Those Uncomfortable First Days
While we’re all waiting for the world to spin back on its axis and people aren’t getting sick or afraid of breathing in public, I thought it might be fun to kill some time thinking back to one of life’s most uncomfortable episodes–that horrible first day on the job.
You know how it is…you don’t know where anything is, everyone in the office is giving you the eye wondering if you’re OK or a jerk or if you’re gonna try to steal their job or be an ass-kisser or slacker. Your main challenge is delicately asking where the washroom is and where the office supplies are hidden. Some wiseass gives you directions to the washroom, but after you memorize every turn and finally find the door as you’re about to explode, you discover the schmuck didn’t add that you need a key to enter. Sound familiar?
I’ll start with a couple of my most memorable/horrible first days, and then I invite you to join the fun by adding yours in the comments.
The date was November 30, 1981. My first day at CNN in Atlanta. I was hired as one of the first producers to launch their second network which was known at the time as CNN2. It later morphed into Headlines News and now HLN.
I had been working as a producer, reporter, anchor at KGUN in Tucson, Arizona. If you know anything about Arizona, it’s extremely laid back. No one gets dressed up, much. Especially producers.
Well…I saunter into the crazy, busy CNN headquarters on my first day figuring I’d wear my “producer clothes.” In Arizona that meant casual pants, an open-necked button down shirt and comfortable shoes. Psych. I look around and everyone else is wearing serious business clothes. Women wearing dresses. Men in dress shirt, ties, jackets, polished, black shoes. I’m already marked as a rube from out west. My boss kindly takes me aside and whispers, “you may have noticed there’s a bit of a dress code.” Well..yeah…would have been nice if someone told me in advance. But that wasn’t the worst thing about my first day. That would happen momentarily.
The boss said we should go out onto the newsroom floor and learn how the national assignment desk worked. So I go up to the first guy I see on the desk. He’s a big, balding, bearded volcano about to erupt. I introduce myself and ask if he could take a moment to explain how things work. Cue the eruption.
“YOU WANNA KNOW HOW THE FUCKIN’ DESK WORKS! WATCH THIS!!!!,” he screams at me. He picks up the tie-line to the DC bureau and starts screaming at the producer on the other end using the most vile language one could muster. This goes on for about 20 seconds. He slams down the phone, glares at me and screams, “THAT’S HOW THE FUCKIN’ ASSIGNMENT DESK WORKS. NOW GET THE FUCK OUTTA MY FACE!!!!” I took that as a most instructional lesson, took my leave and, you know, I never got the guy’s name or saw him again, which was just fine. Boss later asks me if I got the lay of the land on the national desk. I told him about the “guidance” I was given and just grinned, replying “yeah, that’s pretty much how it works.”
First day number 2. August 23, 2005. My first day at what was then DaimlerChrysler and now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was my first corporate job. Hired away from The Detroit News to ghost write and manage a blog for the head of corporate communications. Cool job.
I’m led up to the sixth floor PR offices at corporate HQ and plopped in my new boss’s cube for all the first day stuff. First thing I was told was to look at my new badge.
“See your badge? It’s green. That means you’re a contractor not a REAL employee. REAL employees have blue badges.” I feel welcome already. Then the next indignity.
“Come with me. Let’s look out the window. You see those parking decks close to the building. You can’t park there. Those are for REAL employees. See that surface lot..somewhere beyond the horizon? That’s where contractors park. So that’s where YOU park. It’s not too long a walk…except when it’s raining, snowing or the wind is howling. Then…it sucks. Welcome to the company!!”
I became a REAL employee about 13 months later but always hid my blue badge. It was out of consideration for the other green badged contractors who were still trudging into the office from the corporate back forty. They would also call me bad names.
Sour Grapefruit League
For many years I’ve been terribly jealous of Major League Baseball players. Not because they get paid a jillion dollars to play a game, or that many of them have great hair or gorgeous girlfriends or wives. No, what I covet is a job that includes “spring training.”
It’s a great concept. Players spend six weeks or so in warm weather, practice a couple of hours a day, sit by the pool, play golf, and a bunch of games that don’t even count, before they even begin to get down to work for real.
Say, for instance, teams of white collar corporate drones need to get in ship shape for the brutal fall budget planning season for the year ahead. To do so, they spend six weeks in DC during cherry blossom season which lulls them into believing the world is fair. Then training cranks up with a full schedule of mock meetings with another companys’ controllers who are there to beef up their resolve to break the hearts of aspiring Directors by insisting on across the board 20 percent cuts…just for the sport of it. By the second week, cocky Millennials who showed up expecting to make the team even though they have no discernable skills or practical experience, will wash out once they find out that once you get hired, you have to actually do work.
C-Suite executives generally show up during the third week sporting artificial tans and obnoxious anecdotes about the Disney cruises they took in the off-season. But they’ll need to catch up quickly with two-a-day harassment workouts. You can’t just walk in the office after a two-month off-season and expect to effectively harass your staff.
Last to show up are members of the Board of Directors. Their regimen includes “backroom deal boot camp” and “boardroom coup playacting.” Despite it being the pre-season, there’s immense pressure to get in shape before the annual shareholders meeting where they must show how well they practiced their “I give a shit” looks when a shareholder offers a proposal.
Personally, I feel I could benefit from a reasonable off-season of, say 3 months while I lick my wounds from the last corporate bloodletting season, and a productive pre-season where I can effectively sharpen my political knives.
I’d be ready to roll with any idiot who blathers on about their latest pet project, and would even suggest negating a moronic policy decision…by way of the “midlevel-manager’s challenge.”