Hey, Mr. Rob Walker — I have a bone to pick with you.
In fact, when it comes to picking bones, I’ve got an entire skeleton.
As the author of “The Workologist” column in The New York Times, Walker provides answers to workplace questions the readers send in. (Readers don’t send me questions, but they do send fruitcakes. This really has to stop. I have enough fruitcakes to last until 2025, by which point fruitcakes may be illegal. This would not be good. After all, when baking fruitcakes is outlawed, only outlaws will bake fruitcakes.)
In a recent column, the Robster addressed the dreaded end-of-year review.
According to his submission, Lee from Washington is expecting a bad review. Though it is only his first year at the company, he was already hit with a bad middle-of-the-year review, in which his supervisor dinged him for a failure to make an “adjustment to ‘company culture,'” a serious situation which “needed improvement.”
In align with the management best practices, no details were provided on what Lee had or hadn’t done that was not in line with company culture.
To make matters worse, it is Lee’s opinion that the executive who issued this vague but damning criticism “has almost no idea what I actually do.”
This is a situation to which you will feel simpatico. No one in your company knows what you do. But in your case, the problem is not a lack of visibility. You just don’t do anything.
Without details, Lee finally figured out that the problem was one of the “thousands of emails” he had written during the first-half of his first year. This email, he had to admit, could have had “an ‘aggressive’ tone in responding to a particular request.”
What passes for an aggressive tone in Lee’s company, we can’t know. Most businesses today routinely instruct their employees to rip out the hearts of their competition in a scorched-earth business approach that takes no prisoners and leaves no survivors. Even power wedgies are considered fair game in the business battleground of today. In other words, Lee would have to be as aggressive of Genghis Khan on a bad day to even be noticed.
The point of Lee’s question to The Workologist is whether he should acknowledge the midyear criticism during his end-of-year review, or just blow it off. Lee’s suspicion is that his reviewer “just wants me to keep me under his thumb, and so long as I maintain a smile and a differential attitude in his presence, this too shall pass.”
Lee, of course, is 110 percent correct. All managers ever want a smile and a differential attitude. And, frankly, the smile is not that important. As long as the employee is cringing like a starving orphan in a Dickens’ novel, the smile can be replaced by a grimace or a snarl. Drooling helps, too.
That The Workologist doesn’t understand these basic facts is beyond me. He doesn’t want Lee to apologize, which is smart since Lee has no idea what he is apologizing for. But the advice provided is to “indicate that you have been mindful of ‘company culture,’ have adjusted and believe this issue is behind you.”
There are certainly many ways Lee can do this. My recommendation is to say: “I’m sorry for what I did that I didn’t know I did, but whatever it was I did, I will never do it again.”
The Workologist has another approach. He recommends Lee ask his boss, “Can you help me understand the better way to handle that here?”
Fiddlesticks! Lee might as well roll on his back and expose his neck to demonstrate that he is happy to take of the roll of submissive to his dominatrix of a boss.
A much better response would be to reframe the question, as in “Can you help me understand how a complete moron would handle this?”
This is a question the boss can answer, Lee can add, because he is a complete moron. While risky, this approach shows that Lee is totally aligned with the company culture of promoting sadists who are always ready to deliver vague and unwarranted attacks on a co-worker’s confidence and self-esteem.
But Lee shouldn’t push it, and if you’re in this situation, you shouldn’t either. Hey, if your company’s culture demands that employees be mindless drones, always ready for lashing, show you are committed to being the best mindless drone you can be.
Then, once the problem has been solved, ask for a big raise.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.