Working at a big corporation

So my 6 months at a large financial corporation have been interesting. The difference to a research environment is huge.

People are extremely well behaved. As of now, I have never heard anyone scream. Nobody throws things, I haven’t encountered any crying and up to now I have not seen anyone leave because of a mental breakdown or a burn out. People are quiet and work hard (although often very inefficiently). They are very polite, keep doors open for you even if you are 50 meters away, and seem to work steadily and without rush but also without idling, good old traditional protestant work ethics style. It feels like I have woken up in the past sometimes, in the era where my parents worked, despite the constant restructuring and reorganizing by management, and the big words about how things need to change now for real, it feels very old-fashioned.

I am not used to working in such an orderly and reasonable way. I feel like working like crazy on some days and not doing anything on others, like I am used to, but there is no reason to, I only rarely have deadlines and work is never exciting, there are no real breakthroughs, but also no disappointments, no rejected grant applications.

People are like clockwork here, they come at 8 and leave at 5, one hour lunch break spent wisely on sports or on networking, hairs always freshly washed, clothes freshly ironed. There is no craziness, passion, no chaos visible (although if you are close to the IT and data landscape of this corporation, there is chaos like I have never seen, and an extreme amount of illogical and wasteful procedures — but this is all under the surface, and mostly patiently accepted by those who have to deal with it). On the surface, there is a ballet of typing, walking, meeting, thinking, planning, phone-calling of serious, but friendly people in somber clothes who all constantly observe and watch each other in the shared office space from the corner of an eye, which is probably the reason that nobody seems to come late or leave early. Carpets are cleaned every single evening, so if heaven forbid some breadcrumbs fall under my desk they are magically gone in the morning. Windows cannot be opened, so that no outside craziness can get in, instead we probably get the same air for months which circulates through the ventilation, smelling more and more chemical, which makes the building feel completely sealed off from the rest of the world. From where I am sitting, far from the windows, it is impossible to make out what kind of season it might be outside. I feel like I am in some sort of eternal, timeless place where emotions and weather and smells and sounds are all damped to a degree that one just wants to lie down and not move anymore for years and years, because nothing will ever change, no bad thing will happen and no good thing, ever.

Still, from time to time some task comes my way which is intellectually slightly stimulating, and if you saw my brain on an MRI you would see some firework and some experiencing of short spans of flow-like states. Then it fizzles again, the problem is solved, and I just have to wait and wait and wait for the next mildly interesting thing to come, while I do some routine work that I can do with both hands tied on my back and eyes closed and I still have to do it, it takes time and every second of that time I am present and bored, there is no flow, no thinking, just smelling of chemicals and hearing of coughs and the slow, high-pitched words that the secretary behind me is producing that unfortunately are impossible to tune out, talking of children suffering and mean people always asking her the same thing which she has told them she can’t do for Christ’s sake.

Then at some point I usually snap and know I have to leave immediately in order not to sustain brain damage from boredom. But I don’t leave because everyone would notice, including my boss and team colleagues who sit nearby, quietly looking at their screens, and I see that they are not on Facebook, they are looking at Excel files, because everyone’s screen is visible by someone else from some angle. I still sit there, looking at the clock below the damn excel file, wishing for the day, the week, the month, the year to be over, and I know it is not healthy for me to think this way, but I am not sure how it is possible that people live an entire life inside this freaking office building, stay there for 20 years, until they retire. But people actually do this. People actually live and work this way. I am still amazed at this, and am grateful for the life experience, which seems to teach me something although I do not yet know what it is.

It is curious though how my life turned out, I worked so hard and it got me a job where I have to debug excels that were programmed by brain-dead economists who have absolutely zero analytical talent but think they do, and almost nobody even notices the difference between me and them. But I am okay, because I think it is interesting to experience life from different angles, I knew the academic angle and now I start understanding the big finance corporation angle, and I really hope I will leave again and see something else soon.

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10 Responses to Working at a big corporation

  1. xykademiqz says:

    It is scary how unremarkable and unimportant the lives of most people are. That’s probably the scariest thing that I have come to realize over time — well, more like third scariest, the first being how savage and vicious people can be. I need to try and remember what privilege it is to have a challenging job. Most people dislike or even hate their jobs, spend their whole lives doing something boring because they need to make a living, and make peace with it as inevitable. They try to get their kicks from the time outside of work. But really when you think of all the little children, so full of magic and wonder, who go through years and years of education only to become disillusioned adults. Maybe that’s what people say when they talk about getting a job in the real world as opposed to academia; that the real world is boredom or drudgery or exploitation in exchange for a paycheck and benefits.
    I am not sure what my point is. I guess it is that I am surprised more people aren’t in a continuous state of existential crisis of the “Is this all there is?” kind.

    • rs says:

      I have seen other profession (other than academia) where its always exciting and there is all challenge in a day-to-day work. My father was a lawyer and his work/life was anything but boring. I guess the real difference is when you work for yourself vs when you work for someone else.

  2. pawelniewiadomski says:

    Some people actually enjoy this sort of quiet regular work. Scientists get their kicks out of constant challenges but many people don’t. It’s just a different mindset. A scientist will feel trapped in such an environment but others will find it mildly satisfying.

  3. Dawn Morris says:

    I really only got to like my wonderful job of teaching marvellous children when I acquired a large mortgage!Funny how the mind works!Dawn Morris

  4. Phillip says:

    I am in almost exactly this same situation right now! To echo a previous comment, I think it is true that the 9-to-5 work environment is a very suitable option for a majority of people. But, for those of us who have a greater sensitivity to our physical environment, and perhaps even office politics, this trade-off (numbness for the sake of stability) just doesn’t make ends meet.

    There is something magical about knowing exactly what you need to do to be satisfied at the end of a hard day’s work. In an office job, sometimes you’ll only get to experience this sensation for a couple of fleeting moments every week. Goals are vague, requirements are foggy. There is a fixed monetary incentive for everybody invovled. I think we can do better than this πŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: Linkius Loveius | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured)

  6. How are you doing now?

    • zinemin says:

      Thanks for asking. πŸ™‚ I am still at the same company, but things are pretty different. We had a very bad financial result, so restructurings, firing rounds etc are happening. This has been going on for months, people are unhappy and tired of the chaos. At the same time, some elements of my jobs got more interesting and I got promoted. But still, I’m thinking about leaving and I also think my job is not really secure at all. It is all very weird.

      • Philip says:

        Thanks for posting the update! This is actually one of the reasons why I decided to become self-employed. I keep a fairly diversified client base, which provides a bit of a buffer if one client/industry is facing some business difficulty at any point in time. It feels more reassuring than depending on a single employer to stay in business, even though working for yourself is perceived as a greater risk πŸ™‚

  7. alienaid says:

    I have always suspected work at a big corporation (or maybe any corporation or regular “office job”) would be this way, which is why I decided to do philosophy. Somehow I phantasized about finding my spot within the ivory tower. During my PhD I came to realize the comforting ivory tower had burnt down long ago and the thought of leaving academia pops up from time to time ever since.

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