The Four REAL Reasons Working in an Office Sucks

Hattie McDoogalWork25 Comments

skeletonshells

Look, working in an office can be terrible and soul crushing, but not always for the most obvious reasons. I don’t like the popular notion that everyone who works in an office is a soulless, dead-eyed drone. There is such variety in industries and workplace types that encompass “office work” that it’s impossible to generalize in such a way. Also, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think cubicles are all that bad.

Still, there are some things that strike me – nearly a decade into my working life – that really are difficult about reporting to that cubicle every day. Besides, you know, no sunlight in the winter and having to cram all your chores, errands, and fun into a few hours between the end of work and bedtime”¦

1.Food scrutiny: I already know that many of you will back me up on this one, so feel free to share your horror stories in the comments. I think the mental-stimulation deprivation of the average office environment makes people overly interested in otherwise-banal things such as their office mates’ eating habits. I see no other reason why so many places I’ve worked have included several food scrutinizers.

As a smaller person, I have gotten seemingly contradictory comments from the exact same person: if I’m eating something healthy I’ll get, “Look at you, eating a salad! No wonder you’re so skinny!” and if I’m eating a cookie or chips or something I’ll get, “Another cookie? How are you skinny if you’re eating cookies all the time?” From the same person.

I don’t get this kind of analysis in any other part my life. My family doesn’t do it. My friends don’t do it. My spouse doesn’t do it. Why? Not because those thoughts never cross their mind, but because there are so many other things to discuss, do, see, and analyze.  In an office, people have to resort to “YOU ARE DIFFERENT FROM ME AND THAT IS WEIRD” because what else is there to say?

2. Forced intimacy: True story: a few jobs ago, I had a coworker with whom I was close, in the sense that we not only worked on a lot of projects together, but were also fairly good friends. We got to a point where she knew what hair product I’d used that day based on how my hair looked.
There’s a reason that the “work spouse” situation is so prevalent in an office setting; sometimes you spend more sustained time with your coworkers than you do with your significant other, and it inevitably fosters close ties. And I think there’s just a general human inclination to feel a bond with someone you spend a lot of time with, regardless of whether or not there’s any affinity, or even common ground.

Unless your work friendship spills over into your “real” life, your coworker is just that. They can quit or be fired; so can you. If you work closely enough with each other, you could be in competition for projects or promotions. So this intimacy is weird. And unsettling. Speaking of which”¦

3. Identity Crisis: Thanks to the general time-warp qualities of being in an office (not unrelated to the above-mentioned sensory deprivation), when you’re at work, it’s hard to believe or remember that you have a full, rich life outside of work. The complete physical separation of being in an office every day, often augmented by a long commute, adds to this feeling. And if your job isn’t a perfect fit for you, like say it’s the only job you could find in a tough economy, going through the motions of something so out of your wheelhouse can be deeply confusing.

For example! My coworkers think I’m a numbers person. This is so hilariously wrong I can’t even think of an emoticon with which to express it. But hey, I work with numbers all day, and thanks to the magic of Excel, I’m able to do it without messing it up. But it really starts to mess with your head when the people you spend so much time with (see above) could be so completely wrong about you. For me, it is psychically alarming to realize that I spend such a large proportion of my day putting forth the impression that I’m something I’m not.

4.Achievement Unlocked!: An office job is kind of like an addictive iPhone game in that you have little mileposts you’re trying to get to. Every milestone you reach, after giving you a short buzz, leaves you with nothing but an inexplicable desire to reach the next one. Maybe it’s a small pay increase, a few extra days’ vacation, a fancier title, a nicer desk, or just public praise from a supervisor. Heck, depending on the condition of your office, even a nicer chair might be enough to motivate you to work harder.

The point is, these rewards are great, and it’s important that a good worker gets them, but they’re kind of distractions from the larger issue. Like most of the more-popular mobile games out there right now, there’s no clear goal, there’s no real finish line. And, even if there were a true goal, the longer you play, the farther you are from achieving it. Doesn’t Angry Birds just keep adding more levels? Has anyone ever beat that game?

And what does it say about the office “game” if you only win when you retire?

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Hattie McDoogalThe Four REAL Reasons Working in an Office Sucks

25 Comments on “The Four REAL Reasons Working in an Office Sucks”

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  1. Avatar of Ella
    Ella

    Man, why does office lunch have to be so stressful? Last time I worked in an office I would deliberately wait until after everyone else was done eating so I could sit in the god-damn lunch room by myself and eat in peace.

  2. Avatar of Elfity
    Elfity

    #1 was so frustrating to me at my last job, especially as a person recovering from anorexia. Even though I was trying to eat well, and in fact I kind of relearned to eat lunch at that job, I got a lot of comments about how little I ate and how thin I was. If I had cookies or something, there were lots of uncomfortable comments about how so-and-so shouldn’t eat cookies, but I could “get away with it.” And definitely #4. I always want to get to the next thing!

    I guess it’s a good thing I’m only doing some volunteer work right now, because just reading this stressed me out!

  3. Avatar of KellsBells
    KellsBells

    . . . can I add #5: Forcing yourself to be nice to the whacked-out office-mate?

    I work with an honest-to-god crazy cat lady.  She has six cats.  i know all their names.  I did not ask for this information, it has been forced upon me so many times that Scamp, Puddles, Tiger, Daisy, Rex, and Chico are seared into my brain.  I know their habits, likes and dislikes, and general state of health on any given day. I am not a mean person by nature, but I do not give one single fuck about this woman’s cats and there is no polite way to tell someone that.  Especially an overly-sensitive crazy cat lady who tends to cry every day about three o’clock when she knows Scamp is getting her feline diabetes injection.

    This is, truthfully, a real actual telephone conversation I overheard her having with her husband regarding one of the cats:

    “Hello?  Hi.  No, she’s in the garage.  No, she’s in the garage.  No, I left her in the garage this morning.  Did you call her?  Call her.  No, you have to wait, she’s probably asleep.  Give her a minute.  Call her again.  She likes to sleep on the boxes on the bottom shelf.  Did you shake the boxes?  You have to shake the boxes.  Shake the boxes and call her.  No, you have to wait after you call her.   No, I left her in the garage this morning and she needs her shot in the next half hour.  . . . . I don’t know what else to tell you, but you need to find her.  I left her in the garage.  . . . I need to go . . . no, I’m at work.  Call me as soon as you find her.  . . . ‘Bye.”

    no fooling less than one minute later:

    “Hello?  Yeah.  Oh, you forgot you let her in the house this morning?”

    *headdesk*

    I really, really wish that I were making this lady up.  She is a caricature.  She is the anthropomorphic personification of the idea of the crazy cat lady.  She should not exist in this plane of existence.  By rights, she should be living on an alternate universe that is comprised of literary constructs for humor and horror authors.  I resent her for forcing me to hear about her stupid, stupid cats and making me see pictures of cats she finds on the internet, and the morning parade of the picture of the day on her “A Kitten a Day” tear off calendar.

    Sorry for the rant.  I value my job too much to have ever vented this publicly.

  4. Avatar of Sarah Mojo
    Sarah Mojo

    SO TRUE! I really enjoyed reading this.
    1) Everyone…read EVERYONE in my office is on Weightwatchers right now. I am happy for them and all but it is super annoying to me, being a person who is by no means skinny but not unhealthy- I like to say I’m thick, because I feel like they’re scrutinizing my food choices and trying to get me to join their weight loss cult. For real, its ALL they talk about.

    2) Intimacy in my office has been an issue for me at my current work place because there have been people who want to be my “real” friend and I would prefer to keep them a coworker. Its that whole false sense of knowledge we feel we have about coworkers coupled with the frequency of contact. This had lead to some awkward conversations/situations.
    Personally, I love having things and people I intentionally keep out of my work to keep me balanced but some folks really just don’t get that. And then I end up feeling like a meanie when I don’t want to be bffs with work people who want that.

    Great piece :)

  5. Avatar of milly parkhurst
    milly parkhurst

    people in my office are obsessed with food, but it’s actually something we can all bond over.  so at least there’s that.

     

    My coworkers think I’m a numbers person. This is so hilariously wrong I can’t even think of an emoticon with which to express it. But hey, I work with numbers all day, and thanks to the magic of Excel, I’m able to do it without messing it up. But it really starts to mess with your head when the people you spend so much time with (see above) could be so completely wrong about you. For me, it is psychically alarming to realize that I spend such a large proportion of my day putting forth the impression that I’m something I’m not.

    I cannot agree with that more.  I hate this part of working-in-an-office syndrome because it really messes with my sense of self.  I feel like I lose all sense of myself as the weeks go by because I’ve become so absorbed in my work-life.  Work-me sometimes takes over at home-me, and that totally sucks because those two people are NOT at all the same.  I haven’t figured out how to deal with this yet.

     

    oh, and, my work bff is quitting – her last day is friday.  sigh.  forever alone.

  6. Avatar of jen*
    jen*

    First – this is so true.

    1 – I used to never bring Indian food for lunch (even though it’s one of my faves) because I didn’t want the judgmental looks about the “smell” (which I find tantalizing, but others don’t).  Then I realized that there’s an Indian guy here, and he brings Indian food whenever he wants to (almost all the time).  So now I just enjoy whatever I bring.  People here don’t ask “what IS that?” or “what is THAT?” nearly as much as they did at my last job.

    2 – I miss have a work bff.  I used to have a work-bff who was amazing and we would talk all the time (when not actively working).  I met his wife and kids, and visited once or twice.  But mostly we would talk about tv shows/movies/music and complain about our crazy boss.  He introduced me to Moxy Fruvous, though, so I will always be grateful.  And we still keep in touch, even though he’s moved on somewhere else.  I have less contact with my previous work-bff, but she was way cool, too.  I think I will probably only ever have 1 at a time.  Or maybe zero.  Like now.

    I don’t want to think about 3 & 4 while I’m physically in a cube.  It might make me sad.  And I have to get back to work! =)

    1. Avatar of raine
      raine

      I’m 97% sure I’ll be playing “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” at my wedding. Seriously, it’s nice to have pop culture things in common, though — I work with a bunch of very nice women who are great but twice my age and have no concept of what constitutes good television.

  7. Avatar of mxandb
    mxandb

    Oh, hey, I’m sitting in a cubicle right now! And Cubemate and I just had a brief eval of our shitty cube arrangement.

    1. Food: Cubemate and I joke about our dietary habits; his are horrible, mine are random. But, when he finds the Sweet and Spicy doritos as the cafe, I know to go check them out (delicious!). The other guy in the office (there are only two of 12 total people here) uses my eating habits to set his own. When I clang around with my bowl and plate and silverware, he knows it’s lunch time – you could say we’re “wall mates.” Days that I bring just a sandwich in a bag? Haha, he totally forgets to eat. It’s horrible. And funny.

    I do have one coworker who I worked with in a tiny conference room for a few weeks and there was a giant tub of animal crackers. Every day at around 2:00 I’d treat myself to a little bowl of crackers (for not killing any one in the room). Every day she would say the same thing, “Oh! Your blood sugar must be getting low!” Every.Day. I never responded to the comment because it was just beyond stupid. My blood sugar is perfectly fine, thank you.

    2. Intimacy: Cubemate and I are friends. But I’m more his ‘bro’ than wife. He has a wife and two kids. So, he and I talk about sci-fi, fantasy, and HBO stuff. He gets all his excited energy out regarding GOT and I get to learn about the series without reading the books and learning all sorts of new ways GRRM can kill a horse. He knows I’m single, knows my interests in internety things, knows I enjoy beer and little other things here and there. No one else in the office talks with me as much as him (rather than at me, cause seriously, some chatter is just AT and not WITH). We also give each other a hard time. It’s nice. You need a friend at work – no matter the setting. He’s it.

    But, every month I get a break from the cube life and see what the outside world is like when I travel to clients’ locations. When I return, I am very happy to sit at my desk, have all my materials around me and when I need to focus, I put on headphones and disappear. When I worked at a coffee shop, I was on my feet all day, hating the world. At my cube, I get up when I need to and I can hide when I need to. When I run, work out, or do yard work, the exercise is enjoyable, rewarding. My body hurts in good ways. I like that. I signed up for this type of setting when I chose this career.

    I go back to that tiny conference room next week, so I will need all the support I can get to not actually kill Annoying Coworker. There are not enough hippo crackers…

     

  8. Avatar of Spicy Armadillo
    Spicy Armadillo

    What irritates me the most is forced socializing – if I just come to work and do my job, I’m “mean”.  I’m polite, even friendly with people, but wanting to stay in my office and do my job for 90% of the day is apparently anti-social.  Many workplaces are not kind to introverts.

    1. Avatar of mxandb
      mxandb

      This is so true. It was even in my work eval last year.

      I have since established myself as Not A Morning Person so from 8 to 12, I can just be alone, working. After lunch, I’ll chat with one or two people, in sight of my manager and be done. Socializing for the day, over. :)

      Also, they just think I’m strange with no similar interests so they don’t get too worked up about it.

    2. Avatar of Meghan Young Krogh
      Meghan Young Krogh

      Cosigned. Dollars to donuts if you upped the socializing though, someone would comment on how you could be “a little more focused” at your next performance review, though. PEOPLE.

      1. Avatar of Spicy Armadillo
        Spicy Armadillo

        Oh definitely!  When I do socialize, I inevitably get comments from the powers that be that there’s work to be done. It’s annoying.  I’m in a hermit phase at the moment, so I just can’t care.

    3. Avatar of hiphiphooray
      hiphiphooray

      YES! I keep my door closed (I intern at a public health department), and people always ask me if something is wrong or if I’m okay. Since I am there to get stuff done for the university and I don’t have anything in common with these ladies, I don’t find it as appalling.

    4. Avatar of Elfity
      Elfity

      So much this! Whenever I find myself in an office position, I get so stressed over being appropriately social! I really prefer to just do my work, and chat when I have a lull in activity or I’m about to leave. I feel like it’s a bit awkward because I never know how to end conversations and get back to what I’m doing.

  9. Avatar of CherriSpryte
    CherriSpryte

    Oh, look, this is my life. Especially #3 - I’m regarded as some sort of technological wizard by most of my coworkers, simply because I’m about a decade younger and got a bunch of Word and Excel training at my previous job. In reality, I’m about as tech-savy as your average mid-twenties internet consumer, but because I know how to adjust margins and use formulas, I’m some sort of whiz kid. What I consider myself to be good at is, quite literally, the exact opposite of my job, so when my boss talks about “making the best use of my talents and abilities” I tend to go to the roof and sob after such meetings because THIS IS NOT WHAT I AM GOOD AT.

    I eat lunch at my desk everyday. No way in hell am I letting people judge my food choices.

    Also, #4? There are absolutely no achievements possible here. Not. A. One.

     

    My god, someone please hire me?

    1. Avatar of milly parkhurst
      milly parkhurst

      you and me both, girl!  this is exactly how i feel.

      people at work bombard me with really intuitive questions about word and excel because they think i’m inherently great with technology since i’m young.  it is aggravating, especially when some of my coworkers ask if this is what i went to university for!

       

      i also usually eat lunch at my desk.  but that’s mostly because i feel like i have to in order to answer the phone here.  sigh.

  10. Avatar of msophelia
    msophelia

    yes to all of these!  and i’ll add 1b – if you happen to be the person who orders food for the office, you will get all sorts of unsolicited feedback, nearly none of it positive, as well as the laundry list of what everyone is allergic to (necessary/good to know) and what they flat out just don’t like (you can’t even be in the same room as mayonnaise.  really.  huh.).

      1. Avatar of msophelia
        msophelia

        yeah, i will quite happily order to accommodate allergies and diets (currently, i’ve got veg, vegan, lactose intolerant, halal and celiac).  the fact that mayo squicks you out won’t rate real high on my list.  and when i remind people that they’re more than welcome to purchase their own lunch… the conversation generally comes to a close pretty quickly.

  11. Avatar of seekwill
    seekwill

    My administrative assistant used to be a nutritionist and so she is always talking about food and it drives me nuts. On her second week on the job she asked whose diet Coke was in the fridge. When I responded that it was just left over from a work function and she could have it if she wanted, she acted as if I had hit her. “Oh, no. No way. Didn’t you know pop is so bad for you? Well, I guess we all mess up sometimes!” Yuck.

    However, you hit the nail on the head with the forced intimacy. My co-workers are constantly asking me if I have seasonal affective disorder, when I go to the gym, what I weigh, etc.. I’m kind of a private person. But it’s hard to say to someone “Why are you asking me that, I don’t want to tell you!” when you work in a 3 person office.

  12. Avatar of QoB
    QoB

    The food thing immediately reminded me of  Catherine Tate: must watch!

    The forced intimacy thing… my co-workers are great, but I never want to hear about how their childrens’ potty-training is going…

  13. Avatar of Cesy
    Cesy

    Persephone is reading my brain today, with the extra hours and the office working thing. I am very lucky, I have a very lovely and supportive workplace. I love my colleagues, but they are that, colleagues. I have one that I work with very closely, but we specifically decided we wouldn’t add each other on Facebook because while we do socialise out of work, we live in each others pockets enough that adding something else would be too much. It’s also handy for when we need to stalk someone that we can do it from the other persons Facebook!

    Right now, I’m looking at a 10 hour office work day, all of it spent looking at a computer. It’s not going to be pleasant. My work/life balance is out of whack at the moment and I need to do something about it! And to remember to eat. Thankfully we don’t have the Food Police here, but we do have someone who isn’t comfortable in her body so she mentions it a lot. I generally just try and keep to myself at lunch time because of that.

  14. Avatar of raine
    raine

    The food thing! I wait until 2 p.m. sometimes to heat up my lunch just to avoid weird comments. I really don’t need to answer the questions eight times in fifteen minutes: “What is that? What are you having? That smells great, what’s in that? Is that chili? Does that have cheese on it? Looks so much better than mine! I can’t believe I have to eat a salad today, I’m trying to lose weight but I hate rabbit food! Did you get that from Whole Foods? No seriously, what’s in that?”

    Also, people get really excited when we both end up bringing the same frozen burrito to work. Seriously.

    It’s annoying more than stress-inducing, but I feel bad for anyone who has an eating disorder who has to put up with that, which is why I try not to engage people about their or my choice of lunch.

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