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Utility Player

Motorola emphasizes team-building in all of its many departments, and what’s a team without a good utility player, the guy who doesn’t (necessarily) excel at any single task or skill, but he’s competent, even proficient, in many different areas. The utility player, if properly utilized (see that pun? I’ll bet you all missed those), fills gaps in the roster and creates a well-rounded, undoubtedly successful team.

By default, because I’m the New Guy with No Seniority, I’ve become the “utility player” of the office. And let me tell you, it kind of sucks.

When I first started this job, they hired two new people. The other guy got fired after a couple of weeks because, according to a coworker, when he ran out of work, rather than seeking out more to do, he would sit in his cubicle and stare at the woman across from him. It understandably creeped the woman out on just a general level, but what got him fired—in addition to sitting around for hours doing nothing at all—was the “murderous look” the woman insisted he had in his eyes whenever he would stare at her. I wasn’t exactly best friends with the guy, but I’ve never seen him give a look that I’d call “murderous.” He had dull, vacant eyes, and he never quite seemed to have a firm grasp of what was happening around him. Perhaps that alone suggests he should have been fired, but it kind of bugs me to hear him slandered every once in awhile. And yes, it’s been several months, but she still talks about him.

This guy being fired happened to coincide with me catching up with a backlog of work that they all seemed to believe would take me two months. I finished it in two weeks. Oops. I sat around for a few days with very little to do, basically on call for the few times a day that they had something to do, and then this guy got fired, so they trained me to do what he was doing. And I caught up on the backlog of work he had in two weeks. And again, I was on call. This got me some brownie points with management, but it annoyed my more direct superiors because I was sitting around for most of the day with very little to do.

So they kept giving me more…and more…and more. Training me on more advanced functions that I could do on top of the job they hired me to do.

Two weeks ago, another coworker announced he had found a better job and would be moving on. He basically taught me his entire job, which is a surprising and consistent workload, on top of what I already have to do. I don’t know what to feel about this. Half of me thinks, “Hrm, perhaps I can’t get away with the hour-long breaks, three-hour lunches, and sneaking out half an hour early every day if I have so much work to do.” The other half reminds me that the only reason I’ve been such a slacker is because I have so little to do, and at least the day—boring though it still may be—slips by a little more quickly when I have something to do. But at the same time…I’ve gotten used to my slacker ways, and I was starting to enjoy getting paid to do 30 minutes of work a day.

At any rate, today was my first exciting day flying solo with this other guy’s work. He trained me pretty rigorously, taught me various tricks, and Friday was his last day. It wasn’t too bad. I ran out of what I typically do around 8:15 (and I had to take Thursday and Friday off—look at how it piled up while I was away!), so I started on his stuff and it kept me going for most of the morning…

Then, around eleven, a coworker approached me with the proposition of doing still more work. This stuff, she said, was more important than everything else I’ve been doing. They say this every time they want me to do something new. I guess it’s probably true, and it’s important enough that they don’t want me to learn it too quickly and fuck it all up. And I don’t really have the option to say “no,” so I agreed to it, and she said she’d talk to management and get back to me.

When I returned from lunch, she had sent me an email saying we were good to go and I should meet her at her cubicle. She had gone to lunch while I was out, so I sent her an email saying I was ready whenever she got back, and I went back to work. About an hour later, I got an email saying, “Come on over!” I came on over, and there she sat, her lunch all over her desk, as yet uneaten.

“Have a seat,” she said, her mouth full. This didn’t disgust or alarm me, particularly. I thought it was a little bit unprofessional, but I consistently violate the dress code by wearing (gasp!) jeans, and nobody cares, so whatever. I did think it was a tad rude to just kinda sit there and eat in front of me. I considered offering to come back later, not just because I’m not a big fan of watching other people eat, but because she’d probably end up getting distracted and the food would get gross. I don’t even know why she told me to “come on over,” but at that point I wanted to get the training over with, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Do you like Chinese food?” she asked a little while after she had started training me.

“Oh,” I thought, “she’s going to offer me something.” I hadn’t eaten long ago, and I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t want to be rude, though, so—

“I got this wonton soup,” she said. “It’s good.”

And that was it. No “would you like some?” or “I have an extra egg roll you can have” or anything like that. I probably would have said no anyway, but it’s really the offer that counts. Then again, I wouldn’t share my lunch with any of these people, so who am I to judge? She shouldn’t have brought it up, though. It’s weird, like, “Oh yeah, you like this food, you like wonton soup? It’s delicious, I’m really enjoying it, AND YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY.” She wasn’t trying to be like that, but it still struck me as strange and rude.

At one point, she said, “My soup is getting cold,” in an accusatory tone, like I had barged in on her uninvited and now I’ve ruined her day. That actually did piss me off. Was this some sort of bizarre, elaborate test of whether or not I was really a part of the team? Do they want to know if I’m to that point where I know these people well enough to say, “I’ll come back later,” even after being invited, because I know she’d rather just eat her damn food? Because, you know, they could just ask, and I’ll tell them “no.” So far I’ve spent about as much time trying to get to know these people as I have doing actual work; I only know a few people well, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I went back to my cubicle and somebody from management came to me to “touch base,” telling me—this was clearly too complex for me to figure out on my own—that I should spend a few hours on each of my many tasks, even if I don’t end up finishing everything. We use a computerized queue system that puts things in order of priority, so I finish a bunch of stuff in one queue, then move onto the next, and so on, but I may switch queues before they’re empty. The fact that I’m doing anything is helpful, which is nice to hear, but my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are going to force me to do a little better than that—if I do a bunch of shit but don’t finish anything, not only will it drive me nuts, I’ll be a really half-assed utility player.

So my goal, in the coming weeks, is to catch up on everything in my queues and reach a point where I am doing a job they thought would require three or four people…

…and still take hour-long breaks, three-hour lunches, and leave half an hour early.

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