A guide to surviving the modern workplace

Wed, Jan 16, 2013, 00:00

I never worked in an office with humans before last June, so here are a few tips I’ve picked up

Make an impression

Your first day in a new workplace is much like being a new character in HBO prison drama Oz. At the earliest possible opportunity you need to do something crazy to ensure that nobody f***s with you. For example, you could stab someone in the queue for the canteen with a “shiv”. Alternatively, you could use an unorthodox font.

Sex up your CV

It is totally legal to lie in a CV. However, it is best to pick lies that aren’t too easy to check up on. Tip: you can claim to have done anything “while travelling”. According to my CV, I spent 1998 to 2003 as “king of France”.

Wear clothes

As a home-working freelancer, I used to consider clothes to be a non-essential luxury. However, in the modern workplace wearing clothes is apparently a necessity. Even at your cubicle!

Wear the correct clothes

Nothing too outré. I recommend a well-fitted suit and a crisp white shirt. You can show your individuality and render yourself memorable through prudent use of accessories. Suggestions: a silk scarf, a colourful tie, an eye-patch, a gun in a shoulder-holster, clown shoes.

Find a niche

The modern office is also like a high school in an American TV show. There are jocks (sales department), nerds (IT folk), cheerleaders (PR people) and teachers (management) not to mention burnt-out stoners who hang out behind the sheds (columnists). It is important to find your own place in this ecosystem.

Cultivate an arch-enemy

Your working life won’t be complete without an arch-enemy. Much of your day should be concerned, not with making your own work a success but with orchestrating the failure and humiliation of your arch-enemy. Stop at nothing – practical jokes, sabotage, a destructive whispering campaign.

Pack some Lemsip

This product is essential in the heady contemporary workplace. I learned a lot about work from my favourite Lemsip Max Strength ad which features “Ian”, an ailing, insecure middle-aged man who is perpetually at risk of being supplanted by a smug young whippersnapper called “Pal”.

“Ian, I didn’t expect you back for ages,” says Pal.

“I was , but more to the point, what are you doing in my office,” asks Ian, firmly.

“Well, pal, with you out sick, the merger was going to go down the pan,” says Pal (I hate you Pal!). “Actually Pal, I spoke to them last night, they’re signing today,” says Ian triumphantly.

“But – you’re sick!” says Pal (he can’t believe what he’s hearing – in your face Pal!).

“Lemsip Max Strength, this sorts the men from the boys,” says Ian, in the process endorsing a depressing Hobbesian workplace where the old and sick are left to die and women don’t exist.

Know the jargon

It is important to familiarise yourself with the meaningless jargon that goes with your particular profession. For example, if you’ve got an interesting business proposal, you’ll want to be able to storm into the boss’s office and say: “Lawks! Luv a duck, you wouldn’t Adam and Eve the look on your old boat-race! Jellied eel, guvnor?”

Wait – is that business speak or Cockney? I’m never quite sure. “I want to action some thought leadership going forward.” Is that Cockney? Extra tip: Don’t get business speak mixed up with Cockney.

Eat a good lunch

The modern worker needs to eat a good and healthy lunch. In The Irish Times canteen you can eat a basic meal of smoked salmon terrine with quail eggs and roast pheasant stuffed with brie (tip – sit near the string quartet). However, in the contemporary 24/7 work environment, many prefer to eat at their desks, where they store Tupperware boxes, food mixers, George Foreman grills and soda stream machines. One prominent journalist’s desk is never without a roast pig on a spit.

Avoid cake-pushers

Some of your colleagues will get a near physical thrill from bringing cake to work and placing it near your desk knowing that out of politeness and/or gluttony you will feel obliged to finish it. “Don’t look at me!” you cry as you cram moist delicious cake into your chocolate and tear-stained face.

Enjoy an office romance

In simpler times you could simply bark “Hey toots, I want to be on you,” at a delighted colleague. Nowadays, thanks to “political correctness” (aka fairness, equality and politeness) you have to play the long game, wordlessly hanging around the kitchen in a cravat and velour smoking jacket, while stirring a martini. “Why are you wearing a dressing gown?” your colleagues might ask. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” you respond, before doing a sexy dance (NB: office “romances” are totally different when your work alone at home).

Embrace technology

Show how up-to-date you are by live-tweeting internal meetings. “Boss is crying LOL #random”.

Let it all out at an office party

Office parties are a wonderful carnivalesque outlet for upturning traditional hierarchies and telling it like it is. “You’re not the boss of me!” you shriek while hanging from the ice-sculpture with someone else’s underpants on your head. “I think you’ll find that in a very real sense, I am,” says your boss. “Furthermore, this isn’t a party, it’s a meeting with potential investors. Now please give Mr Lebedev his underpants back.”

Respect nap time

It can be very annoying when colleagues persist in making noise during nap time (2pm-4pm), so as well as making a nice little nest under your desk, don’t forget to bring ear-plugs.

Nurture a relationship with your boss

Approvingly repeat whatever he/she says at meetings immediately afterwards in different words. Compliment him/her (“Have you been working out?”). Snitch on colleagues, providing detailed notes on their comings and goings. Draw flattering pictures of your boss riding a lion or fighting Zeus.

Go around asking co-workers how they are progressing on various tasks set by your boss. Act like you have special privileged knowledge of his/her plans. Imply heavily that you’ve been on holidays with him/her.

Refer to him/her by his/her first name or, better still, a pet name like Toodles. Hint that you might be their son.

Say: “I wish I knew my real father/mother,” as you stare pointedly at a framed picture of your boss that you keep in your cubicle.