With just one day left in a year that has seen thrilling highs—cricket world cup victory—and disturbing lows—everything else—I cannot think of a better time to look back on 12 months of cubicle mayhem. Now everybody knows that these ‘year in review’ lists are just a shameless way of filling up newsprint at the fag end of the year: a time when journalists can’t wait to go home, put up their feet, crack open a can of Vijay Mallya’s finest, unbox some chain-store fried chicken, and gustily sing-along to a Blu-Ray of Sound of Music on the plasma TV.
Or maybe that’s just me.
But I assure you this year-end list is being made with the sole purpose of informing, entertaining and enlightening the reader. It has truly been yet another mostly bizarre year in the life of the cubicle. Ever since the modern cubicle was invented by Robert Propst in the 1960s, human beings have been finding ways to subvert Propst’s self-stated lofty aims: to “give knowledge workers a more flexible, fluid environment than the rat-maze box of offices”.
2011 has been no different. This year we’ve had some enlightening research data, some office rivalry gone bad, oodles of awkwardness and, as you will learn towards the end of this piece, some truly revolting behaviour. There is plenty for my dear—a female deer!—reader to sit back and reflect on. Hic.
The year began with doctors asking office-goers to not go to work at all if they were ill. Research showed that 75% of US adults went to office with colds, flus, fatigue and such like. Not only do you threaten other people, The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said in a public service announcement, but you also work below par yourself. Not worth it. Stay at home.
But if that made you think offices are otherwise healthy places, you are very wrong. The American Dietetic Association informed us in August that the average office desktop was 400 times dirtier than a toilet seat. The research also found that only 1/3rd of the respondents cleaned their desks on a weekly basis. Imagine eating at your desk. Ugh. Not only have I started getting my Subway sandwiches delivered directly to the bathroom, I’m also working on a new business plan: hygienic desktops made of toilet seats.
Meanwhile, a British survey found out that tensions in the office often seeped into our personal lives with 20% of those polled saying that they dreamt about their bosses. To be fair, I dream about my boss too. But always in a cordial, competent and professional context. Mostly.
The evil, manipulative, backstabbing co-worker is a popular cliche. But Tim Craven of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has set a high bar indeed for office friendships and platonic workplace intimacies. In March, Craven celebrated the first anniversary of his decision to give co-worker Greg Russell the ultimate gift: a kidney. Russel, who suffers from a genetic kidney condition, was on the lookout for a donor in 2010 when colleague Craven stepped up. Compare this to your useless co-workers who have to be reminded 34,000 times before they bring blank receipt books from their local pharmacist.
In August this column wrote about the German etiquette academy—The Knigge Society—that called for a ban on kissing in the workplace. The academy suggested that cubiclists in Europe maintain a social distance zone of 60cm from each other. This kissing issue apart, it has been a fairly uneventful year for Europe.
Closer to home, Mamata Banerjee’s decision to rename West Bengal caused consternation in at least one office. In August, Bangalore-based Bengali cubiclist Sreyashi Dastidar told the Times of India that the new Paschimbanga name was wreaking havoc in her workplace:
“I am already wondering about the kinds of distortions that will happen with people calling it banga, bongo and bango and so on. When I walked into office this morning, the first thing that my cubicle mate asked was, ‘So what are we going to call your state today?’ I was stumped,” Dastidar revealed.
Stumping cubicle mates are the worst.
Overall, however, the lesson of 2011 has been this: don’t love or hate your co-workers too much. Both extremes will lead to sub-optimal situations. As usual our best examples come from America where, it is apparent, there are journalists dedicated to the ‘cubicle psycho’ beat.
In May, Sharon Brewster of Nebraska decided to show her displeasure with a superior in that time-tested way: by setting fire to a pile of work documents on the boss’ desk. You know, as a mark of protest. Unfortunately in the process she also burnt down the entire Lincoln Public Schools District Office, causing $20 million of damages and displacing 250 workers.
And finally we come to the revolting Michael Lallana. But I am sure you can Google him on your own. At your own risk. You’ve been warned.
I hope you’ve had a fantastic 2011. And I wish you a splendid 2012 at work and at home. So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen. Goodnight.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life.Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns