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Sunday, August 31, 2008


Great article by Ann Altman. It is all over the web.
I have added my own comments in bold below hers.

Fri Aug 15, 8:08 AM ET

When I tell people I work at an insurance company, I feel I need to explain myself. Sure, I work in insurance, but I'm "in insurance" about as much as a Giants Stadium security guard is "in professional football." See, I'm a temp. An outsider. My industry? Survival.

I perform and write comedy, which in my case is not lucrative. So I temp and do my funny business on the side. Since moving to New York I've strung together about a dozen long-term temp gigs at big-time, fancy-pants companies. Now, a year after settling in, I still don't know a thing about insurance. But I know a whole lot about surviving in a bureaucracy. Here are five tips from a bitter temp:

1. Relish The Comfort Of Corporate Largesse. Two jobs ago I shared a conference table in a windowless room with 12 other people five days a week. My last gig was a step up: an office in the Empire State Building, a jewel of an historic building with climate control from another century. Imagine my delight when I arrived at my current job to find not only my own air-conditioned cubicle, desk, phone, computer, and Aeron (MLHR) chair, but a nearby pantry stocked with free coffee, milk, and cereal -- including my guilty pleasure, Corn Pops (K).

Temping or contracting are really the same thing..You are fungible in either case. I have worked in dozens of companies as a contractor. I never get too worked about where my office is. Cube, hard-wall, window. I just don't care. My preference is an out of the way office that no one else wants or even a remote cube. I am not staying for long so I have learned to do without this status symbol. Even if I was an employee I would act the same. Offices are things that people can hold over you in the power game. They create attachment and I don't want that. I don't want a window office. They are not paying me to look out the window.

2. Learn The Jargon, But Use It Carefully. Each time I'm assigned to a new company, it's like moving to a new country. I've got to learn the local language. In my current office, the underwriters talk about "sublimits," "percentage deductibles," and "quota-share excess renewals." It's Greek to me. There's also an account service notification form, otherwise known as an ASNF. Say that one aloud and see if you don't laugh as hard as I did.

I learn the language and acronyms just so I can navigate the business. After leaving I promptly forget them. They take up to much storage space.

3. Follow The Manual, Keep Your Sense Of Humor. Bureaucracies are big on protocol. There's a right way to do everything -- like recording your voice mail message. My company manual suggests this: "Hello. This is Anne Altman. I am unavailable . Please leave a message and I'll return your call as soon as possible. Thanks and have a nice day." Here's what I'd really like to say: "Hi. This is Anne Altman and I'm screening your call. I will most likely reply to your voice mail with an e-mail so I don't have to speak with you. Buzz off."

If you don't follow the manual eventually someone will come and tell you that you broke the rules. There's always a sheriff in town and their little deputies. After all this is their town. I will turn in my guns to the sheriff when I enter a town but I like them to know that I am just passing through.

4. Drink The Kool-Aid, Just Don'T Chug It. Bureaucracies are little subcultures that sometimes seem more like cults. Take sales meetings. They bear a cult's telltale signs: leader [an over-caffeinated VP of sales], mantra [Accelerate in 2008!], big production number ["The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"], and ritualistic insignia [logo-emblazoned totes]. I sit in the back where nobody can catch me scrawling "KILL ME PLEASE" on my handout.

I don't even sip the Kool-Aid because I simply don't want to stay too long. I don't tell my client that. I might even place the glass up to wet my lips but I don't take any in. I go so far as to try not to attend Friday beer bashes and company meetings. I drive by all sorts of buildings in the Valley where I once worked. It is like driving by a restaurant where I once had a meal.

5. Don'T Get Too Comfortable. Settle in. Master the language. Sip the Kool-Aid. But remember: You could be out on a moment's notice. I was once denied a dollar-an-hour raise. At first I was insulted. But the next week two execs were canned with no notice, led down the hall like criminals, and spirited out with a "We'll mail you the contents of your desk." Young guys right out of college were speechless. Me? I poured myself a bowl of Corn Pops and sat back down in my Aeron chair.

Over 31 years, I have been laid off 4 times as an employee and have escaped half dozen other potential RIF's. I can't remember how many people I have RIF'd or walked to the door after they had been fired. Every single one of my contracts has ended. Either I say enough or the client says, thanks but time to go. THAT IS MY JOB! TO LEAVE!

The manager gives me the ball and tells me to pitch an inning or two. Then he takes it back and I return to the bullpen.

Luxury is not having to be comfortable.

I've adapted so well to my new environment that my boss wants to offer me a job, make me legit: an underwriter. "So, Anne," he said. "Do you like insurance?" After some stalling I said: "Look, I don't understand this stuff, but I love the cereal here. I love the chairs. I really, really like a few of the people, and I'd like to stay. How can we make that happen? Could I have a demotion? Order staplers and stuff? That I know how to do."





I ran 26 minutes today.

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