Thursday, February 26, 2009


A friend of mine is moving out of the ward. She's moving to another town about 45 minutes away. She's excited to be closer to her family and while she'll miss the ward, she made it clear that she's never really gotten used to living here. Apparently, it's more "rural" than what she grew up with and she's anxious to get back to the hustle and bustle of "city life."

I see her point. We live in an area of Sacramento that is kind of nestled between two major freeways, but closer to neither. And while there are plenty of places to shop and eat and watch movies, we're not near an actual mall. There are a lot of developed shopping areas, but no mall. The closest mall is almost 30 minutes away.

The mall was one of the major attractions for my friend in her new location. She's within walking distance. It's a huge and beautiful mall and is always under development to make it huger and more beautiful. It reminds her of where she grew up, where she was also within a 5 minute walk to the mall.

So, I didn't grow up near a mall. As a matter of fact, the closest mall was about an hour from my house. We went to the mall when we had a whole day to spend and a clearly defined list of what we needed to purchase. In high school, we occasionally would hang out at the mall. but it was a long drive there and back.

And now, that we still don't live close to a mall, we tend to do our shopping at the stores that are closer to us.

So, I guess I don't get the enthusiasm for living within walking distance of the mall. Is it a form of entertainment to go to the mall and hang out, even if you are an adult? Is it the ease of shopping from a variety of stores all conveniently located? How often do you go to the mall if you live within walking distance? Once a week? More? What do you do when you are there? Window shop? Because honestly, how much does the mall change week to week? Do you buy more if you frequent the mall more often? These are questions that need answering!

Maybe I fail to see the beauty of living near a mall because I don't actually like to shop. I'm kind of dude-like in that. Wandering around window-shopping doesn't appeal to me at all. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do I dislike shopping because I've never lived near a mall? Or do am I less appreciative of what the mall has to offer because I never lived near one?


Half-empty or half-full?

I dished myself up a big bowl of cookies-and-cream ice cream the other night and went to retrieve a spoon so I could start stuffing my face. Not surprisingly, there were no clean spoons in my silverware drawer.

How inconvenient! Now I had to turn around and take one whole step to get to my dishwasher, bend over (without grunting, hopefully) and pluck a spoon from the silverware basket.

As I opened the dishwasher door, I was surprised to see that the top rack was empty, but the bottom rack was still full of clean dishes. How had this happened? I don't know. Had I unloaded half the dishwasher and forgotten to unload the rest? I don't have any recollection of doing that. I don't ever unload the dishes just because they are clean. I put away clean dishes because my kitchen is sooooo messy that I need somewhere to store dirty dishes and the dishwasher happens to be a good place to do that. (Also, they magically get clean while in the dishwasher. Bonus!)

It's like someone has been sneaking into my house and doing partial chores for me. Next thing, I'll find the laundry half-done (washed but not dried), or the dogs half-bathed (heads, but not tails, or Chewie but not Sammie) or every room in my house half-vacuumed.

I don't mind so much, just please, next time, put the spoons away, too. 'Cause sometimes a girl needs her ice cream, stat!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anniversary, part 3

(continued from part 2)

We had several handbook revisions that year, including the aforementioned "gifting policy," so it seemed like a good idea to reprint the handbook in its entirety, give each employee a new copy and have them sign an acknowledgement of receipt. It was my job to distribute the new handbooks and collect signatures from the employees.

For convenience, a list of the major changes was attached to each employee's new handbook, so if they didn't feel like reading the whole thing and comparing to the previous version, they could easily reference the changes which had been made. Most employees were not interested. They signed the acknowledgement of receipt without batting an eye. A few people brought questions to me later for clarification. But not Carol...

Carol insisted on looking up and reading every single revised section while I was present. She provided a running commentary on why and how she either approved (rarely) or disapproved (overwhelmingly) of the changes that were made. She may just been venting or she may have thought I would make further revisions based on her valuable input. I'm not sure. But when she reached the gifting policy, her eyes narrowed, she pursed her lips and said in a tight voice:

"What is this all about?"

"It's a new policy. We are asking that employees who wish to show appreciation for their co-workers do so by treating them with professionalism and respect every day. If you want to recognize a special occasion, please keep it on a personal level with your co-worker, rather than attempt to involve the entire store."

"And what do you think of this policy, Andrea?"

"I think it's exceptionally well-crafted. Whoever wrote it must have a lot of experience writing handbooks in order to be able to address the underlying problem with such tact and clarity," I replied, knowing full-well that she knew I'd written it.

Since she couldn't tell if I agreed or disagreed with the policy, she shifted gears with a long sigh. "You know, this company has changed so much since the original owner died..." *sigh* She peeked out of the corner of her eye to see if I was going to urge her to continue. I didn't. She went on anyway.

*sigh* "We used to celebrate things around here. We used to recognize special occasions, and that made everyone feel special. I mean, is it really too much of a strain on the budget to buy someone a card for his birthday? I think..." she lowered her voice conspiratorially, "the managers now are just too cheap for their own good. And that's really sad. Don't you think? Too cheap to buy a card." She clucked her tongue.

I remained silent, hoping she'd take the hint and do the same. This was the wrong strategy. It encouraged her to continue airing her grievances.

"You know, it was my 25th year with the company a few years ago. And I can't believe how horribly I was treated. It was my special day. I came to work expecting the royal treatment. I don't think any other employee has ever been with the company for so long. And do you know what happened?"

"They did nothing? They forgot?"

"Noooooo.... even worse. They gave me a... a.... thing. Some kind of stereo thingy. You know, it hooks up to your TV, with speakers and other electronic things. It was HUGE."

"Like a surround-sound system?"

"Yes! One of those. I just went into my office and cried. What am I going to do with a bunch of stereo stuff? They should know I don't have room in my house. Well, I do have room, but I'm not going to clutter up my living room with speakers. There were at least five huge speakers. What would I have done with all that? I was just disgusted. It was so... so... insensitive. I don't even watch that much TV and I certainly don't want it blaring in my ears. They really should have known better. I would have preferred that they didn't recognize my special day at all rather than give me a gift that they obviously put so little thought into."

"Well, see with the new policy, there's no danger of that happening again... to you or anyone... We're really just setting the expectations so that people aren't disappoin..."

She blazed on with her story, though. "You know what I did then? I. Gave. It. Back. That's right. I just marched right on in there and told them that if they weren't going to get me something meaningful, I didn't want anything. Oooh boy, was I ever mad. But I think they got my point."

"I'll say. You sure showed them."

"I think they took that stupid thing and gave it to one of the other guys for a wedding present later in the year. He was thrilled to get it. He had to bring his truck to work that day just to cart that big old box home, though."

I couldn't tell what offended her more. 1) That someone couldn't read her mind well enough to know she wouldn't have use for a $500 surround-sound system or 2) That the box it came in was so HUGE. But she seemed to be making my point for me.

"So, Carol, what I hear you saying is that you would rather have let the anniversary pass completely unnoticed, than get a gift you didn't feel was meaningful? Is that right?"

"Absolutely! It was just such a slap in the face to put in a quarter-century of devoted work to the company and get something they should have known I wouldn't use. But they did make it right eventually..."

"Make it right?"

"Well, I was so angry for weeks afterward that I could barely even come to work. The store manager was out of town, but when he got back I marched right into his office and told him how I felt. He wasn't going to do anything about it though. I told him he owed it to me and because I was still so mad, eventually he made it right. I was remodeling my kitchen at the time and he finally agreed to buy a new stove for me. He even came out and installed it for me. That's a meaningful gift. Something I needed and could use. Something with thought and feeling behind it. Not just a big box of speakers."

When I talked to the store manager later about my conversation with Carol, he confirmed that things had gone down essentially as she had related. He was able to fill in some details, though, details Carol might not even have been aware of at the time.

The surround-sound system that they ended up gifting to Carol had not been purchased specifically for her. One of our vendors had sent it to us as a thank-you-for-your-business present. It was highly coveted among some of the employees and the store managers had been wrestling with how to fairly decide which employee would get to take it home. When Carol had arrived that day and announced that she was expecting special treatment for her anniversary, the managers felt obligated to do something for her. To them, it seemed like a win-win situation.

So, yes, Carol did have a point. It was a thoughtless gift. It was, essentially, something they just had laying around. Five-hundred dollars worth of something they just had laying around.

"I remember she was so angry that she didn't really talk to anyone for a couple of weeks. You could tell she was just seething inside every day," the store manager recalled. "So, I tried to explain the situation. but she wasn't interested. I finally had to buy her a replacement gift so she would lighten up. If I remember right, I had to spend several hundred dollars on a new stove for her kitchen. And... I had to deliver it and hook it up for her, because she didn't want to pay someone to do it for her. Her reasoning was that she shouldn't have to shell out money, just because I got her a gift. Even though it was the gift she specifically wanted and the only one that would make her happy. I ended up spending hundreds of dollars and several hours of time, just to recognize that she'd been getting paid to come to work all these years. It was a... weird situation."

Weird. And the weird part really is that, after all these years, Carol still feels like the got the short end of the stick. And she's still bitter.

I never did get to ask if her stove came in a big box, and if so, was it bigger than the box of speakers?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Anniversary, part 2

"Andrea's Company encourages its employees to demonstrate their support and appreciation for one another by consistently treating their co-workers in a positive and respectful manner. Andrea's Company recognizes and celebrates the talents and contributions that each individual brings to the success of the business each day. It is therefore appropriate that cards, gifts, and baked goods which recognize an employee's choices, such as holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, etc, be kept on a personal level and outside of working hours."

Pretty good, huh? Of course it is. I wrote it (or got it from somewhere, I can't remember). You may ask yourself, "What on earth would cause a company full of good, caring people to codify such a policy in their handbook? What's the harm in passing around a card for someone's birthday? Why can't we buy a cake to celebrate the anniversary of someone who has worked for the company for a whole decade? Isn't it a good idea for a company to recognize the achievements of its employees?"

I would submit to you that at Andrea's Company, it is NOT a good idea. Allow me to illustrate.

One day, it was mentioned to me by an employee named Brady that another employee, Carol, would be celebrating her 32nd year with the company the next week. He wanted to let me know because I, as the office manager, might be the one to organize some sort of recognition for her. It didn't sound like a bad idea, and I really like to eat cake, so I took it up with my boss to see what the company had done in the past and if we had a budget for that sort of thing.

My boss sighed a heavy, heavy sigh. "Well, we used to do that sort of thing, but we've moved away from it in recent years. It used to be anniversaries, then it was also birthdays, then it was weddings and babies and welcome-back-from-vacation and every other occasion you can imagine. It was just so big and out of control, we didn't have anyone to administer it and people were let down if they didn't get recognized for every little thing. But hey, we haven't had an office manager for so long, if you want to resurrect the monster, you are welcome to try."

I didn't really want to resurrect the monster and be in charge of its care and feeding, but since I really like to eat cake, I prodded a little bit more. "What about if we limited it to just anniversaries?" I suggested. "It's a nice feel-good for the employees to be recognized and it's business-related, unlike celebrating birthdays. It might be a morale booster. It wouldn't be too much work to keep track of everyone's five year marks and get a card and a cake, right?"

"So we recognize the fact that people are coming to work? Along with the fact that the earth has gone around the sun 5 times? An anniversary is not really an achievement. Besides we are already recognizing our employees by paying them for coming to work. Congratulations. Good job. Here's your paycheck. Keep up the good work. Same with birthdays. Congratulations for being alive still. Good job. What's the point?"

It sounded a little curmudgeonly, but I understood his point. "Okay, I'll tell Brady that if he wants to bring something in for Carol, he's welcome to, but there will be no officially-sanctioned event recognition."

My boss sighed again. "Did I ever tell you about the time Brady brought in a condolence card for a co-worker whose sister had died? He passed it around for everyone to sign, but one person thought it was a birthday card and wrote something like 'Many happy returns!' in it."

"That's terrible."

"Yes, and it was even worse because the sister hadn't died of age or infirmity. She was murdered."

"Okay. I'm convinced. I'll discourage this kind of activity. I soooo don't want to open this can of worms."

Apparently, I didn't discourage Brady enough. He brought in donuts for Carol's anniversary. He seemed hurt that no one recognized him for remembering her special day. I could see how this would spin out of control. Now we have to recognize the recognizer of the recognizee, otherwise there's hurt feelings all over the place. But how do you tell someone he can't do something nice for someone else?

Brady was a simple guy whose heart was in the right place, mostly. Unfortunately, Brady was not well-liked among his co-workers. Due to his circumstances in life (40-something, unmarried, living with his mother) and his personality characteristics (passive-aggressive, power-hungry, and mentally unstable), he was not taken seriously and often picked on by his peers. But he wanted to be a part of the group and maybe figured he could buy his way in.

The next month, he sidled into my office and quietly laid a greeting card on my desk. "It's Mike's birthday today. I got him a card. Can you make sure everyone signs it?" He began to back away.

"Brady, no. I will sign it right now and then you can take it around to the guys yourself."

"I think it's better if you do it. But just remember, I want to be the one to give it to Mike. I think that's fair since I bought it." He took a few more steps back.

"No, no, no. I'm not going to be responsible for this." Sensing the trainwreck that was going to occur, I waved the card at him. "Wait while I sign it. Then you can pass it around and give it to Mike yourself."

"I have to go back to work. I can't get everyone to sign it. Besides, they don't like me, but they'll do it for you..."

"Brady! I am going to sign this card and put it on the next person's desk. After that, it's out of my hands. I'm not going to keep track of it."

"I gotta go..."

Could I have been any more clear? My responsibilty for your project ends with my signature on that card. Get it? Got it? Uhhh... no. I don't think so.

All afternoon, Brady kept checking back with me. "Did everyone sign it yet? I have to leave early and I want to give it to Mike before I go."

"I don't know. I signed it and passed it on, like I told you I would."

"Well, who has it?"

"I don't know. It's going around, I guess."

"But I NEED it back! I have to go early today! I need to give it to Mike!"

"Ask around. I'm sure someone has it."

"You have to help me! I need to find it! They won't tell me who has it! They're just playing games with me! And I have all this work to do before I go!" He was desperate and near tears.

Against my better judgement, I told him I'd ask around next time I went out into the showroom. No promises, though. I wasn't going to collect any remaining signatures. I would simply find out who had the card and let him know.

I asked around. People rolled their eyes. Yes, they'd signed it. No, they didn't know where it was. Why was Brady so concerned? I explained that it was really important to Brady that he present the card himself and he was leaving soon.

As I was talking, an employee walked in, holding the card. "Great. Hurry and give it to Brady so he can go," I instructed, anxious to be out of the middle of the situation.

"Give it to Brady? I thought it was Mike's birthday."

"It is. But Brady really wants to give it to Mike personally. Maybe we should page Brady..."

"You're not really going to do that to Brady, are you?"

"Do what?"

"Put him in that position."

"What position? It's his card."

"The position of giving this card to Mike again."

My heart sank. "Again?"

"Yeah. I found the card on Mike's desk. It was already open. Don't give it back to Brady just so he can give it to him again. He'd feel really stupid."

I'll say. We quietly put the card back on Mike's desk.

A few minutes later, Brady slunk into my office. "Look," I began to explain, "It looks like someone already gave..."

"I know," he pouted with a thanks-for-nothing tone in his voice.

"Brady, I did tell you that I wasn't..."

"It doesn't matter now. Everything is ruined."

"It's not ruined. You wanted to wish Mike happy birthday with a card that was signed by all his co-workers. Mission accomplished."

"I didn't get to give it to him. It's not fair. I bought the card. It was MY CARD." He sulked away without another word.

You might be thinking, "So, you changed company policy just for this one immature guy who couldn't handle the responsibility of sending his own birthday card around?"

No. Not just for him. Stay tuned for part 3...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super terrific happy fun jolly anniversary post

It occurs to me that February is the month in which I started this blog last year. I know. Who cares? It's also the month in which I started working for my current employer 3 years ago. I know. Who cares? It's also the month is which I started my epic war against the-vendor-who-shall-not-be named. I know. Who cares? I do. This isn't the Serious Injury Inflicted blog for nothing. Things have been a little too rosy around here lately, what with new nephews and awesome velociraptors and all. That's about to change.

It all started 2 years ago with a simple request to The Vendor. Let me esplain... no, no, there is too much... let me sum up. We do not have the option of not doing business with this vendor. Otherwise, believe me, this vendor would have gotten the boot long, long ago. Anyhoo, The Vendor was sending some of our invoices to the wrong store. Since all of the accounting is done at my location, I politely requested that they change the mailing address.

"Absolutely!" they responded with glee. "Anything for our valued customer! We will change it immediately... although you might not see the change until next month."

"No problem!" I responded with equal enthusiasm. "Thanks for being a great vendor!"

That was in February 2007. In March, the invoices were again sent to the wrong address. "I'll wait another month," I reasoned, in a reasonable sort of way. "They might not have made the change in time. Surely, they will change it. I'm sure they don't want me calling every month saying I didn't get the invoices because then they have to reprint them and fax them to me. It's just more work for them." Confident that The Vendor would want to reduce their workload and mine, I waited patiently.

In April, the invoices are sent to the wrong address again. I called to request that the missing invoice be faxed to me and gently inquired about getting the address changed. After some investigation into the matter, they determined that the problem was entirely their fault. For some reason that no one could explain, the mailing address was corrected in the system, but was still printing incorrectly on the actual invoice. The Vendor promised to have their tech guys look into it and gave me a help ticket number in case I didn't hear back in a couple of days.

I waited patiently through May and June. Convinced that the problem had not been corrected (since I still wasn't receiving invoices), I finally called and referenced the ticket number I'd been given.

"Hmmmm... well, I see that ticket was closed in April," said the kindly customer service rep.

"Closed? So they fixed the problem? Because, I hate to tell you, nothing has changed."

"Well, no. It's just closed. I don't see any notes on what was done or what the resolution was. But they are not working on it any more. Actually, it looks like it was closed the day after you called."

"Well, there's still a problem. The same problem, in fact. Can you open another help ticket?"

"I'd be happy to. I apologize for the inconvenience. It might take another month to fix, though. Here's you ticket number..."

July and August rolled in, but the invoices did not. I called again for an update. They asked me to wait another month. In October, I called again. They asked me to wait another month. I told them I'd been waiting since February. They were shocked that it would take so long to fix such a simple problem.

Tell me about it.

"I'll tell you what... I'm going to forward this to a team manager. Her name is Vicky and she has a whole team devoted to resolving these kinds of issues. Her direct line is..."

I thanked him profusely and waited another month (or two) before contacting Vicky. She confidently told me that she had reviewed my ticket and it was scheduled to be resolved within 2 weeks. "We're just running behind on our projects. Please be patient."

In February (a whole year after my original complaint), I talked to Vicky again. She was vague and distracted. "Your ticket... uhhh... yes... I see it here. Hmmm... I don't know what the status is." I reminded her that she said it would be completed within 2 weeks from my last call. "I said that? Well, okay. We'll fix it this week."

Next month, I talked to Vicky, she pretended not to know me but she referred me to her supervisor, Jennifer. Jennifer was sympathetic and business-like. "I'm sorry this has been going on for so long," she said sincerely. "I'm the project manager for this whole department and I am allocating resources for your project right now. You won't have any more problems."

"When should I call back?"

"Three weeks. By the end of March it will be done for sure. You can call me directly if there's still a problem after that... here's my direct line..."

At the end of April, I called to report a lack of progress. She told me there'd been some reorganization of the teams and my project had fallen through the cracks. She assured me it would be completely immediately. I should call back at the end of the week.

(For those of you, like my husband, who have fallen asleep by this point, I want to remind you that all I want them to do is correct my mailing address...)

I called back for an update and she didn't answer my call, nor did she return my message. I called again a few days later. No response. I called and left a message each week for the next 5 weeks. Always the same polite message, "Just wondering if you have a status update for me." Maybe Jennifer is dead or has been fired, I thought. Maybe I should try to find out. I called the customer service desk and asked to speak to the supervisor. I was transferred to Jennifer's voice mail. I called the customer service desk back and told them that I was trying to reach Jennifer, but hadn't been able to speak with her for FIVE WEEKS. Was she okay?

"I think so. I just saw her this morning."

"So, she still works there? She's still the project manager? Do you see her now? Can you hand her the phone?"

"Ha ha! Unfortunately, no. I can transfer you to her voicemail, though."

I called Jennifer 12 times in total over the course of about 3 months. She never returned my call. I finally gave up.

Not long after I gave up, I received a notice from The Vendor. "Be advised that we will no longer be sending invoices to our customers. All invoices are available on our website at..."

You dogs. How many companies require their customers to print their own invoices? And Jennifer? You suck. You totally knew this was where your company was headed. You knew if you could put me off long enough, my problem would be a non-issue for you. Professional courtesy would dictate that you return at least one call just to let me know that I wasn't being ignored. But, I was being ignored. So bravo, for not sending me mixed messages. I guess.

But wait! There's more!

I go to the website to print my own invoices, and it doesn't work. The invoices are all garbled and incoherent and completely unusable. I called customer service to see if I was doing something wrong.

"No. There are some formatting issues we are still ironing out. We know about the problem. Hopefully it will be fixed soon."

"Well, how am I supposed to get my invoices? You guys have abdicated your responsibility of printing them and sending them to me (not that you were very good at that) but now you tell me I have to print my own, but don't even provide a method to do that. What am I supposed to do?"

"Well, what you have to do until the formatting gets resolved is pull them up one by one, then copy them into Word and then you can print them one by one."

"You're kidding, right? That's hours worth of work each month."

"Uhhh... yeah."

"Uhhh... yeah? YEAH? Is that all you have to say for yourself? YEAH?!?!"

"It's just until we get the formatting straightened out. Probably in the next couple of weeks it will be resolved."

"This is unacceptable. Who can I complain to?"

"You can talk to Jennifer... she's our project manager..."

Yup. The same phone-call-ignoring Jennifer from last time. That was many moons ago. Guess what I should be doing right now instead of blogging? That's right. Pulling up my invoices and printing them ONE BY ONE.

Yeah, don't think that wound doesn't get opened every single month when I spend hours and hours doing work that The Vendor should be doing for me. Serious, serious injury inflicted.