Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Add stress; let stew for 25 1/2 hours

I get about 40 - 50 emails a day at work. Most of them don't need action on my part, but reading and sorting them is a major part of my day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2:30pm.

DAA-dum!, goes my email alert. I check my inbox.

It's from Tommy. The subject line says, "FW: Workers' comp test audits".

There's no message; just a bunch of messages and replies. I read them. It's just two people in risk going back and forth about some new clients. What the hell is Tommy sending this to me for?

Then I see this exchange near the end:

From Al in risk management:

"Steve wants all the test audits stored on the server so they can be looked up without digging through files and so people can view them remotely"

From Rob in risk management:

"Fuck Steve. He's an asshole."

I guess that explains why Tommy forwarded it.

I've always known that Rob has a problem with me. Oh, he's friendly enough when we're face to face, but his smile is a little too forced, and his handshake a little too stiff. He looks... uncomfortable around me, like he can't wait for me to leave so he can badmouth me.

He's a few years older than me, maybe 40 or so, and he's been in the same job for ten years. He's the kind of guy who will get drunk and bend your ear for an hour about how the company doesn't appreciate him and how he's always getting fucked over for promotions and raises. Meanwhile, he's taking whole days off work for dentist's appointments and not helping any of his coworkers with anything because that's not his job. In otherwords, I'm supposed to promote him and give him more money because he hasn't managed to get his ass fired yet.


I'll admit, I feel my ears getting red while reading the emails. It's like snatching a note from my sixth-grade classmate and reading it, only to find that there was a whole conversation going on about how fat I was. It makes me wonder how many OTHER emails just like this one are floating around that I don't know about. What are the chances that this is the only one? And if this isn't the only one, how many others are out there? Five? Ten? How many of my employees think I am an asshole?

"Bonnie, call Rob in risk management and tell him I want to see him tomorrow at 4:30 for 10 minutes."

"What's it in reference to?"

"Don't tell him. And don't make it any earlier than 4:30. If he can't make it, push it ahead to Thursday."

"OK, Steve."

I'm gonna give this fucker a good, long time to think about it. At first, he might not make the connection. But then, suddenly, his "asshole" comment will dawn on him, hopefully early in the morning, and then he'll have to sweat it out for the whole day while he waits for his 4:30 appointment.

3:00. Bonnie buzzes me.

"Steve, Rob wants to know what the meeting is in reference to."

"I'll tell him when he gets here."

"What IS it in reference to?"

"Are you writing a book?"

"OK, smarty pants."

Thirty seconds pass.

"Steve, he wants to speak to you."

"Tell him I'm all tied up. I'll see him tomorrow."

Wednesday, January 19, 9:00am. Heidi is standing in my doorway.

"So, Steve, how are you?"

She's got a flowery white blouse on with the first two buttons undone, and she's wearing way too much perfume. But Heidi cleans up very well, and she looks hot.

She usually doesn't stop to talk; she just sticks her head in the door on her way by. If she's starting a conversation, she wants something.

"Fine. You?"

"Okaaaaaay," she says, tilting her head coquettishly. "Steve?"


"Are you firing Rob?"

"Am I firing Rob." I phrase it like a statement, not a question.

"Well, I mean, there's a lot of rumors going around that you're angry at him."


"It's just that you told him to come to your office and you won't tell him why. So everyone thinks you're firing him."

"I see."

"Did he do something?"

"I'm kinda busy, Heidi."

"Sorry, Steve." She leaves.

1:00pm. Bonnie buzzes me. "It's Rob from risk management. He wants to know if he can reschedule; he's got a department meeting at 4:00 today."

"Yeah, we can reschedule. For tomorrow."

A minute passes. "He'll be here at 4:30."

Yeah. Thought so.

1:05. Bonnie buzzes me. "It's Phil from risk management. He wants to know what you're seeing Rob about." Phil is Rob's supervisor.

Jesus fucking Christ! "Put him through!"


"Steve! How are you?"

"Fine, thanks. What can I do for you?"

"Is Rob in some kinda trouble?"

"Ask me in the morning."

He chuckles softly. "I mean, is he being fired?"

I know Phil is going to go back and report everything I say. I better watch myself here.

"Phil, am I hearing that you wanna be here when I see him?"

"No, can't you just tell me?"

"No. Come to the meeting if you want."

He sighs. "Ok, Steve."

1:45. Bonnie. "Steve, Mary from HR."

Am I going to get ANY work done today?

"Put her through."


"Steve, Mary from HR. Is it true you're firing Rob today?"

"You know, when there's a rumor, it goes through the company in three minutes. But we can remind them 9 times to turn in their health insurance enrollments and they still don't remember anyone telling them about it."

She laughs. "That's true."

"If I need you, I'll call you."

"Are you terminating him? You really should have a witness for that."

"I'll CALL you if I NEED you."

2:50. Heidi is in my doorway again. Her top two buttons are still undone; her perfume still fills the air, just as strongly as this morning. She's leaning against the door frame; it's actually a very sexy pose.


"Yes, Heidi."

"I was just on the elevator with two guys from risk? And they were arguing over who's getting Rob's flat screen monitor after he gets fired. I mean, I think they were kidding, but...."

"Thanks for the update."

"No scoop, eh?"


4:05. Bonnie. "Steve?"

"YES, Bonnie." What a completely fucking annoying day this has been. One interruption after another.

"Rob is here. He wants to know if you can take him early."

"No. In fact, tell him I'm running five minutes late."

I make a few phone calls and check the clock. 4:40.

"Bonnie, send Rob in, please."

I am sure to be writing something when he walks in. I look up, and I'm very careful not to offer him my hand.

Rob's face is a waxy, pale white, with pink splotches on his cheeks. He inhales sharply as he enters the room, as if coming in from the cold. He licks his lips twice.

"Hello, Rob."

"Hi, Steve."

"Take a seat."

He sits and immediately begins rubbing his knees.

"Rob, do you know why you're here?"

"Well, no. Bonnie said that she...couldn't tell me..." He licks his lips again.

"Rob, what do you think about me?"

"Ah, heh, wh-what?"

"What do you think about me?"

"Er, well, I, I mean, ah, I don't know you very well, but, ah, you obviously, ah, work very... hard..."

"mm-hmmm." I stare at him.

He licks his lips. He gets even paler, if that's possible.

I open a file folder, pull out a copy of the email, and put it on the desk in front of him. "Can you explain that to me, Rob?"

He doesn't look very surprised. "Steve, I, ah, I mean, ah, that was, ah, it was just a personal conversation. I didn't know anyone else was going to read it-"

"I don't care about that. Why did you say it?"

"Wh-what?" Lick, lick.

"WHY did you say that, Rob?"

"I - I, well, I was just.. talking."

"Asking about the wife and kids is just talking. Discussing the weather is just talking. Calling someone an asshole, that's NOT just talking."

He stares at me. "I, just, I don't know."

"Not good enough, Rob," I say, raising my voice a little.

Lick, lick.

"Wellll, sometimes I just think that you're.... a little big for your britches."

"Ah, a little big for my britches," I say, looking out the window. "NOW we're getting somewhere!"

"I mean, I mean, I think you're doing a good job, but."

"No you don't, Rob! No you don't! YOU think I'm too big for my britches!"

Lick, "I, ah," lick, lick. "Well, I just meant that, sometimes you, ah, you seem to like to give orders and make changes just because you can."

"Rob, do you feel good about this company? The direction we're going?"

"Well, I mean, you made that announcement that you want to cut another 10%, and you're not even giving anyone any raises. People are pretty upset about that. If we're gonna work harder, at least we should get more money."

He seems a little calmer now.

"First of all, remember what I said about discussing other employees' problems. I don't want to hear about how upset everyone else is. If everyone else is upset, let everyone else come see me. We're discussing YOU right now. No one else."

He nods.

"Secondly, regarding raises. I don't look at the company as a whole when giving raises to an individual. I'll never say, 'Gee, we have a pretty big surplus this year, so let me bump Rob ten percent.' If ROB does an outstanding job for us, and ROB deserves it, and the money is in the budget, then yes, you'll get a huge raise. If not, you won't, and I don't care HOW much money this company has. This isn't socialism. Are you following me?"

He nods and swallows visibly.

"Now Rob, the day is almost over, so I want you to just take the rest of the day and go home, and think about your position in this company. Think about how you feel about me and the direction in which this company is going. If you feel good about it, then we'll welcome you back. If not, you ought to look elsewhere."


"Either way, I don't ever expect to see you sending silly e-mails like this ever again. I should remind you, you are using company equipment and company time on these. All right?"

"I-I, I apologize, Steve."

"Thanks, Rob. Now, I should let you know, we're gonna have to put a copy of this in your personnel file. But I hope you can just put it behind you."


"Have a good day, Rob," I say, turning in my chair and picking up the phone.