Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new FastCompany.com?

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

In Convenience

A Spy in the House of Work

It was just another 3 PM sugar break. at the time it seemed like no biggie: Rhonda often stopped in at lotto- Donut-Pizza for her afternoon Skittles fix. I'd been working there a couple of months, having replaced Fred, who'd quit to go hawk cell-phones. At first I assumed I'd use the job the same way Fred had: give people their candy, condoms, and Coke, and, in return, eavesdrop on their office politics. Then, when I heard a lead on a good job in the Flonkey Building — Keith gave notice, Amber is pregnant, Bob just got canned — I'd pounce. But after a couple of months, something weird happened. I realized I was . . . happy. I was Counter Person. I rang up orders of HoHo's and Slim Jims, Smartfood and KitKats. I kept up with my magazine reading. I could tell a fresh candy bar from a stale one, just by feeling the wrapper.

I was chewing Hot Tamales and daydreaming about creating my own Web site (www.counterperson.com), when Rhonda appeared and mentioned a going-away party for one of her office buds — that night, her apartment, and could I bring some goodies? No problem, I said, Who's gonna be there? I wanted to customize the order, because that's how Counter Person does things. Almost all my regular customers would be there, it turned out.

I showed up with a grocery bag full of things I knew they liked. I got to Rhonda's about a half hour late (I was on schedule, but Holdup Person had a gun this time), and they were all sitting in a circle. A little Quakerish for a going-away party, I thought, but I didn't stop to think what it could mean.

I had emptied my bag of treats and was starting to feel a little sluggish (it'd been hours now since my last Big Gulp), when Rhonda announced, "This isn't really a going-away party - "

" - it's about your job," said Fred, my tattooed predecessor. "Time to move on."

"I don't understand."

"OK! This is a Dysfunctional Job Intervention," Rhonda blurted out. "What you're doing does not constitute work! No one with a pulse could find what you do satisfying unless - "

" - you're an addict," said Fred. "Hooked. Face up to it."

"It is work," I said, too loudly.

"It's a paycheck," said Spud, the CEO and founder of PotatoWare, some kind of software shop. "It's not work."

"Hey, look, I got no overtime. I got no office politics. I can even say 'got' instead of 'have' without feeling self-conscious. Every day is casual day — I can just grab something from the dirty clothes bin."

"You're making our point for us," said Rhonda gently. "Let me ask you this: What do you spend your paycheck on?"

"Corn dogs," I said.

My words hung like a cardboard Budweiser display suspended from the ceiling.

Then, high on sugar, my tongue studded with canker sores, my hair and clothes reeking of oil from the deep-fat fryer, I saw that I wasn't the only one with a Dysfunctional Job Addiction. These people were hanging on to jobs for all the wrong reasons: Because of the free parking space. Because Fridays are half days — because the boss golfs that afternoon. The excuses were endless, and I'd heard them all when I worked as Counter Person. Notice that I said "worked." Because I had already quit Lotto-Donut-Pizza. In my mind, I was already the CEO of DJI —Dysfunctional Job Interventions — the consulting firm for the dysfunctionally addicted worker.

I could see it all: the infomercial, the seminars, the audiotapes, the book, and even the bumper sticker: "It's not a job — it's in convenience!"

This is episode two of "Working Behind Enemy Lines," the Spy's continuing adventures of the new world of work. Next episode: From intervention to interview — the Spy's great leap backward. Stay tuned!

Add New Comment

0 Comments