business comments edit

Just when I had begun to convince myself that the world of Dilbert was really only a joke, that Office Space was funny because it was a caricature of real life, I was smacked upside the head with the most insulting, meaningless thing I have come across yet in my career: the Professionalism Seminar.

It’s hard for me to even begin explaining what I find wrong here. Not because there’s so little I have a problem with about it, but because beginning to explain how pissed off I am about this whole thing is sort of like beginning to write a thesis paper: There’s so much to say that it’s hard to pick a starting point.

I guess I’ll start at the top and work my way down.

A couple of weeks back, the entire body of the company got an email from the President/CEO proclaiming a new, mandatory seminar for company “associates” to learn about professionalism.

Reading this, I already got pretty pissed off for more reasons than I can imagine. First off, since when am I an “associate?” Don’t “associates” work for fucking Walmart or something? I’m an employee, but I’m not an associate. And I need to learn about professionalism? What the hell is that?

Professionalism, in the context they put it, implies something regarding the behavior of a company employee towards customers. But what is a professional? Someone who gets paid to do something, right? So I could be a professional plumber, right, and come to work with my pants halfway down the crack of my ass, and I’d be exhibiting professionalism in a plumber context? “Professional” is one of those words that has lost any real meaning and taken on a power-tie, work-through-lunch, rhetorical feel. It means jack-fucking-squat. What the seminar should be is a “customer service seminar,” not a “professionalism seminar.”

I decided the instant I read that email that not only was I going to actively rebel against it, but would also definitely need to bring my GBA with me to entertain me while the drivel rolled out of the presenter’s mouth.

Just to be sure, I asked my supervisor whether I was required to go to this seminar. I mean, I don’t actually interface with anyone outside the company except for contractors. If there’s any actual customer interaction, it’s done through some customer-facing person. Besides which, I get commendations on how easy I am to work with all the time (not that you’d be able to tell by reading this, right?). What am I going to do with a seminar?

Yes, I was required to go.

A week or so after the first email we got a second email where “associates” could sign up for a seminar session using the little Outlook voting buttons. I scheduled my session for this morning at nine. Clicking that Outlook button was the least painful/insulting part of this entire process. Admittedly, by clicking it, I felt like I was registering for my own doom. My expectations did not fall short.

This morning at ten to nine I packed up my jacket, my GBA, and my bad attitude and went down to the meeting area. They had some Costco muffins out there so I grabbed a poppy seed one in hopes that not only would I be able to go through a professionalism seminar, but would also be attacked with a random drug test. Hey, let’s make the day complete, right? I took my muffin and sat in the back row with the guys from my department.

Nine o’clock rolls around and the meeting starts. I thought there would be more people here, at least people enough to sit in front of me and block the direct view between the presenter and my GameBoy. Sadly, this was not the case. There were three empty rows in front of me, leaving me in plain sight. No GameBoy today, even with the volume turned off.

The presentation was exactly what I expected it to be, which is to say, insulting, patronizing, and less than inspiring.

Insulting because my presence at this thing implies that the company doesn’t feel I’m doing a good enough job with customer service, and rather than tell me to my fucking face they would rather hide behind a what’s-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander style mass education. Mass education has always felt insulting to me. This was just worse.

Patronizing because the content of the presentation seemed to me to be geared for teaching fourth graders how to work together in groups. Helpful tips like “be courteous” and “do your best” came to light. Man, I was unaware that being courteous and giving my best effort would be a good thing! Thanks for bringing that to light!

Less than inspiring because… aw, shit, man - anything insulting and patronizing is implicitly less than inspiring.

During this thing we got to do a “customer service exercise” where you have this worksheet with a circle in the center and four circles surrounding that. In the center circle, you write your name. In each of the four outer circles, you write the name of someone you interact with and how/what you communicate with them.

That’s it.

I’m honestly not sure what that was supposed to accomplish. Was I supposed to gain some sort of perspective from that? Maybe try to remember the names of the people I work with every day? I don’t know. That was the exercise. They called it “The Big Picture.” I call it “The Big Waste of Time.”

The presenter also brought about several interesting analogies. For example, do you know the difference between incompetence and laziness? I didn’t, until now. Here’s how you know: Pretend someone has a gun to your head and asks you to do something. If you don’t do it because you don’t want to, that’s laziness. If you don’t do it because you don’t know how, that’s incompetence. I’ll have to remember that next time I’m shitting my pants while someone has a gun at my head.

The presentation was closed off with us getting to see the new customer service mantra. Or, I guess they’re calling it something like the “Commitment to Excellence.” Here, you’ll love this:

I will provide premier service to both my internal and external customers. I will treat my customers as partners and will provide value in every interaction. I will hold myself and my team accountable for customer satisfaction and will do so by setting an example of professionalism, creative problem solving, innovative thinking, follow-up and follow-through. I will positively impact my customers and my company every day.

What kind of fucking rhetoric is that? It sounds like something that Cold War-era East Germans would all state out loud in a group prior to doing morning calisthenics and going to work in a government factory. Like some sort of Hitlerian pledge of allegiance.

To top it all off, we got to sign cards with this statement on them, then the President/CEO of the company will sign the cards, too, and we’ll get them back in shiny wooden frames, reminders of our commitment to customer service and the two hours we wasted hearing about it. And how many thousands of dollars went into that effort?


In the end, it was five minutes of common sense packed into a two hour meeting. They’re going to have more of these seminars to provide us with “additional skills,” but thank God they’re not required. I might be forced to quit.

There was a comments sheet to fill out as we left the seminar. What you see here is pretty much what I put on the comments sheet, except that I used both sides and pretty much ran out of room. Oh, and I gave them some recommendations, like using proper terminology (“customer service” not “professionalism”) and potentially targeting the content of each seminar to groups within the company since listening to how you should talk to external people really didn’t “add any value” to my already busy schedule. I’m pretty sure they’ll know which one’s mine because I’m the only one who seems to ever really bitch about stuff around here. Oh, well.

I’m sure this isn’t the only company that’s pulled shit like this. It’s my first experience with it, though, so I felt compelled to share (along the lines of “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” sort of). I’m hoping the company doesn’t continue to become a mockery of itself, but I’m remembering now back to another email we got a while ago that told us about the new “reward system” where you can get a plaque that says “You Make A Difference” on it… and I’m realizing that we have no hope - all is lost already.