Remember that classic episode of The Flintstones? Fred was tired of always being bossed around by Mr. Slate. So, one day, Fred was complaining about this to the Great Gazoo, and Gazoo snapped his fingers and said, “OK, Fred, you and Mr. Slate have now switched places. You are now the boss!” Well, while spending his first day as boss, Fred thought it was great. He bossed around Mr. Slate and made Mr. Slate feel as miserable as can be. But then, Fred discovered that the boss has to answer to an even more powerful boss, and that boss was even meaner than Mr. Slate ever was. Fred asked the Great Gazoo to switch things back, and Gazoo did. Fred learned a very important lesson that day about the business world: shit runs downhill.
We’ve all spent some time in the real world now, and, if we’re unlucky, we’ve had the displeasure of meeting our boss’s boss. Hell, more often than not, we’ve seen them barge into the place and tell us what we’re doing wrong. They are the head office boys. Now, I don’t want to be sexist. I’ve seen my fair share of head office girls too. But there’s something about the head office boys that are a little more unnerving. Maybe it’s their look.
Yeah, the head office boys all have a look to them. They tend to wear a suit. Not a suit like yours, oh no. They wear one of those fancy suits that cost $6000 and are designed so they don’t need a necktie. Their hair is all slicked back using enough hair gel to kill all sea life in the bay, should their hair ever touch the water. They strut around with a smirk on their face and look down on all who work for them. Their smug expression says it all: “I got an MBA and I’m on the fast track to upper middle management!” And then, they ruin everything by talking.
My first encounter with a head office boy happened at Extra Foods, and I’m sure I’ve told the tale many times by now. There I was on one of the busiest days of the year. I worked through my break. My replacement had called in sick and I wound up working an extra hour. There I was, with literally five minutes to go before quitting time. I took a moment to just lean back, take a deep sigh, and enjoy the fact that things were finally non-busy. And that’s when Mr. Head Office Boy came around the corner, saw me sighing heavily, and immediately started to berate me for not being busy. “I DON’T LIKE SEEING PEOPLE STAND AROUND DOING NOTHING!” he bellowed. “GET BACK TO WORK YOU…” and he said things too unpleasant for me to repeat here. I took a deep breath, looked him square in the eye and said, “LOOK BUDDY,” and proceeded – in a very loud and angry voice – to tell him about my day. After I told him about my extra hours and lack of breaks, I said, “So when I get a minute to look around and take pride in my work, I’m fucking going to do it!” He glared at me for a minute. Head office boys aren’t used to, you know, being spoken to by the underlings. After it soaked in that, yes, I had spoken to him in a rude manner, he said, “I don’t like being spoken to that way. You should have taken your break. Now get back to work.” I wanted to say more, but I wanted to keep my job too, so I just gritted my teeth, said, “Yes, sir,” and went home, because my final five minutes were now wasted by dealing with him.
I still can’t help but notice that my coworkers were a lot nicer to me after that incident. The head office boy, too. He even went so far as to compliment me on my work after I made supervisor. Sometimes, if you want people to get off your back a bit, all you have to do is put the fear of God in them.
It’s awful hard to get a compliment from a head office boy. Even harder to impress them. When I was in Japan, I only managed to impress the head office boy twice. The second time was during the…unpleasantness when I was told the company wouldn’t be renewing my contract. No one was telling me just what was so wrong with my work, so I asked the head office boy to come out and observe one of my lessons. What impressed him was an exercise I had concocted for some of my low-level students. The lesson was comparatives and superlatives (big, bigger, biggest and such forth). So, for my exercise, I grabbed a bunch of animal pictures from the picture file, plastered them all over the room, and then I set the scene. You are at the world famous San Diego Zoo with your American friend. Walk around the zoo and talk about the animals. So, they’d walk around and say things like, “The giraffe is taller than the lion.” “Yes, but the lion is the fastest animal.” Stuff like that. Head office boy walked away saying, “Wow, I’ve observed this unit taught a hundred times and that’s the most creative exercise I’ve ever seen. I’m going to have to borrow that next time I teach this.” In the long run, it did absolutely nothing towards prolonging my stay in Japan, but still, it was nice to get at least some acknowledgement that I was doing things right.
And the first time I impressed this head office boy was when I destroyed my voice singing Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) at karaoke. This just goes to show you how fickle a head office boy can be.
This reflection on head office boys has been prompted by my current job at IGA. Our head office boy comes out about once a week with a revolutionary new way of doing things that’ll triple our business. He comes in, meddles with our fine routine, panics when we do things according to schedule, and then breezes out at the very late hour of 3pm. His mere presence is disruptive, unnerving, and just raises the stress level by several points throughout the room. I tell you, head office boys are just a disruptive influence.
In the end, my impression of head office boys harkens back to the classic film Metropolis. They live high above us in their city in the clouds, only occasionally coming down to see that the labourers whose sweat they live off are still working. And, even if I had the Great Gazoo at my disposal, I’m not sure I’d want to trade places with them. Even if you are living in the city in the clouds, I’ve got this hunch that there’s an even higher city, and you’re just working for them. Remember, shit runs downhill. Investing in an umbrella is a lot easier than trying to climb up the hill.