mytopleft

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Must have missed the "No Peons" sign on the door


Temp Town, situated as it is on the bottom rung of the legal-community ladder, nonetheless is not immune to the social stratification that divides the legal community into layers that are mutually exclusive and mutually contemptuous. It is at least a little bizarre that, at the bottom of the legal food chain, there nonetheless is scrambling to avoid being the leastmost among us. Yet that is the case. Still, there are important distinctions to be made in how Temp Town is divided.

I will be the first person to admit that there are degrees of separation in Temp Town. I impose them every day. Over the last too-many years, I have worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of temps. They fall into categories -- my degrees of separation. As most people do, I filter the people I meet or work with into categories, and those categories define how important those people are to me and how much access to me I allow those people. Like most folks, I do this based on the degree to which I actually want to associate with someone personally, as opposed to whether my "class" allows association with that person. Bear with me, this becomes relevant.

My first filter applies to almost everyone I work with: nothing about these people gives me any indication I want to actually get to know them, and so I don't. For these temps, I don't even bother to learn their names. It doesn't matter how many times I am on a project with them, I have no interest in knowing who they are. This often includes people with whom I have worked repeatedly and who have taken the trouble to learn my name. Absent a reason to do so, I feel no need to take even that first step to learning who they are. In this business, I work with too many people to even try to do things differently. For some people I have worked with repeatedly, I assign nicknames. I am too lazy to link right now, but Stevie Nicks and the Bridge Troll come to mind as examples. Both have been mentioned on this blog previously. There are others. In any event, temps are so transient that it would be impossible to try and know them all and learn their names. And that doesn't even address whether a wise person would want to.

Having eliminated most of the folks I work with from any kind of personal interaction at all, we move to the next category: People to whom I will speak, but still not bother to learn their names. I have no particular affinity for them, but I do not find them to be someone with whom I refuse to speak. They're OK, but of no special interest to me, and hence not worth the brain cells it would take to learn and remember their names. They likely feel the same way about me, but if they don't, I don't care. That's just the way it is.

Now we get to the third filter: people I actually like. Even here, there are sub-filters. People I like, I will bother to learn and remember their names. We will chat in the break rooms, go out for a drink after work occasionally if it is convenient for both of us (no extra effort required, in other words), and generally be friendly -- but we will not exchange any contact information. If one of us got hit by a bus and the other didn't know, there would be no worrying about "Where is Raised by Wolves" if the person didn't see me for a few projects or, for that matter, ever again. We're just not that into each other.

Sub-filter two here catches the people whose names I learned and like well enough to give them my email address. We're down to being able to count these people on my digits without taking my shoes and socks off. I might only need one hand. I actually like these people and talk to them about things that don't involve work. They are perilously close to being friends of mine.

The last sub-filter is people with whom I want to maintain contact outside of Temp Town even if we both leave Temp Town. not only do I give them my email address, I give them my cell phone number. These people are actually friends of mine. In all of Temp Town, there are three people who meet this standard. They might be the only three people in Temp Town who would want to meet this standard -- I'm not claiming that people are pining away, hoping to get my phone number. I'm just saying that I apply my personal filters and arrive at conclusions about with whom I choose to associate, and at what level.

And this brings us to my earlier "class" reference. As anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple minutes knows, my opinion of management in this industry is low. Rule No. 1 in Temp Town is "They're Lying." "They" is everyone we work for -- the agency, the law firm, the firm's client. None of them value us enough to tell us the truth. But by and large, the only entity that communicates with us is the agency. And they're lying. There are a variety of reasons for this, most of which are explained in the early days of this blog (link-free, sorry, but refer to my earlier statement of laziness). But one of the reasons they're lying is, we are not of their world. This cuts to the core of my "class" reference at the beginning of this post.

Temps make their decisions about which temps they choose to associate with -- and how close those associations become -- on a personal basis. Temps' relationship with their agency is based entirely upon a social class arrangement -- a caste system, if you will. In this world, all temps are automatically beneath all agency employees. I don't think the agency folks even realize they're doing it, but they are, and it is intentional. Perhaps they simply don't see it as the class warfare it is. Maybe they do and don't care. I don't know. But I do know that the class warfare is both undeniable and intentional.

The agency for whom I currently work recently moved into a new office space. The new space combines the corporate offices -- sales, administration, etc. -- and the review spaces. To ensure that the hoi-polloi reviewers cannot stroll back into the corporate section of the office space, there are key-card locked doors between the corporate and review areas. Reviewers' key cards will not open the doors leading to the corporate spaces. Think of it as the moat that separates the nobleman's castle from the serfs who work his fields.

Unfortunately for the nobility here, the ventilation system is such that there is an over-pressure situation on the corporate side, and the airflow out of the corporate side tends to prevent the doors from closing all the way, meaning it usually does not require a key card to pass from the review side to the corporate side.

And this brings it all together. Two of the three people in Temp Town with whom I share both my email and cell phone info -- in other words, people I would call friends -- are project managers at this agency. Their office is on the corporate side of the moat. Fortes fortuna juvat, so I when I had time I would routinely take advantage of the air-flow disparities here and go across the moat, sans key card. This week, I got an email from on high telling me to quit coming across the moat because I don't belong over there. If I need to talk to a project manager, I can email that project manager or contact a corporate toadie to see if they can solve my problem. But stay on my side of the moat.

There may be legitimate reasons for this policy -- for instance, to keep reviewers from disrupting corporate business. But I don't see it -- all of the offices have doors that can be closed, most reviewers have no reason to go back there -- and, for that matter, no time and, frankly, no desire to go into the corporate spaces. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the policy has legitimate groundings -- what it looks like is a moat: keep the serfs on their side of the moat.

I'm not a class warrior, and I actually like the folks I know on the corporate side, but really? This might not be malicious, but it sure isn't a morale builder. Seems like they could treat us like responsible adults. On the other hand, I guess my years in Temp Town have taught me that most temps haven't earned that kind of treatment. Maybe I don't have a complaint here, after all.

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