Toxic workplace

1. The Reckoning


          I am a mid-level manager: Hear my roar! I travel extensively despite the quarantine—from my home office I plant my authority in my underlings’ living rooms, floating from apartment to apartment to peek through their windows and evaluate their performance. I am a company woman, a boss babe, and I set the pace, floating above them all in my corporate-sponsored cloud. Of my importance I was certain, until a fateful message pushed me from my pedestal into a sea of doubt. Now I am drowning, splashing in the froth of no longer knowing who I am or what I do, and it is all thanks to remote working.


          Click click click. Unless we’re outside work hours, the nightmarish sound you hear is not spiders hatching in your ear but my Slack message shaking up your peace. Check your email, I send, sounding out each syllable before I do. I then lean back on my swirly chair, holding the warm weight of responsibility and fresh coffee against my chest. After a breathing exercise, I check Facebook to see if the ex has responded to my poke from 2017. He’s just busy.  

          I glance at the clock. Three already! Time flies when you are busy. I prioritize tasks for the rest of the evening: I could look for formatting inconsistencies in the intern’s emails, but wouldn’t it be a better use of my time to berate the office manager for her overpriced highlighter orders?[1]

          Instead, I google memes for our all-hands presentation. Right as I land on NO PRESSURE NO DIAMONDS, a Slack message rips me from my reverie and sends me spiraling.  

          The Slacker is none other than the part-time admin, pretty and sweet and as pleasant as a hair in my margarita. Have a minute?  She writes.

          Have a minute? The words reverberate like the shaman’s drum. This is what remains of decorum and of law and order: managers are not even worthy of a do you anymore.

          It is time to reconsider remote working.


Check your email!

          Work was never meant to take place from home, of that I am certain. Time saved from not commuting can’t convince me otherwise. Healthy breakfasts and fresh lunches I only now prepare haven’t either. My yoga breaks and extra sleep haven’t argued their point, and palm trees swaying in the breeze and birds tweeting from my yard won’t change my mind—the people need an office.         

          I didn’t attend the nation’s most prestigious and overpriced schools just to lord my authority over two and a half employees. I am here to show these girls what success looks like, and sometimes leaders must demonstrate bravery and humility when making scary decisions before they’re asked to do so.

          First, I must temper the brat. Do I have time for what? I write, unfortunately forgetting to italicize the first two words.  

          To talk, she says. We are talking right now; I want to respond but hold off. She begins to type again; the three dots by her icon dance.         

          Some say that remote working improves employees’ mental health. I put little faith in the elites who forget about the clarity gained from our commutes. We are above all a civilized species, and the physical distance that separates a person from work and their beloved partners, families, and hobbies constructs the veneer that they don for colleagues and clients. What to say and how to act is only learned in the physical realm. As I forego all interests not directly in the company’s benefit, a corporate personality comes easily to me. Others are not so blessed.

          What is this about? I type before she responds, cutting her off. Chop chop, underling—I need to pick a color theme for the return-to-office announcement. Should I start off by saying that I am delighted or thrilled for us all to be back?

          Finally, she responds: Never mind. Melanie answered my question. Sorry to bother you.


          Sorry to bother you.

          My LinkedIn bio describes me as a super-star thought-leader, which means something different to all award-winning, growth-minded individuals, and a possible interpretation is that I let apologies stand and bygones be bygones.

          It’s okay, I respond. You haven’t bothered me.

          I send the Slack and stand up over my desktop computer to face the window. The sun washes over me, its radiance reminiscent of my own grace. I sip from my coffee, the sincerity of reconciliation supercharging my spirit. If only the admin could understand her impact on me today!

          They say that the solution to restitution is dilution, and I can’t overwhelm my coworkers with change if I want to return to how things were. After all, all is not lost: my colleague still somehow remembers how to apologize.

          We can still do two days from home, three if the team models the company’s mission according to my high standards. My boss will be so impressed to see the ducklings back in their pond first![2]

          Still aglow, I again check the ex on Facebook. Something is up–how could he not respond in four years? And it dawns on me to click on his profile.

          Engaged.

          This can’t be. Four years? That’s not enough time to get over me, start a new life, and meet someone new. Good things should only happen to those who work hard and network. Schadenfreude, my sweet relief, convinces me to search up another lazy bum—the admin. Surely her failure of life can be the salve to my own discomfort!

          Also engaged. I sit back down and stare at the wall.

          We come back Monday; I email everyone—no template, no color theme.


            Two engaged and one enraged, but my breathing slowly returns to normal. I lean back on my chair and tune into it all: the sound and the fury, the ocean waves pounding against the rocks. An eagle soars over a canyon; somewhere, a hiker’s boot crushes a ladybug. And here we are, unique instruments in the world’s ecosystem, about to assemble ourselves in our rightful nests as of Monday.

            I’ll ping the office manager to order donuts for everyone, but all three and a half of us know those pastries are for me and my authority. After all, we should celebrate the leaders who make hard decisions in our best interests, and today that person is me.


[1] $2 more on Office Depot than Amazon, a difference of almost $9 this year!

[2] When he decides he and his team should go back, of course.

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