Toxic workplace

4. Master Sun, part 2

Who will I take on for the role? WILL IT BE YOU?!

           Every manager knows the best way to test a candidate is to drag out the interviewing process: Only someone who smiles like an idiot while dodging wrenches can handle a fast-paced environment like my office. Save for the mysterious man, I have no friends in this group, and while my plan is working brilliantly so far, I still need more time to see if he or anyone else has it in them to meet our company’s standards.

           “I will be testing you now on cultural aptitude,” I tell the final four. I stack a box of props on the front table. “But before I can test your fit for this company, I am going to need you all to fit into these costumes.”

           The Asian man stands up. “We came in on a Friday to wear costumes and put on a play?” he says. “This is a part-time position with no benefits. I paid $30 for my Uber here!”

           “$30!” I say, pointing to the door. “Now you know how much you’ll make when you drive for them.” An applicant eliminated; a disaster prevented.

           The woman with the braid whimpers after he leaves. “Since he eliminated himself, can we move onto the next round of interviews?”

           “Absolutely not,” I respond, handing out new papers. “Here are the scenarios. I suggest you put on your costumes quickly.”

           Applicants assembled, I read the first scenario aloud. “I ask you to come to work on a day you have requested off.” I lay the sheet down. “How do you respond? Demonstrate!”

           The contestants don their big hats and aprons to begin the next round with the energy of stale bread. One applicant turns to her partner. “Don’t worry about overtime: I should be paying you for this opportunity!” she says.

           Outside the office, the alleyway homeless man moans with more passion. I scurry to the window. “Scram!” I yell out of it, throwing a dollar bill at him. “Go grind on a Starbucks.” I turn back to the room and sigh.  

           “Applicants! The situation has changed,” I say. They all look so handsome in their costumes. “Today is your engagement party. Pretend that I am the fiancé—convince me to let you go to work instead.”

           The one with the afro goes to her feet. “Oh, exalted one!” she says.

           “Exalted one?” I say. “Remember, I’m your partner, not your boss! Next!”

           “I can do this,” says the giant redhead. He bends down in front of me. “Fiancé, you know how I will always choose work over us?”

           “I’m listening,” I say.

           “Our engagement party is tonight, but so is work, and I am sorry, but- “

           “But what?!” I jump in. “This is your career that you’re talking about. What on earth are you apologizing for?” He steps back; my employees come up to the door again.

           “What is it now?” I say.

           “We’ve waited another hour. Now, it’s well into our weekend,” Allison says.

           “Can we leave?” Melanie asks.

            “How about this?” I say. “Since you both love cake so much, I can order another one when this round is done.” I pat Allison’s arm. “It’ll be fun.”

           “I’m sorry, but—”

           “Don’t say that word,” I say.

           “We have plans. We both have to go now,” Allison finishes.

           “Go where?” I ask. The handsome man approaches us. “You know what? Never mind. Just clean up before you leave.”

           I turn around. The handsome man says, “May I hold your hands for the sake of acting?”

           “For the sake of acting,” I say, laying my palms on his. His skin is soft and smooth and cool. “Fiancé, I will not mince words. I am going to work and I am missing our party. Before I do, allow me to explain why with a parable.” He traces a finger up my wrist and pulls me closer. “Success relies less on the enemy not coming but of our readiness to receive them.”

           The remaining verse rises like a balloon within me. “Success relies not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather that we have made our position unassailable,” I continue.

           He smiles. “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”

 “I see we have a disciple of Master Sun,” I say.

           “I see that, too,” he responds.

A disciple of Master Sun!

            As the applicants put their costumes back in their boxes, I make a special effort not to look at one of them in particular. My heart throbs like the tea bag that I bob with my hand. I do my breathing exercise. It is better to be feared than loved. It is better to be feared than loved.

            “What’s going on?” the woman with the afro asks.

            “I don’t know,” I say, spilling tea on my blouse with my stupid, shaking hands.

            “No, I mean what’s going on with the interview?” she asks. “Aren’t we on round three?”

            “Oh yes,” I say and pick up the schedule. Creativity test. “If you really want this position, I’m going to need you to show it.” I hand everyone a fresh sheet of paper and a pen. “Write me a poem about how much you want to work here.” And I sit back down and breathe with my eyes closed, hoping that Melanie and Allison don’t take the fresh air for granted when they go out. But where are they going without me? How could it be that they have their own lives?

            “I finished!” says one of the candidates, not the handsome one unfortunately. I take her poem:

My alarm rings; it’s time to fly

Without my job, I think I’d die

Administration, it’s the dream

Planning meetings and filling forms by the ream

Purpose is freedom, and it’s good to know

That my work helps the company grow—

            “One second,” I say, slamming the paper down and bolting into Melanie’s office, where Allison is also sitting.

            They jump at my arrival. “Where are you going?” I ask.

Melanie says “the engagement party” before slapping her hands over her big mouth.

            “Melanie!” Allison says. “You weren’t supposed to—”

            “It’s okay,” I say, thinking quickly through the shock. “I have plans, too. You can both go now; you’ve waited long enough. Wait—” I say as they stand. “Make sure to mention that I have plans. Fun parties. You know. Friday.”

            “We know,” Allison says, and they continue to clear up.

            I return to the candidates. “Wow. Time really has flown today, hasn’t it?” I say. “But I think we’ve been here long enough, and you can come back on Monday to finish.”

            “We’ve been here for hours,” one says. “What more can we test?”

            “Your readiness for the position,” I snap, loading up my purse. “See you!”

            Chairs creak behind me as I empty the teacup out the window. I tap my fingers on the windowsill—everyone needs to hurry up, I must be out before Allison and Melanie. They and the ex-admin must see how busy I am and how awesome my plans are.   

            I feel eyes on the back of my neck: dark, handsome eyes. “Can I help you?” I say, turning around.

            “I think you can,” he says, handing me his poem.

            “I hope you see that I am a very important woman with many plans,” I blurt.

            “To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear,” he responds.

             I hold his poem to my chest long after I return home. It is better to be feared than loved, but a little love would go a long way in the empty apartment tonight.

Toxic workplace

3. Master Sun, part 1

I test out the new candidates… are any of them worthy of a part-time position with no benefits?

            “You come from far and wide and passed our rigorous screening process,” I say to the six candidates in the kitchenette. “Now, I will evaluate you on the qualities of a successful hire.”

            My fingernail runs through the stack of paper and separates out a chunk. “We will start with these problem-solving tests. Then, I will look at cultural aptitude, creativity, and long-term potential. One of you will be eliminated each round.”

            The redhead takes the stack. An Asian man in a collared shirt frowns at his test. His neighbor, a stretched-out Melanie, scratches her head. Behind her sit two others: one with an afro and another with a braid. Their neighbor is a dark-haired man: handsome, maybe Middle-Eastern or South American. Or Indian. One of those.

            “Let the second round of interviews begin!” I say.

            When the ex-admin left, she brought a storm to my tight ship of an operation. Thanks to my managerial expertise, I grabbed the situation by the mast and steered us through muddled waters to the rain clouds’ silver lining. Over those fateful welcome-back donuts, I promised gentle Allison and meditative Melanie that I would not only rectify her departure but improve the company’s processes. I would start by identifying gaps in our recruitment strategy.

            “Five more minutes!” I announce. “And I would like to remind any slackers that PEUC benefits end in September.”

            My tea tastes like frustrated water; its bitterness is a reminder of the ex-admin. I knew upon her application that she was a chance to hire that I would have to invest my time and resources in training her. All of it was wasted: She made her low culture apparent by refusing to come in on days off, and when she negotiated benefits, I knew attitude would be a problem. While no one could have foreseen her final tantrum, I can only blame my easy-going nature for welcoming her on board in the first place.

            But what really hurt was her quitting last week. Until then, I thought that she liked me!

            It is better to be feared than loved, but a true leader is a fox as well as a lion. Much as the lioness’s roars are felt throughout the Sahara Desert, I make my influence known throughout the company. But today, I will embody the clever fox when selecting the next admin. Ostensibly, the candidates are demonstrating their abilities, but secretly I am eliminating them on their predecessor’s characteristics: fickleness, hypocrisy, and greediness of gain.

            “Time!” I say to the motley crew, who slam their pencils onto the table.

            “No.” I thumb through the packets. “Absolutely not.” I slash a page with red ink. “I will be with you in a second,” I say to Allison and Melanie when they show up at the door. I turn to the candidate with the big hair. “Young woman, what is your name?”

            She mumbles. “What?” I say.

            “My name is Maddy,” she says.

            “Well, Maddy, I’m going to need you to be more calm-y.” I flip to a random page. “You are in a cabin. Every direction around you is south. A bear shows up. What color is its fur?”

            “I don’t know,” she says.

            “White! The bear is white! You are at the North Pole—where else would your compass point south everywhere?” My head shakes. Unbelievable.

            She flinches and is saved by the idiot in front of her. Stretched-out Melanie says, “What do bears have to do with the job description?”

            I point to the door as the mysterious man stands up.

            “Do you want to grow stagnant at your role?” he says. “We lateral thinkers welcome the challenge.”

            The poets describe love as a softness you fall into: blankets, fresh from the dryer; a scented bath; the ball pit at McDonald’s. In truth, it’s a more violent experience, like stubbing your toe in the dark. And right now, watching this candidate recite facts like song, I am hit HARD. But I am a boss babe, a company woman, and once the tingling retreats from my appendages and is replaced by warmth, I return to reason—company first. Always put the company first. I have business to take care of, and I tell stretched-out Melanie and Maddy.

            Allison and Melanie step up as the two women step out. “Could we go home now?” Allison says.

            “What she meant to say,” Melanie began. “Is that we know that you must be embarrassed about what was said to you last week-“

            “Ah yes, the quitting,” I say. “As you can see, I am taking care of that now. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I loved her little exhibit on my leadership.”

            Allison’s mouth dropped open. “She told you to suck it.”

            I am confused. “Of course she did. We were experiencing a Jolly Rancher together. It was an allegory, sweet like me.”

            Allison and Melanie glance at each other before Melanie continues, “It’s after 5 on a Friday. We need to leave to make it to an… appointment.”

            “Absolutely not,” I say, watching the two failed candidates leave the office from the conference room window. “I might need backup.” My two employees mope their way back to their desks.

            I face the rest of the group, now thinned out. “Based on these results, I shouldn’t be keeping any of you. However, there are three more tests, and I am ready to be impressed.” I lean back in my chair. “So dazzle me.”