Maybe it’s got something to do with the bitterness of Boston. Like Dan Lyons, author of the riotous Disrupted and Lab Rats, fellow caustic local Ken Kupchik exposes the absurdities of the modern workplace in his new book, I Hope This Email Finds You Never. Covering everything from the red-letter day of the job offer to the pink slip thud (and every trust fall/ropes course in between), Kupchik – with an assist from clever graphic designer Emily Ann Hill – has created this handy, helpful playbook for the worker bee. Herein you’ll find wisdom on carpooling (pro: green; con: Greg), tips for setting workplace boundaries, and even signs you’re about to get shit-canned (e.g., your personal items are placed by security in a cardboard box each morning). This author knows knowledge workers are often found “staring at a computer screen while the crushing weight of existence bears down on them like a rockslide” and that more than once you’ve been stuck in a meeting “praying for a tornado to come and pulverize your office building.” Think of it as 215 pages of Advil and whiskey to somehow make it all go down a bit better.
It’s not all bleak. The book kicks off in celebration of the benefits of accepting a new job: top-shelf snacks, not having to do real work when training, and adding a zero to your salary in the welcome packet. Furthermore, Kupchik is like Google Translate when it comes to empty corporate speak. Did you know that when someone says, “We’re going to pivot,” it means you’ll be laid off by day’s end? Or when your boss shares, “There’s a lot of synergy on this,” he’s actually saying, “My wife and I are hurtling toward divorce”? I for one had no idea that’s what these things meant. And while the reader may already be expert in good manners, we can agree that reminders are often useful. The author encourages us to be nice to everyone, especially the janitor (“likely to be a key witness in your eventual slip-and-fall personal injury lawsuit”). He goes on to list seven ground rules for workplace social events, from dressing appropriately to moderating alcohol consumption to avoiding heavy topics like the impending collapse of the global food chain. Noted!
However, where the reader gets the most value is the section on meetings, both live and virtual. Kupchik crystalizes the matter into three buckets: Exciting (manager has a meltdown), Boring (work discussed), and Productive Meetings (cancelled, email sent instead). My biggest lightbulb under How to Minimize the Chances of More Work Getting Assigned to You During a Meeting is illustrated by Hill: sit in the hallway (and wow, it is vexing to discover this ingenious move a full quarter-century removed from corporate life). Best of all is the advice on ending a meeting; when continuous throat clearing or head buried in hands fail, pulling the fire alarm – while ethically dubious – is guaranteed to halt the misery. Sure, this is frowned upon, and you could get caught, a risk perhaps worth taking depending how much you feel like “an ant marching toward oblivion.” The last section of the book is Termination of Employment, loaded with every possible exit scenario. As noted graphically, if your goodbye cake reads someone already took your monitor, take it as a clear sign you’ll be forgotten before the leftovers are boxed up and stuck in the fridge. Oh well.
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