The Case of Corporate Cancer

The words in my mind are loud and constant, but my tongue and my fingers have not moved. My eyes have been capturing images and my ears hearing sounds, both connecting with my brain, communicating all kinds of things, and yet my voice has been silent. For weeks, months, this has been going on.

Indeed. Life has been a challenge for some time. I thought about writing, even attempted it, then pulled back. News from others I interact with made me realize my problems are miniscule and the connection from my brain to my fingertips wouldn’t work. Black on white wouldn’t type. Feelings of self-disgust over self-centeredness overtook everything else.

A coworker’s mother has been battling cancer for the last couple of years. She was doing better, but then complications showed up in early November. This coworker rushed to her mother’s side and began the long wait. About that same time I learned that another coworker who has been battling ovarian cancer came down with the stomach flu right before Christmas. She is still fighting for her life a month later. The other coworker’s mother lost her battle this week. Last week, my boss’s mother lost her battle, which had begun just a month ago.

With all this death and dying going on, what do I have to complain about?

The facts are, I have been working nine- and ten-hour days since mid-August. Despite the fact that my workload has increased by more than 60 percent since I started my job four years ago, there is no help coming. I wear the hats of three positions in the company I work for, and I have no backup. If I were to be hit by the proverbial bus on the way to work one day, no one could pick up where I left off. My guess is it would take someone nearly a year to learn my job because that’s how long it took me to learn it when I joined the company. Honest! My first day on the job my boss told me that he could give me a list of my responsibilities and the deliverables I needed to produce, but he could not tell me how to do the work. All he could offer me was advocacy. He would get me whatever I needed, just as soon as I figured out what that was. I thought he was teasing me. He wasn’t.

All of last year I didn’t take any vacation time because I knew it would be too painful to come back and deal with the backlogs. I did take off three days, one at a time, scattered months apart, for personal business not for fun or pleasure. Out of desperation for a break, I finally told myself to take the two weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s. That’s generally a slow time and I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. One month later I am still not caught up.

Some time ago I explained to one of my brothers that in the duties of just one of the hats I wear at work, I open and process more than 300 emails each day. On busy days, that number climbs to 400. He didn’t believe me. He argued using the logic that if each email takes 2 minutes and I have a slow day of 300 emails, then that’s 600 minutes except that an eight-hour day has only 480 minutes. Exactly. “That’s nonsense,” my brother declared. “If you worked for me, I wouldn’t allow that,” he said. I don’t work for my brother.

My former boss understood my predicament. He saw the big picture and advocated for me, regularly sending me home on Friday afternoons. “Get out of here,” he would say. “It’s not going anywhere and you need to see some sun.” My former boss left the company in September. I learned quickly that he alone had the big picture, despite the fact that he was a couple of rungs below the executives. In his absence it’s been fascinating to watch the void open up and the black hole suck out the life of the company. I never would have believed one person—and a non-executive at that—could have that much impact on the energy and life of a business. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

When I first joined the company, there was excitement and energy and passion. In the last five months, there’s been a slow degradation of all of that. Now there’s a heavy feeling of resignation, that we’re all stuck there without hope.

A couple of weeks ago one of my coworkers quietly told me she was tempted to bring in a bunch of sage and burn it to cleanse the office of the bad spirits. I’ve been wondering where a person can buy bundles of sage in the middle of winter.

Shortly after my former boss packed up and left, I picked up a job search, looking for a chance to try out an “unknown”. Experts say the economy is improving and there are many jobs. They lie.

With all the disease and deterioration and lack of leadership in the company, it’s hard to find an ounce of hope. I know it’s moments like these when true leaders are created, but I’m afraid they’ve all left.

Similar to an Arab Spring, I think some of us should join together and create a Corporate Spring. We could protest and lobby for a true-eight hour workday, for the flexibility without repercussions to use our earned vacation time, for managers who are advocates with peripheral vision. Wait, didn’t someone do that once before?

I just remembered, I have a sage bush in my back yard. I wonder if I can harvest that in winter.