How to survive at a big (financial) corporation

In my observation, there are exactly two basic ways to survive the eco-system of a large corporation in a healthy and long-term sustainable way.

1. The happy underling

The happy underling is a very sociable person. He/she comes to the office mainly to meet their colleagues and friends, catch up on gossip and spend time outside of home. The office is what the local pub is to the old men on a Greek island. Who wants to sit home all day? The office is a convenient way to escape home and kill some time. Miraculously, you even get paid in the process. The happy underling is not one to try to negotiate for more salary unless absolutely necessary, because they do not care about money.

For the successful underling, work is the least of her concerns. It absolutely does not matter if the work is meaningful or fulfilling, if responsibilites are evolving or devolving. It doesn’t matter to the underling if he works on something for a year and then the result gets spat on and thrown into the garbage. Why should it? The fun about work is the office and your friends. Actually, it is a good thing if the work is absurd and going in circles, because this is an endless source of hilarious in-jokes, complaining and justifying the fact that you do nothing all day long whenever you can.

If you run out of tasks, never tell anyone. The trick is to portion your work in a way that you are always busy. If you have as your sole task in the week to fill out five lines in an Excel sheet, fill one line per day, with many breaks in between. Make filling out the lines as complicated as you can, ask follow-up questions to higher ups, then complain that they do not respond etc. If someone asks, you can always respond cheerfully that you are sweating over that Excel. Nobody has any clue how much work it should be to fill it out anyway.

If you get too much work instead, this is trickier. You will spend 12 hours per day in the office, because you still need to do your 4 hours of your usual socializing, plus perhaps one extra hour of complainig about your insane work load. You working overtime will hopefully become too expensive for the company in the long term.

2. The ascending manager

 You’re not as sociable, but rather aggressive and ambitious? Then, there is one other way to exist at the office. You make as your sole goal to ascend the career ladder. Again, as for the happy underling, this requires not caring about the content of the work at all. Forget about this immediately. Instead, focus on being an actor. You need to put a show on every day.

Your goal is to always impress superiors. The higher up, the better. Study their speeches and memos in detail, and remember what their main concern is. Then make a huge show of trying to solve exactly their main concern in exactly the way that they might want. Be tough; this might involve firing people, taking on unethical customers, evading taxes etc.

Be aggressive, overly confident. Be rude to underlings whenever you can get away with it; this helps build your reputation. Always walk fast and with loud steps. Dress above your position. Work until late, write e-mails at night. Be very jokey and funny with your competitors. Be extremely friendly and sociable to people who might be of benefit to you. Be cold to those who don’t. If you are a manager, absolutely find somebody to fire, this looks excellent and will help you to ascend further. And above all, do not trust anybody. Note that you cannot survive in this niche for a day this if you cannot handle intrigues and read people very well, and if you are an expert bullshitter.

Privately, you can still be the sweetest person on the planet, donate for good causes, love puppies.

You will be rewarded by what you like: increasing salary, increasing power. And whenever you’re fed up, you can throw it all away and do something else, and everyone will be super impressed with you for the rest of your life (this yoga teacher was once a high level manager at superbank will always sound good).

You’re none of the above? You care about the actual content of the work? You would cry if your years’ work was thrown away? You would hate it to do something unethical? You’re introverted, loyal and serious? Then please do yourself a favour and do not accept the job at a big corporation. If you do not believe me, then ask yourself: who would enjoy working in a huge open office except those two types of people?

This entry was posted in Leaving Academia, work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How to survive at a big (financial) corporation

  1. Sergey Kryazhimskiy says:

    It’s so nice to see a post from you again!

    Vivid image. I imagine you are the type that doesn’t fit into these two categories.

    Looking forward to the next post.

  2. alienaid says:

    Glad you’re back 🙂

  3. Great read, and it sums things up quite well – the modern workplace is designed for specific personality types, and not for others. It’s great to see you writing here again!

    I’m not usually one to self-promote, but my latest blog post on the moral hazard of making a salary touches on a lot of the same subjects. It sounds like these forces of human nature are in abundance, no matter where in the world your office is located 🙂

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