is an infinite sharing economy of information that bleeds into a funnel of micro-environments (individual personalities) in support of a larger, macro purpose (the company mission and culture), it dooms all newcomers to flail around, attempting to read between the lines. There are thousands of nuances, unspoken rules, implied courtesies, panic buttons, and stereotypes. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive onboarding checklist that states the following:
- No emojis or exclamation points to person xxx above band level xxx
- No cold-calling or pinging people before 9am (their online status will miraculously change to “away”)
- “????”‘s are just as passive-aggressive in the workplace as they are when you are texting your roommates about the dirty dishes left in the sink
- If you need to talk to someone without a specific action item or agenda, don’t schedule a rambling meeting on their calendar (the definition of young “Work Sara”)
- If anything starts with “per my” it really means: “Hey, email-skimming idiot, go read what I already sent you.”
- Don’t add too many people into a meeting, they will wonder why they are there, get annoyed, and do emails during it anyway. And quite honestly, it’s probably too many people with too many opinions anyways.
- If you surprise copy someone’s manager on an email thread, shit gets real.
- No moving or canceling meetings more than twice (you may as well just say “I’de rather be doing, literally, anything else, than go this meeting”)
- You aren’t actually allowed to get angry — logic, reason, and evidence is your new punching bag
- Your white chuck taylors, that aren’t actually white, but are dirty cream, are not that acceptable. In fact, someone might report your dirty shoes to your manager*
- Never set up a meeting to go over something that is in an email thread because you’re too lazy to read 13 people’s comments. Just read the email. Because if you set that meeting up… they will ask “did you read the email?”
- Team outings: You aren’t too busy. Everyone is busy.
- People will most likely call you out if you are too vague about a topic you are supposed to understand. The best policy is to be honest. Like dogs or babies, Corporate America can smell fear and bullshit.
Lastly, the most important unspoken and unwritten rule in any company or workplace is “Check Yourself,” or more realistically: “Save Your Ass.” What does this mean? Archive your emails, messages, and historical documents – all of them. In general, people crave categorization and resolution – they will want to know why decisions are made, and who is accountable. If organizations are all about information sharing, then a best practice is to store the information that will come to bat for you when you need it most. And because information loops need to be tracked, unfortunately, the blame game happens. Does this sound cynical? That corporations are the hunger games of information? They are, yes and no. Regardless of company culture, it’s not fun to be left empty-handed when you need a personal attorney in the form of a memo dug up from March 8th, 1:38pm sent to Tim in Accounting. Our eloquent and influential former President, John F. Kennedy had said it best: “Let us never save emails out of fear. But let us never fear to save emails.”
*Yes, this happened