Let me state up front that I dislike “cubicle farms” as much as anyone. In fact, I detest them more than all of you because they were invented in the midst of my career. I was forced out of my office and into a cubicle in the name of the New Collaborative Paradigm … for me, it’s personal.
But I knew better than to complain about it when it happened. There is a certain amount of non-industry specific knowledge that one accumulates about the working world as one passes upward through the ranks from that first job. Just because you’ve graduated from college doesn’t mean your education is over. Oh no, new millennial employees in your first jobs; it is just beginning!
Here are 4 things I wish someone sympathetic had made clear to me when I was in your shoes.
1. Work is WORK! It is supposed to be challenging – mentally and, sometimes physically. It will take you a while to accustom yourself to the routine and the physical changes. Cubicles are part of what you are expected to surmount. Deal with them. Don’t whine about them. You will adjust. Rearrange your priorities and your schedule to include a workout at a gym or a jog in the park before or after work.
2. Conditions of Employment are legal conditions that you agree to accept (whether or not you actually know about them) when you accept the job. That includes sitting eight hours a day in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting, or wearing hosiery, or not wearing heavy cologne in the cubicle farm or whatever it happens to be.
3. Everyone in your position throughout time has believed him/herself to be underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. That is par for the course. Don’t complain about it; just do your job brilliantly and keep your eyes open for opportunities to shine. Everyone in your position throughout time has wanted more time off. That is, of course, opposite to your place on the corporate totem pole. The newest people get the least time off and often have to work over the holidays. Again, don’t complain about it. Recognize that the more days you call in sick in order to screw off; the more face time you’re losing at work and the longer it will take to earn that first promotion. Plan accordingly.
4. Politics in the workplace is – if anything – more ruthless than national politics. Be prepared. Behave in an ethical and professional way at all times – especially online. Never (and I mean that in all caps) show up your boss; your job is to make him/her look good. If there are ethical issues, document them thoroughly and go to Human Resources. You have to protect your own best interests in cases of harassment or discrimination; you must be your own advocate in those instances and not allow yourself to be solely counseled by company lawyers (who are, of course, protecting the company’s interests and not yours).
A right-to-work state is a state in which it is illegal for workers to bargain collectively to change or improve working conditions. If you are so unhappy with the working conditions under which you labor; there is a solution. It is to unionize. But – and it is a humongous but – the conservative elements of our society have a 30+ year head start on you. They have been assiduously demonizing and actively restricting unions and union activity for the very reasons that you have just discovered that you want to gather together to oppose your employer. The fight will be horrendous. Are you ready for it?