Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Shit My Job Says: Social Anxiety

If you don't have the kind of job that has you sitting at a desk all day and communicating with other humans almost exclusively via e-mail...

...then la-di-da, you're probably a surgeon or a supermodel or a professional oboe player. Your job is meaningful and glamorous. You know what? I'm sorry I even mentioned it. Go back to your thrilling life. Don't worry about me.


Just go.
OK, now that those people are gone...the rest of you are with me, right? You understand that e-mail is an amazing thing that is also profoundly annoying. The reason for this, as with so many annoyances, can be summed up in four words: You're doing it wrong.

As well as email can do stuff like transmit documents, instructions, and racist memes about President Obama, it was never meant to replace human conversation, dammit. I'll prove it. Does your workplace still have telephones? Do you yourself carry around an electronic device that, in addition to streaming cat videos and posting selfies to social media, actually contains a telephone?

Technology. LOL. (And yes, that is Dr. Martin Cooper,
who invented the cell phone and surely never imagined
that Tinder would be a thing one day.)
Talking remains the very best way for two people to communicate when the topic is anything more nuanced than "Thank you for your Pizza Hut order." Talking is immediate, collaborative, dynamic. When we converse, we can convey emotions and correct misunderstandings as they occur.

But people - even smart, educated people who should know better - are seduced by the idea that everything happens faster and better electronically. Thus a phone call that sounds like this:

"Hi, I just sent you a timesheet, can you approve it?"

"Sure. It looks like there's an expense report, too. Can I see the receipts?"

"Oh, sorry, those are old expenses that should have been deleted. No expenses this week, just the timesheet."

"Got it. Thanks."

(elapsed time 17 seconds)

becomes this e-mail exchange:

8:04 - Please approve attached timesheet.

8:12 - Can you send me the receipts for the expense report?

8:17 - No expenses, just time.

8:24 - It looks like there are expenses here.

8:28 - Sorry, those were previously submitted and should have been deleted from the attachment. No expenses.

8:39 - OK, thanks.

(elapsed time, 35 minutes, plus 20 blood-pressure points)

This shit is why I drink, people.

As an introvert who is somewhat phone-phobic, I get that e-mail is an easy alternative to speaking to people. But as a busy professional who doesn't have time for your shit, I am totally down with the clear advantage conversations have over e-mail exchanges.

Still, if you're not convinced, let me lay this anecdote on you. This for-real happened at my IRL job yesterday.

My company has an on-line "portal" where employees can update their personal information, download pay stubs and W-2 forms, etc. Pretty cool, really. Apparently this portal was recently updated, which required a migration of employee data. Our head of HR...

...and I should stop here and point out that our head of HR is an awesome woman who basically runs the department by herself even though the company has doubled in size and who works her buns off yet always has a sunny disposition and I love her...

...she sent a message to the "All Employees" e-mail group, asking us to log in to the portal and make sure our personal data had populated correctly following the update. No problem, right? That's a great feature of e-mail: the ability to send a message simultaneously to multiple people in multiple locations.

But one employee - a new, young, and inexperienced employee - asked a question.

She said: "The portal only shows the last four digits of my Social Security number. How can I verify that it's correct?"

She asked this by hitting "reply all."

People, we are 16 years into the 21st century. There are grown-ass adults walking the Earth who literally have never known a world without e-mail. How does anyone not know the difference between "reply" and "reply all"?

As I (and 300 other people) were reading this message, I thought, "OMG, how freaking tragic would it be if [HR lady] also hit 'reply all' and ended up transmitting this employee's SS number to everybody?" And then I laughed and hit "delete," because of course, that was a ridiculous scenario. No one would hit "repay all" to such a message, especially not an experienced human resources professional who knows how critical privacy is in this day and age.

Shows you what I know.

Because the HR lady proceeded to respond to the employee with this: "Here's what I have on file for you, let me know if it's right." FOLLOWED BY THE EMPLOYEE'S FULL NAME, BIRTH DATE, AND SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER.

After hitting "reply all."

I'm not saying that an identity thief might be lurking in the ranks of my company's employees. But holy shit, given what you can do with an individual's name, birth date, and SS number, I'm totally willing to bet there are a few incipient criminals working here.

I would have been SO. PISSED. if that had been my identifying information released to the masses. So I took a few deep breaths, then gently and tactfully informed the HR lady of what she had done. And she responded that she had recalled the message via Microsoft Outlook.

The thing is, 45 minutes after her response, I personally was still able to retrieve the message.

Conversations, people. Have them. They're important.


  1. My company made the global news because of Reply All. It's not hard to verify that only the pertinent people are getting your emails. But I'm okay with a phone call, too.

  2. My office has a nifty little chat program that allows us to have conversations in real time while copying and pasting complex information. But sometimes people use it for regular conversations or standard work things and I always think, "Really? Email isn't fast enough for you?"
    And I remember when email was a new thing and my favorite work story. I would often fax questions to a company in another country and they'd type an answer and mail it to me, so what could have been solved in 24 hours took two or three weeks.
    Then they got email and I was so excited. I emailed them a question.
    Three weeks later I got an envelope. They had printed the email, typed their answer at the bottom of it, and mailed it to me.
    On the bright side it came with a cool stamp that I gave to the office philatelist.
    Having an office philatelist is what I call one of the perks of the job.

  3. The local HR person at my husband's office sent out a doc from their HQ to everyone at his office that contained salary information for everyone in the building. So now that's floating around, causing some serious resentment and drama. And she apparently gets to keep her job for that, even though she has threatened to shitcan anyone who reveals their salary another employee.


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