A game I like to play at work is to look at the new phone sheet and try to figure out what’s changed.
The law firm where I work has five branches across California, and this office is the smallest of them, with about 50 employees. It’s small enough that you know everybody but big enough that you don’t have to talk to the people you don’t like. It’s also just big enough that you don’t always notice when somebody leaves or somebody new is hired. Whenever there’s any personnel change, which seems to be about once every other week or so, the office manager issues a new, updated phone sheet. And there are enough names on that sheet that the revisions aren’t immediately evident.
Today, we got a new phone sheet in the morning, then another one about two hours later. Carolyn, one of the assistants, told me last week that she had given her two weeks notice, which meant that today was her last day. I’m not very social at the office, but I talk to Carolyn a lot. Or rather, Carolyn talks a lot. Sometimes to me. She’s a soft-spoken, heavyset woman who likes to smile and likes to stare at you for a long time before she says anything, as if to make sure she has your attention first.
For most people, “How are you doing?” is a meaningless pleasantry, meant to invite a stock response, along the lines of “Pretty good. You?” or “Not bad for a Wednesday.” But not for Carolyn. Last week, I asked her how she was doing, and she told me her sister was dying of cancer. After temping for years at a lot of different companies, as temps do, Carolyn had finally settled into a permanent job at this firm, and she said it was the best job she’d ever had. “They really respect the employees here,” she said.
Now she was moving to Laughlin, Nevada to share her sister’s last days. She didn’t know what she was going to do for work when she got there, and she dreaded starting another job hunt. She knew she’d never find anything as good as the job she had now.
Me, I hate this place.
Two weeks ago, I received a gift from the employment agency that got me this job. It was a jar of jellybeans with a note on it congratulating me on completing a year on the job. I don’t like jellybeans, and I really don’t like the fact that I’ve been here for a year.
When I started this job, it seemed like I was only about a month away from something big finally happening in my writing career, which would enable me to quit. Throughout the last year, it’s always seemed like I was about a month away from something big finally happening in my writing career. At this very moment, as I write this, big things are brewing. I also have some timesheets to enter and faxes to send.
Working in a law firm was never my dream, and neither was being a secretary (my official title, though I always substitute “assistant” whenever I can). I went to a good college, got good grades, and I have a master’s degree — okay, it’s in screenwriting, but you get the point. I’m a smart guy, smart enough to realize that this law firm isn’t the right work environment for me. It’s not just that I’m overeducated for what I do. There are people here with better educations than mine. I don’t fit in here. Everyone in the office is much older than I am, and they don’t resent being here as much as I do. It’s not easy to find someone to have lunch with.
Scott is the only other male secretar—er, assistant – who works here, and this week, he found out that his boyfriend has a melanoma and doesn’t have long to live. This has not been a good couple of weeks for the health of my co-workers’ loved ones. Scott has already decided to take a leave of absence. He’s worked here ten years.
It’s never easy to leave a job, and the only reasons people usually do are for something more important to them than work, or for a different job. I’ve been here for a year and two weeks.
Usually, I don’t know why we’re getting a new phone sheet, but when the first one came this morning, I knew exactly what was different. Carolyn’s name was gone, replaced by that of the temp who’d be taking her place. And the revised phone sheet that followed that one two hours later corrected the spelling of the temp’s name, which was apparently wrong the first time. It was a minor change and one most companies wouldn’t have bothered to issue a new phone sheet to correct. But my company not only corrected it, they corrected it immediately.
They really respect the employees here.