Friday, July 08, 2005

Window Sitters

Right now it’s a bit slow at work (and hence the slight uptick in frequency of posts on this blog). The timesheet is woefully lacking in billable hours and I’ve spent all the requisite time doing “housekeeping” chores: backing up old jobs, reorganizing my work area, and planning on thinking about seriously considering with all due deliberation and without haste upgrading my skills in the various programs I work in (like Dreamweaver MX, which Macromedia had to go and switch everything around in — bastards!). Yep, I’m basically just puttin’ in the time and lookin’ busy, sheepishly wearing the yellow jersey for the fourth straight day on the Tour d’Internet. I don’t think there’s a blog left I haven’t left a comment on. I’m sorry, all you busy people out there. Please don’t hate me.

Whenever it gets slow like this, I’m reminded of a story I heard on National Public Radio some four or five years ago about a purely Japanese phenomenon. I can think of no other country in the world where this can happen. You see, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the old, established corporations take great pride in never laying people off, no matter how slack the work gets or how far the economy goes into the tank. I think it has much to do with pride and showing the world a thing or two about the Japanese way of ensuring lifetime employment. So when a middle manager in his fifties becomes an extra wheel around the office, rather than lay the old duffer off, the brass instead continues to pay him his $85,000 a year with full benefits while not assigning him a particle of work. That’s right — full pay, full benefits, for doing absolutely nothing. Often, these people are made to sit at conspicuous windows in the office building — for all the world to see — where they are forced to manifestly do nothing whatsoever. And they are tagged with the derisive name of “window sitters.”

As you can guess, this bizarre form of welfare is all supposed to lead to great loss of face, and the worker, consumed by shame and unable to countenance an unproductive, useless life, will in time leave. Often, these cast-offs find steady employment elsewhere; many go on to do consulting work. And the company can continue its claim of never having had to lay an employee off.

You can’t help wondering how this policy might play in the United States. Do you think people here might mind being window sitters? Ha! Here’s an instance where East meets West and East goes home with a migraine. Worried about loss of face? Right. Perhaps the question should be: would many of us worry about becoming the envy of others? Here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the No-show Job, window sitting could easily become the top career choice everybody scrambles for. “Hell,” we might say, “I dare my company to do that to me! Go ahead — my ego can take it. And look, my desk is already at a window!”


And yet, on second thought, maybe the Japanese have a point. Don’t we all — even the most unambitious of us — want to feel useful? I’ve always wondered about the major league baseball player with the enormous, guaranteed contract who rides the pine because of his .234 average. Does the money sooth his hurt pride, or take the edge off the feeling that his presence has no effect on his team’s fortunes? And here’s another example that’s closer to home for me: as a cycling enthusiast, I’m a regular at a local bike shop (and believe me, there’s always a reason to spend money on a bike). It so happens that this particular shop is staffed by one big family — in other words, the people who work there are either siblings or cousins to everyone else. The guy who runs the place, Rich, is the chief mechanic, and his brother and cousins largely wait on customers.

Now, here’s what I see every time I walk in there: Brother Phil and Cousin Steve hanging around the front counter, usually drinking coffee while Rich’s two female cousins sit on stools behind another counter shooting the breeze. And then there’s Rich himself, bike clamped to his work stand, sporting a neat work apron with clean tools sticking out from the pockets, tweaking a rear derailleur while chatting with a couple of bike couriers who are waiting for their turn. He’s always in motion, never seems frazzled, and unfailingly has time to talk to me and patiently answer my stupid questions. Meanwhile, Brother Phil leans on his counter and stifles a yawn.

Who would I rather be do you think? Industrious Rich or indolent Phil? The guy who’s motivated to work all the time or the other who mainly fights to stay awake? (The question, by the way, is meant to be rhetorical. This is where you assume I’m a real go-getter.)

Yeah, so maybe a window sitter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Let me come clean and tell you what type of worker I am. I need the whip. I need a deadline and dire consequences if I don’t meet it. I need responsibility thrust upon me. I need a sense of urgency, a reason to stir my posterior into action. Confronted with conditions like these, I nearly always respond. I’ll budget my time, put in the extra hours, multi-task, work the phone, boil up some coffee, do what needs to be done. But if it’s slow with nothing seriously pending, and if I’ve got a comfortable office chair and high-speed Internet access, then to my great shame I turn into a slug. That’s right: a giant, inert, soft-bellied, loathsome slug. It’s so seductive becoming a slug, and I succumb to it so easily. Oh, I’ll shake off my stupor from time to time to do something that might smack of productivity, but then I’ll hear the chair faintly whisper, “come, rest your butt on me, I’m soooo ergonomic,” and the Internet cajole by reminding me of the online comics I haven’t read and the inane Google searches yet to be done. The struggle is usually all too brief. The slimy trail leading to my desk chair says it all.

No, I don’t want to be a window sitter. Idleness isn’t good for me. What I want is a big, hairy guy in Viking costume to stand in my office all day beating a drum, just like they did in olden times to keep the galley slaves in tempo as they rowed the great wooden ships. Boom boom boom. And another guy, scrawny and toothless with a cackling laugh, to ply the whip to me when I can’t keep rhythm. That’s what’s I need. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind a bit if it happens right at the window for all the world to see.


Blogger :phil: said...

It sounds like we have similar jobs. I've been spending the last week and a half either IMing a co-corker who sits 6 feet away from me as we both are sputtering from laughing so much, or blogging. Then sure as #$%@, there is a deadline. I need someone screaming to me "MORE STEAM" as I shovel coal into the furnace. It makes the time go by and I feel like a 'useful engine'.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Honesty is such a lonely word! Good for you. I need the whip myself, because a day of sluggishness is like two, but one under the whip like a quarter. When I'm busy I'm happy. The internet is the apple on that forbidden tree, and the bane of employers everywhere. Ok, I gotta get back to work.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

Well said, Mr. Schprock! But if anyone out there wants to give me $85K to make their windows look pretty, I can start Monday.

10:08 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Phil, maybe you need Scotty from Star Trek calling for more dilithium crystals! And Scott, you're right, time drags while in slug-mode. I much prefer it when I almost have too much work to do. Time flies by and I feel like I'm a happenin' dude.

Chloe, I visited your blog and saw that picture of you. You've got the job.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Slugs are something I just pulled off my radishes in the garden. People shouldn't get paid for emulating them. =) Loved this post, Mr. Schprock!

8:28 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Amen to that, knitter! Being a slug is no good.

BTW, my family and I might try the camping thing in a few weeks. Probably the White Mountains in New Hampshire if we do it.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Ooo, you'll have to blog about it! I'd love to read what kind of time you all have ... plus pics. New Hampshire is so pretty!

2:48 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

My mind is in the gutter. Your last paragraph told me you would entertain a large man in a Viking costume, some whip action, and voyeurism on top of it all. Wow, Mr. Schprock, you're dangerous when you're bored.

Seriously. I understand not wanting to be a slug...slug action begins to bring you slug indentity and slug brain. Occasionally you need slug time to recharge, but not to just continue slugness.

And window sitting? What a concept. I think there are people out there who definitely don't mind operating that way to keep the paycheck. And then there are those of us who are just dying for any kind of tasks. We are the border collies of the world, not the sheep. We need to feel useful and participate to make a contribution. I hear ya'.

Find a way to give yourself some sort of deadline at work, even if it's fake, and keep the kinky stuff at home where it belongs ;)

3:17 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"We are the border collies of the world, not the sheep."

Extremely well put! I want to write that on a Post-It note and stick it where I can't miss it.

5:22 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

I don't know... I would give 'window sitting' a try. As long as I have the internet, I could get paid to do nothing... for a little while.
What kind of vacations would I get? :P

But yeah, I need deadlines too. What I really need though is to feel like the stuff I do actually matters, deadline or no.

11:30 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I had the same idea as Mona. If you do a Google search, I'm sure you can find some swarthy gentleman to dress up in a Viking costum and whip you. There's someone for everyone. :P

I'm not very self-motivated. I'm pretty sure I could handle that window-sitting job pretty easily. I used to say I could never have a job where I sat all day, but it grows on you. Now I don't know how I ever handled waitressing.

12:25 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

nypinta and trinamick, you know window sitting would get to you after a while. And nypinta makes a good point: it helps to feel your job matters and to have a passion about what you do.

12:49 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

What if I have a passion for window sitting? Can I feel good about being a skilled window sitter? I sit better than almost anyone.

1:58 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Trina, be the best window sitter you can be! We're all here to support you.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Mrs.T said...

OMG, you and I share an identical work ethic.. LMAO. This was very disturbing, similar and yet funny too to read.

9:37 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

You see, it's not that I'm lazy, I'm unmotivated. Big difference there. (Like the difference between "crazy" and "eccentric.")

4:31 AM  
Blogger :phil: said...

I always thought the difference between "eccentric" and "crazy" was dollars and sense.

4:51 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I always thought the difference between "eccentric" and "crazy" was dollars and sense."

I'm going to tell this one to my kids. They'll groan, like they do with all my jokes, but inside they'll be laughing. Thanks for this nugget, Phil.

8:17 AM  

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