I was going over my resumés for the bazillionth time a few days ago, finessing, fine toothing, all that. In the process I naturally thought not just about the jobs I've held, but also the people with whom I've worked.
It occurred to me that I have worked with a lot of people. If you count all of my jobs since I started working at age 16 and include colleagues at outside vendors and external resources, my professional associate tally is in the thousands. If all of them were on Linked-in and I connected to all of them it would make for a pretty darned impressive Linked-in home page. I have the potential to be the Ashton Kucher of Linked-in. But because many of those associates and coworkers are from years ago and I don't remember their last names and they certainly wouldn't remember me it would be difficult to contact-request them. And some of them are dead. In fact as I thought about it and took a serious tally, I know that 18 of them are dead. (I should mention that my undergraduate summer job for three summers was at a large corporation that, at the time, had an aging employee base and many of them retired during the course of my three summers there. So, you know, that former coworker death toll is somewhat skewed by that job and the older managerial staff at the summer job.)
I had a good laugh thinking about the reaction many of those long-ago associates would have when they received my contact request via Linked-in. Some of them might be happy to hear from me. A few of them might be annoyed. Many of them might have to take a moment to think about who I am and how they know me. But all of them would be surprised.
It would be a modern career version of High Fidelity. Instead of looking up former flames and visiting them in person, I'd contact former coworkers and colleagues on Linked-in. My how times have changed. In 1995 (when the book High Fidelity was written) that sort of thing (stalking) had to be carried out in person or on the phone. Back then, email/Facebook/Twitter et al were just glints in a frisky Al Gore's eye. Now we're all modern and efficient and computery and stalking people you barely know or haven't seen or heard from in years is de regueur. (Thanks, Al Gore, for the internet and all that it's done to advance society.)
For a while, Linked-in and other professional career based sites were polite, professional online outposts. People kept their behavior in check more so than on Facebook. The no-holds-barred free-for-all behaviors of Facebook and Twitter were not as prevalent on Linked-in. And then the recession got worse. And the job market got even more worse. And a lot of people got really desperate. And even though Linked-in is still "better" than other networking sites, it's not unusual to get contact-requests from people you've never met and have no reason to meet.
Because I've picked up sporadic freelance/consulting work and odd jobs (very odd jobs) over the past two years I have received some equally sporadic and odd contact requests on Linked-in. So far, I've kept my Linked-in outreach in check. I have to know the person in real life, or at least know the person who suggests the contact, to accept the contact request. I don't post status updates or photos or comments other than referrals, nor do I mention anything that I wouldn't want a hiring manager or CEO to see.
Basic professional behavior, right? I thought so, too. Until a couple years ago when things started getting really bad in the work-world and really weird on Linked-in. I've seen and read some things on Linked-in that are beyond cringe-worthy. For some people, Facebook seems to have blurred the line between personal and professional life and the appropriate boundaries of both.
Or maybe I'm just an old, uptight, relic of bygone professional behavior days, a curmudgeon. Maybe these days it's perfectly appropriate and acceptable to post your feelings about people whose political/social/religious/sexual views differ from yours, or what you had to eat last night and which wine you paired with it, or, more staggeringly weird in my eyes, your negative opinions of your former manager or coworkers, for all the world - especially your professional associate world - to read.
I dunno. It's still unprofessional to me and I'm sticking with my apparently outdated professional code of conduct.
So I won't be contacting all those long-ago former colleagues, coworkers and associates. But it still makes for a funny "what if" scenario. And that's what had me in fits of giggles.
"Hi, Marcus! Remember me? We met when you were the photographer at that photoshoot with that band who was supposed to be the next Rolling Stones but then the lead guitarist got a day job and the band broke up when the CDs were being produced and so they were never released? Shame, that, because your photos were great. You really captured the whole intergalactic sensitive singing cowboy from the future concept. Anyhooo, I know it's been a while and it would be great to catch up! - Trill"
Okay, that's not so out-of-the-realm of professionalism. But. Let's say he does remember me or just chooses to accept my contact request for other reasons. Then what? Now I have someone I haven't seen, spoken with or worked with in 15 years as a professional contact. A little weird and potentially fraught with issues. Like, what if Marcus is on parole, recently released from jail for a little felonious scuffle involving meth, male prostitution and a gun? Sure, I up his professional credibility but what about mine?
I thought about what these erstwhile contacts would or could mean to me. What do I stand to gain by having them in my contacts?
Upon reading that, the die-hard believers in Linked-in are screaming "Viva networking! You stand to gain a job!"
But I notice a lot of people on Linked-in are unemployed or underemployed or clearly miserable at their current jobs and desperately clinging to hope that networking on Linked-in will lead to a ticket out of that miserable job. In all of those cases there's not really a lot of employment or even viable employment contacting to be gained.
Yes, yes, it's still important and I'm on there and I know people, mostly HR managers, have viewed my profile. Linked-in does add a level of legitimacy to who you are professionally. No one's hired me via Linked-in, but every interview I've had was precipitated by a view of my Linked-in profile from someone in HR at the interviewing company. So yes, it's important, maybe even crucial, to be on Linked-in.
Back to my former colleague musings.
As I thought about some of those former workplaces and colleagues I thought about things that happened at those jobs. One common thread emerged: Get-togethers. From after work cocktail gatherings to holiday parties to potlucks in the break room, there have been a lot of social situations that resulted from work. And these social situations were typically borne of some unwritten rule in the universal company handbook which states that personal life events shall be recognized and celebrated at work. Birthdays. Engagements. Weddings. Babies. New homes. Job promotions. Retirements. All of these events are celebrated, usually forcibly, in the office. They become professional obligations. Trust me, I know what happens when you abstain from even just one of these celebrations. Woe to those who dare to decline. You are immediately ostracized from the office community.
And everyone knows who the decliners are because there's always a list. An envelope where contributions are deposited and the names of contributors are added. Or worse, a pre-listed envelope with everyone's name on it and a check box next to the names. As contributions are made, boxes are checked. The day of the party it's clear who contributed and who did not because there's a list. A list of everyone in the office's name and a check box that's either checked...or not. Everyone knows. Even when there's a designated gift contribution fund manager, and the contributions are kept locked in a desk drawer, that envelope is retrieved and the list is pulled out as contributions are made. The office gossipers know this game well. They either volunteer to be the designated gift contribution fund manager, or, more usually, they wait until the last possible minute to make their contributions so when the list is pulled out they can see who is on the list of contributors or who doesn't have a check-mark next to their name.
Typically before the party even commences the gossipers have spread their eye-witness account of the contribution list.
I once refused to attend an office potluck/engagement party for a guy who worked in a different department - someone I knew only because he once expedited the tax form process for one of my consultants - and I also declined to contribute to the "gift." The suggested donation for the engagement "gift" was $20. I kid you not. $20 per person plus a dish for the potluck for an engagement party. At work. There were at least 50 people on the eVite. That's a $1,000 engagement present (they wanted to get him a home store gift card), oh, and, the potluck had a theme, and the food for the potluck was to fall under the premise of the theme. A themed engagement potluck for a guy at work, a guy I barely knew and, all these years later, couldn't pick out of a line-up.
But. The afternoon after the themed engagement potluck luncheon went down, without me, I was office enemy #1. It took three months and a sleazy office romance between two other coworkers to knock me into the #2 most gossiped about at work position. I'm not saying it's why left that job, but when I was offered a position at another company I didn't hesitate to accept it. There was no "but gee, I'll miss the gang at work..." hesitation. And yes, there was a going away party for me but it was perfunctory and not very well attended. And there was no gift requiring a gift contribution fund, not even a $25 TGI Fridays giftcard regift. And no potluck. No theme. I got a card signed by the few people felt obligated to attend and copy of one of my projects hastily pressed into one of those cheap plastic frames from Walgreen's. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
But, prior to that engagement party I attended most (probably all, if memory serves correctly) office "parties" celebrating personal events. I brought in food for the potluck or paid my portion of the tab at the restaurant or bar. I contributed cash for gifts.
A lot of gifts. A lot of gifts to a lot of people I can barely recall.
Thousands of dollars to various gift contributions.
And then it hit me. Linked-in.
If I want to go out in a big way, really pound in the final nail of my career coffin, I now know exactly how to do it.
1) Make a list of everyone I've ever known in any professional capacity.
2) Cross off the ones who didn't get married, have a baby, get a promotion or retire during my professional association with them.
3) Contact all of the not-crossed-off people on the list via Linked-in.
4) Lull them into a false sense of professional security by remaining professional and non-invasive on Linked-in. No status updates, no reading suggestions, not even any "way to go" comments for professional achievements. Just very low-profile, professional behavior.
5) Once all (or most) contacts have been accepted, post this message:
"I worked with all of you at some point in my career. During our association you got married, had babies, bought new homes, got promotions or retired. These happy occasions were marked in the office with celebrations. Cakes, lunches at fancy restaurants, drinks after work, potlucks and gifts were bestowed upon you. I contributed my fair share to those gifts. Often much more than my fair share to the unpopular people whose gift contribution fund needed padding, you know who you are, Annie, Peggy, Ed, Opal, Jeanne-Marie and Jean-Luc, Darius, Lizette...I could go on but I won't. You get my point. I ponied up a lot of cash for these celebrations. Because I didn't get married, have a baby, buy a home, get a promotion or retire while we worked together, or because you left the company before I did, you got out of contributing to a gift(s) for me.
I'm now seeking to rectify this injustice, balance the books. Pay up. I have a PayPal account where the gift contributions will be accepted. Once you complete your transaction a check mark will be placed next to your name on the contribution check-list.
Minimum contribution amounts will be pre-set, based on how many events I contributed to you. If I contributed to multiple gifts during our work association your minimum contribution will be proportionally higher. For instance, Melinda and James, I pitched in for multiple gifts for you, two weddings and three baby shower gifts for each of you, plus going away parties/presents. So you each owe me for two wedding gifts and three baby shower gifts as well as going away gifts. And Melinda, I made the cake for your second office baby shower, which we all know is going the extra pot-luck mile, and it also meant that I had to take a taxi to work that day in order to get your cake safely to the office, so, you can pitch in cab fare, too."
I know, I know. It's a brilliant plan. I'd be a modern-day folk hero. I'm sure I'd have a lot of supporters. People who've been in my situation. The situation of constantly opening their wallets for gift contributions for office celebrations while never being on the receiving end of those contributions.
Curse those darned professional ethics of mine. Curse my desire to maintain integrity and valor. Curse my lack of balls.
I won't do it. I can't do it. And really, funny musing as it is, I don't even want to do it.
Office celebrations and ensuing gift contributions are just professional obligations. You wanna work in an office, you gotta pony up for the office party gift contributions. And don't look back. If you go down the reciprocation road you'll end up harboring a lot of envy and resentment. Useless and ultimately very unhealthy mindsets at work. Just contribute the money, attend the party, take the dish to pass or pitch in to the tab, and then forget about it.
But you know what would be great? If these people, these former gift-receiving colleagues, had a moment of realization and self-awareness and took it upon themselves to seek me out and acknowledge they came out ahead in the office gift gambit.
"Hi Trill! Long time no hear! I hope things are good with you. You know what? I was thinking about you the other day and I realized that when we worked together you contributed to wedding and baby shower gifts for me. And you organized the going away party when I quit. And I never got the chance to reciprocate. Here's $50 for the wedding and baby shower presents plus an extra $10 for organizing my 'I quit' party."
That's the movement I'd like to start. It's not about the money. Just some acknowledgement that they realize the balance is off, that they unwittingly came out ahead in the celebrations at work department. Just a few words of gratitude and recognition of this fact would be hugely appreciated by all the people who gave up a night at the movies in order to contribute to an office gift and never received a gift for their special personal occasion in return.
Labels: Linked-in, office gifts