June 16, 2023

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It’s been just over a month since the COVID-19 public health emergency was declared over, but as we’ve noted, the triumphant RTO push hasn’t panned out the way business leaders have hoped. 

On the one hand, I get some of the arguments for returning to the office. The office is a great place to bump into colleagues and share a laugh, build trust, and maybe even generate some spontaneous ideas. For example, I’m writing this newsletter from an office that’s not as busy as it was pre-pan, but I still managed to bump into Will Lopez! We had a great chat, bouncing ideas and gossip and whatnot off one another. There’s trust there, and it’s come mostly from years spent working in an office together. 

But I won’t kid you. Will and I weren’t exactly productive during this time. Our meeting didn’t have an agenda or outcomes or PLANS. We accomplished very little in the way of conventional productivity.

I don’t come into the office to be productive—again, in the conventional sense. (I’m here for the snacks if I’m being honest.) If I’m in the office and want to be productive, I have to duck into the official “quiet room”—WHICH SOMETIMES HAS TALKING PEOPLE IN IT—and hide in a deep wingback chair to get anything done. The notion that being in the office—especially those with an open-office concept—is better for increasing time worked, output, or efficiency is flatly absurd. 

That hasn’t stopped managers from pushing RTO plans, and workers are annoyed to the point of numbness. The Wall Street Journal reported on a recent Gallup poll that found that “[H]alf of workers aren’t engaged on the job, putting in minimal effort to get by.” I read that and thought, “Wait, isn’t that quiet quitting?” I thought quiet quitting was dead? Let’s be honest; it was never dead. It lives on, along with all the other made-up work trends out there, and will just become “Silent Slacking” or have some other dumb name.

But also, I’d wager that half of workers in this country “aren’t engaged on the job” at any given time. Work, as a thing, just isn’t that beloved, certainly not unconditionally. I like my job today. I loved it yesterday. I could hate it any minute. I think many people feel this way, and engagement ebbs and flows with those feelings. It’s pretty likely that about half of the people Gallup catches on any given day will feel “Meh,” about their jobs. 

Still, some managers are doing more than their fair share of pushing employees in the meh zone over the edge by requiring them to get back to the office. 

Gallup’s findings come amid a backlash from workers, many of whom have recently stepped up protests against in-office requirements as companies change pandemic-era policies.

Workers at insurer Farmers Group called to unionize and some pledged to quit after a new chief executive said he would require most workers to be in the office three days a week. Amazon.com workers demonstrated at lunch recently against a hybrid-work policy with three days in the office a week.  

It’s hard not to see managers as trying to control employees by forcing them back to the office, so the fierce resistance shouldn’t be a surprise. Plus, the job market remains strong, meaning employers that make good on their RTO threats can expect employees to quit. The back and forth is pretty tedious at this point, but we shouldn’t expect much to change any time soon. 

In any case, no matter what side of this debate you find yourself on, we can all agree that it’s beautifully ironic to hear workers call for unionization so that they can stay apart in the workplace. I stand in support (from the office)!

The annoying workplace

One sad fact of the modern workplace is that, pandemic or no pandemic, we still can’t avoid workplace jargon. Sure, you may be able to Zoom all day from the comfort of your living room, but you’ll still have to put up with Ross and Tammy asking you to circle back after you’ve gotten your ducks in a row picking off low-hanging fruit.

If that wasn’t enough, aside from turning perfectly normal people into legions of goofs throwing out word salads, work jargon is exclusionary!

48% of Gen Z and Millennials are feeling left out at work because of the use of workplace jargon like “blue sky thinking,” and “low-hanging fruit,” according to a press release viewed by Insider. 

A little more than two-thirds of young people said that their colleagues were going overboard with jargon at work, but 54% of young workers said that they changed how they spoke to fit in.

I don’t doubt that talking like Lumbergh from Office Space is a way to fit in, but it’s also inevitable if you simply hear it constantly. You can fight it all you want until one day, you’ll hear yourself say, “I’ll touch base with you later today.” Sigh.

Workplaces have made-up languages, sorta like sci-fi/fantasy stories have made-up languages, except the nerds obsessed with sci-fi language can be endearing while the nerds obsessed with the workplace language are mostly insufferable. Some of these phrases are common across organizations; it’s like the “common tongue.” After you’ve been working a while, you just get used to it. It’s the company-specific jargon that I’ve always found weird and culty. Like, if you work at Twitter, you’re Tweep. (Or maybe a Twit now? Who even cares.) 

But I get it, though. Employers want their people to speak their workplace’s language because that’s part of creating culture, creating a community. The ones that make it stick are probably the most successful, and that’s probably the most annoying thing of all.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be out of pocket herding cats that have been throwing spaghetti at the wall.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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