Tuesday, January 04, 2005

kafka at the office

She shouldn't have taken this job which required her to speak Norwegian even though she wasn't remotely fluent. And they probably shouldn't have given her the job either - a company where the only thing that masked the managers' bumbling incompetence was the individual worker's capability of fulfilling their role without help from above.
That was one factor: Working with customers that called her all day, speaking a language that she could hardly understand (these huge feelings of guilt, because she had not yet learnt to detach herself emotionally).

Also the computer screen they had given her was slightly blurred. She didn't notice because she had never had to use one before, and she thought her headaches and the feeling of sickness in her body was just her normal reaction to working with a computer. She went to a doctor, but he just sent her to an optician without even bothering to ask questions. She had to pay for glasses which didn't make anything better. During three weeks, she repeatedly told her supervisor about this. The supervisor, an arrogant girl who was unhappy with her job but stayed on because of the pay, always told her that someone would come to look at it, but it never happened.

The pressures of fulfilling her role in a foreign language together with the daily bodily pain and sickness wore her down. She was weak, but she was also very tough. She kept on, despite breaking down and crying at her desk while her colleagues sat around not knowing what to do. She was always getting pressure from her superiors to do her job more properly, they even recommended antidepressants to her. When she talked to the highest manager in the office, he just said that she should do another job if she couldn't do this one.

She made herself stay and learnt Norwegian really quickly, and one of her colleagues who had health&safety duties came around, noticed something was wrong with the screen, and replaced it. Her problem was gone just like that, from one day to the next, a huge burden disappearing so suddenly that it took her a while to realize. When she did she became very angry. But angry not even so much with the company, but against herself for letting them do that to her. The anger, the pain, the madness, the fear, the tunnel, the eternity, the blemish, the uncertainty, this lingered for a while. That's when she told her story to me and I took the burden.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


This is iMonkey's first post after a long time. So it looked like he was going to be put to the grind! At first there were four people doing the same job. Then one of the team began having a long illness. He didn't come around for two weeks. Previously he'd told iMonkey that he was going to apply for another job, a higher-paid one, and iMonkey did some research and found a job with a description that fitted the other monkey's description. They were only two in the team, doing the work of four people. It began to become quite stressful and iMonkey was beginning to build up resentful feelings against the monkey that had let them down - up to the point where, one morning iMonkey thought he'd spotted that other monkey sitting in front of him in the bus. When other monkey got up and left the bus in the town centre, iMonkey chased after him. He crossed the street and finally apprehended other monkey in front of the cashmashine, only that it wasn't him.
Other monkey returned to work after two weeks. After a while he kind of let on that he had had some haemorrhoids that he'd got sewn back into his ass with rubber bands. He stayed for one and a half days before going into three weeks of christmas holidays.
So there were two people left, again. Then came Christmas. The lines "needed" to be kept open, and with more illnesses and holidays to come, after a while there was only this poor monkey left. He even took on customer service, which means he ended up doing the entire [insert iMonkeys language] product hotline for three major european countries for a while.

This got iMonkey a bit pissed off so he decided to sleep in one day. In effect he was just two hours late, and it would have been fine, but things kind of kept happening in the way that he came late the other four days, too. "Ooh" said the grey alphaRat, "I will have to put you down for a counseling session and also I will have to dig out my late-letter." He didn't put the counseling session because he and iMonkey both know that iMonkey knows that they both know the score, so there's no use for the fancy bullshit front on some fascist company policies. So he just printed off his late doc and iMonkey had to sign a letter that said

Dear iMonkey

Last week you were late for your shift on at least four occasions. This is unacceptable as it means we may be unable to meet our commitments to our client and it is unfair that your coleagues have to cover for you.

Further to our discussion regarding this matter, you must not be more than 3 minutes late in the following four weeks. Failure to meet this target may result in further disciplinary action.

I am confident that you will be able to meet this target. If for any reason you feel you may not be able to meet this target, please raise this with yself in advance, or if you are unable to do this, ensure that you report this on the absence line one hour prior to the comencement of your shift.

Grey AlphaRat

[Attached absence line reporting card]

He signed it, adding "Merry Christmas" next to the signature.
Now I hope most people would understand the pointlessness of such a punishment. If a person had serious timekeeping problems, this would put huge extra stress on them. Or maybe that's the whole point, to get rid of less disciplined people in the quickest way. Anyway surely for such a person that would mean rushed shaves, runs to the bus, gulped-down unhealthy breakfasts, and a lot internal commuter panic. It's inhuman. Whoever thought up that rule is a cunt, such as everyone adopting it (including the grey alphaRat). They should most certainly die in a painful way, lousy fascist cunts.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

you pay iPeanuts, you get iMonkeys

Right now iMonkey is too tired and too stoned to think. iMonkey is not at work right now (although he is also stoned there quite often, which probably raises the level of customer service) - he has sworn to only use company time on this blog, but it seems the blog turns out to be useful and it needs updating. Useful in tracing a timeline of adaption and doublethink as well as keeping track of things while they work you till you drop.
I am currently in a very small team handling a call and email volume of about 50-100 per person per week. this workload is due to the fact we had many leavers without replacement. Too much work (even though I manage to get the odd power nap, sitting in front of the monitor) and not good when there are spikes in the call volume. Also we need to alternate to take breaks or training. Mind you, we're trying to do technical support here.
Anyway for todays juicy morsel I have a little followup that just occurred to me reading this blog. Recently our client's customer satisfaction surveys began to show that customers were overall satisfied but very unhappy with the time it took to deal with the issue. They made a fuss and everybody received reminder emails of the agent policies and procedures that we have to follow (or "follow from now on"). Then everybody had to go to stupid meetings where the procedures were communicated again, verbally. And now they will do "Time and Motion Studies". Surely the extra work will help things go faster. (But in someone's twisted mind it does...)
Actually the spike in customer wait time dissatisfaction occurred when iMonkey was in his holidays and all his cases just lay untouched in its inbox for a week - although iMonkey had duly done its duty and informed the boss bunnies about the looming answertime delay. What had he done wrong?
I met Boss Bunny a couple days later in the cafeteria and asked him what he was doing all the time. all i ever see him do is sit in front of his computer and do his spreadsheets, when he's there, and does rarely speak if not spoken to (and even then sometimes...). he said he had lots of reports to do, and also to go to meetings. He said he would actually like to go around the desks, see how everyone is doing, to "work the floor" as he put it. And he had actually set himself an Outlook reminder for every morning at 10 o' clock to go and "work the floor" but he never did it. He must be very, very busy indeed. When iMonkey couldn't find the outbox the boss bunny told him to give him the CD with the important update that was to be mailed to the customer, and he would post it. A week later the customer rang again to ask where his CD was. I asked boss bunny if I should make a new CD and he said "no,no, escalate the case to level 2, they will deal with it." the level 2 sitting next to me later gave me the cd and said "better mail it yourself this time." he's a cool guy, the one with the steely cold determination to hold the customer down. Recently he went into holidays, and I asked him: "Who will deal with all the SuckerGraphx callers now?" He said: "Just work 'em right, be hard and relentless, keep 'em down" took his coat and vanished. Despite our recent workload he has found much time for a couple of things, until iMonkey started firing the Sucker customers over to him that is. We then play good cop/bad cop with them i.e. I promise them we will do everything to satisfy them, then pass them over to him who tells them they can't use a computer and it is all their fault. Has worked so far. Soon we will be getting some new starts which will keep things interesting.
I'll take them around the office and introduce them to the whole team because otherwise no one will do it, and they won't know the people they see on a daily basis. This is probably pretty normal for an office though.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

How to finish a customer as quickly as possible

my colleague is sitting on the desk next to me. he has recently been made a "level 2" support technician, which means he's not on the phone anymore. "I worked for three years in this callcenter, now finally I don't have to answer the phone anymore." He's a master in getting rid of customers quickly (and level 1 support who have questions for him). To him the customers are a bunch of fuckwits and a general nuisance. His rhetorical tactics are easy: Find some small irrelevant point, which has been left unclear, and demand unrealistic efforts from the customer / level 1 tech to make that point clear, so that most of the time they give up from frustration and find some other way which is not involving the support hotline. The funniest thing about it is how coming from different backgrounds (swiss and scottish parents) he combines swiss courtesy and integrity with scottish bold- and recklessness. I think he has a steely cold hate for the customer.
A typical conversation between Anjali, a gentle Italian Tech 1 girl, and Calum:
"Excuse me, Calum, this customer has a problem where SuckerGraph will crash when printing."
"Does the guy have a postscript printer?"
"Yes, I think so."
"How sure are you the printer really is a postscript model?"
"The customer says it is."
"He's probably lying. Anyway. Get the type number of him and do a search on the web for the techspecs of that printer. Then you will probably find some known problems with FreeHand on that website."

Monday, October 25, 2004

Sleepy Crisis

Before I went into holidays it was a tough time. Man because of all that work I didn't even get to updating this blog. I did get to do lots of troubleshooting though, via phone or email which is actually I think an astonishing feat if you think of all the telediagnostic skills involved here.

Anyway if I want this blog to be a coffin nail to the company, and failing that, this department, and failing that at least my incompetent superiors, I will have to put in juicy bits of incompetence revealed from time to time. So here we go.

Last week I went on holiday. To make sure my cases got carried on I talked to the supervisors. I especially put in an extra half an hour after 4 o' clock to wrap them all up nicely so they could be kept going. Our policy is that if we cannot solve a problem we keep in touch with the customer, which means sending him an email every working day. Well guess what I found this morning - none of my cases got worked on, but there were lots of angry, angry emails from neglected customers in my inbox.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Fight Club

Just five minutes ago I wanted something from Incompetent Supervisor number 2. He's around 30, with grey short-cropped hair, a bit fat, and completely full of his own importance. He's the type that will butt into your nice and civilized conversations with other team members and spoil them by just going off on a tangent on a completely unrelated topic, probably about some piece of technology that he owns.

I used to hate him dearly because of his pretentious ways, also because he never thought it would be civil to introduce himself to me (I'm supposed to be working with this guy) and also because since he hadn't introduced himself he chose to ignore me.

Then one day I was surfing the agent folders on the net drive and in the folder of my colleague A. I found this photo of Wanky Supervisor. It was the photo that is taken from everyone at the beginning of their employment with SUCKS for the doggie-badge (security badge), and looking at these freezed time-frames from the past that everyone carries around their neck can be quite fascinating.
In the case of supervisor cum wanker I was looking at the photo of an almost completely different person. He is much younger, a slim twenty something, almost laughing into the camera, looking eager, smiling without the cynical smirk that defines him now, defiant, innocent. It's easy to imagine his breezy coolness, which now just comes across as jaded, being real back in the day.
When seeing this photo I pretty much stopped hating and started pitying him. And what the hell does it do in A's folder??

My pity is well tested day by day though. Today superwankor was chatting and playing very cool with some other wanker from technical services. I needed some information off him, so I positioned myself in front of them and said "excuse me..."
They just finished their banter with me standing there and both went off in separate directions, and I had to walk after superwankor and say his name (loudly) before he actually turned around and looked kind of annoyed that I was so persistant.

While he gave me the information, I asked him about the thirty outlook reminder message boxes that you see every day on his screen. He said, "oh yeah, I'm having a busy time..."
I thought the reminders business on his screen had been a joke, honestly.
Wouldn't just having a to do list with dates and real priorities help him keep a clear overview much better? Oh well, I doubt this guy wants to be clear...

Haven't smoked grass today or for that matter yesterday. Maybe next week.
If grass makes me too mellow (and thus taking more shit than I should), the lack of grass makes me energetic, devil-may-care, even aggressive. I get fantasies of hitting people.
I can only imagine it as a most delightful feeling - just take one of these people who pass you by every day, simply ignoring you, denying you existance - and then making them feel your existance in the most painful way imaginable. Since it would come as a surprise you could have them on the floor, kicking their ribs in, before they even know it. That'll get you fired but might not land you in prison, even though you'd probably have a conviction after...

Right time for some more moronic questions and some quality music on the iPod.
I'm still not "online" i.e. answering phonecalls, so I can shut my ears. For now.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Friday Afternoon Lull

So it's friday afternoon. The email queues are empty, all free donuts have been eaten, Metafilter has been extensively browsed, and when boredom set in I even looked at the technical support procedures on the Intranet. These tell me quite a lot about how I should do my job. Trouble is, my supervisor never mentioned the documents and in fact some of the things he told me are different from the documents.
No do I go the extra mile and try to conform to the policy, and furthermore do I go and disturb my supervisor, who will not have the time for me new start since he'll be busy with his reports, to get a crystal clear idea of which should be logged as what - or do I wait until someone finally gets round to reviewing my support emails (which I started sending two weeks ago), and in the meantime contribute to the inconsistency of the database like so many of my colleagues. My German work ethics would demand the first, and even though I'll probably do the first, it seems like so much self-inflicted pain for nothing. At this company I've been given a desk and a salary and then some generally very, very vague instructions on how to proceed, and for the rest of the time it's basically as if I don't exist (to my supervisors - the colleagues are excellent). Since they have so many employees I feel reduced to a very, very small unit. The unit has been bought and put into a place into the apparatus; sets of policies and procedures have been installed in the unit; input and output channels have been connected; by all rational calculation the unit should by now start functioning.
However if your supervisor and generally NOONE gives you the feeling that they have a good overview and a clear sense of direction, or for that matter any enthusiasm for what is being done or is to be done, and they basically ignore you - it feels like the company doesn't give a fuck about you, the unit.
Which is probably a pretty close approximation of the actual facts.

It is true, there is a lot of fluctuation. Almost nobody here seems wanting to stay "forever", or as Ali (an Algerian guy) put it: "You always know: One day I will leave." Then he said: "Fuck, in two months I'm gonna be in Canada."

I first promised the company to stay for at least a year (I had to, they were offering me a "permanent position") - then in the first week when it revealed its ugly, american, fascist machinelike face to me I was pretty close to quitting then and there, seeing the obsession to log everything, watch the worker's computer screens, this whole apparatus which is placed above human qualities like communcation and common sense (the concept of "softskills" actually never made sense before I came to this place - I thought everybody had them, but boy was I in for a surprise).

However now I know the place where we do the technical support is much different from the place where they do customer care for the global players. It seems like an oasis compared to what appears like some sort of modern western sweatshop (actually the "emotional work" in the callcenter has been said to be "the new factory's work" of this century).
I'm easier and have promised myself to stay for six months at least, after which I will have access to super-cheap (and legal) copies of highly demanded popular software, and get a pay rise.

But I feel like I can quit anytime. I fight the urge to become too comfortable in what is, effectively a cushy (if slightly spirit-crushing) job. I feel best when I remind myself that there is a huge gap between this place, where I have arbitrarily put myself, and my person, that I don't belong. Take a step back in your own mind, and when you see things laid out before you you can play.

Anyway what I was going to say is that despite nice material conditions I don't feel obliged to this company any longer, at all. Just the way I have been treated at the beginning shows that they don't feel obliged to me, period. It is an ice cold rational pay-for-work relationship, with the possibility to be terminated withhin one week during the first six months. The unit can be chucked out at anytime should its performance not "live" up to expectations.

Furthermore - the training I've received so far is a mess, or rather, it was left completely up to me to train myself. Which wasn't that bad. I enjoy getting paid for reading books about software for four weeks and I was interested in getting to know these eight tools products. My mind seems to map software very well, even after years I still know which button or checkbox does what in the third submenu of a submenu of a submenu.
I was a bit pissed off, when, after a month had passed, they suddenly turned up with a schedule and asked me to do it again.

Today I took one hour off for lunch instead of half an hour (and I was 10 minutes late this morning). For that, I haven't received so much as a comment from anybody.
I don't really know this corporate culture, maybe in their way of doing things they will just come up with disciplinary measures. That would be like these people: Not saying a single word to me themselves (which would expose them - to communication, as a human being...) but rather let the rules and regulations do the work.

What they would really like you to do is internalize the rules and regulations; so when they sit inside your head you will give yourself disciplinary hearings. They're trying to nourish a fear of the apparatus, so for example when Training Mum came to tell me about a new rule (i.e. asking the customer at the end of the call if he was satisfied), at the end of her speech she said: "This will be taken into the monitoring parameters - you know that all the calls are monitored, right? So they will notice if you leave it out. And are you familiar with the concept of mistakes and fatal mistakes?" ... What the fuck - please! I'll do it if you ask me nicely, but just laying down the rule like "it's the rule now and you should adhere to it or you will get fucked by the system - and by the way I have nothing to do with it" pisses me off.

Training mum just passed me by and flashed a slightly pained smile. I'm getting paranoid, time for the weekend...

So I'll close my trusty firefox browser now. I've done the following things to it to make it look like and email window:
- disable all the toolbars
- download an extension called "Web Developer"
- with the help of the extension, disable images, animations, page colours, javascript and styles. Nicely reduces a web page to pure text. This is actually quite relaxing...
- Changed the windows colours so the application status bar will be in the same grey as the outlook bars
- resized the firefox window so it fits into the outlook new mail window, the lower part, where you write the mail.

This is since I'll be fucked if they ever see me using "SUCKS business assets for other than work purposes", AND decide to actually, for one time, follow up on the rules.

Cheers for the weekend me hearties!