The other day, I sat in the kitchen of the company I work for eating an orange — we have free fresh fruit in the office — and I remembered when just a few years ago I worked for another company, in another country, and they “cancelled” our kitchen. No more food allowed.
To be fair, we never really had a kitchen. We had a microwave and a table next to the room where the guests of the TV show we were producing had their make-up done. But the managers decided that the smell of our heated food was unpleasant for the guests and told us we were not allowed to eat there anymore. They took away the microwave and a micro wave of indignation started to grow. For a week, we ate out or took packed lunches that could be eaten cold. But we fought and managed to have our precious microwave back. Except that, this time, the managers placed it in the basement, where we had no tables or chairs. But at least we had hot food.
This was probably one of the least weird things I saw at that company. There were around 30 of us but only one guy had a work contract. All the rest of the “employees” had the money wired to their accounts and were supposed to hand in invoices in the amount of their salaries — and with those the company could justify money going out. So, legally, it was a company with one employee. But work inspection came around a few times — often after someone left the company and reported the illegal things going on there — and our instructions were clear for those cases: hide in the attic, lock the door, and pretend nobody is there. stayed there 2 months until I decided it was too crazy to keep enduring it.
But this was not my first exposure to crazy workplaces. Before that, I had worked at a family managed company where I was a journalist. Even though I owe them many professional opportunities, the days were far from regular. Even though my bosses were only the husband and wife, me and my few colleagues had to put up with all the family drama of the bosses and their many children — all of them adults. So, we drove the adult children to airports at weird hours, we were given a place to live next door to them (this was in another country, so housing was included in the arrangement) and they would make remarks about the times we would go in and out, for example. My salary would come whenever they had money available, and in instalments because they never had it all at once. My holidays were never paid. And one day, precisely after I had just returned from holiday, my boss asked if I could lend him money to pay my colleague’s salary. I remembered I even considered saying yes — just because my colleague was my friend too, but I said no. They found another way to pay her. I also remembered another time we were having lunch and my boss didn’t like something he was eating, so he just took the liberty to put it in my plate, without even asking. Why not, right?
Which brings me to yet another employer, where I told my boss I was vegan and he told me to not tell that to anyone at company events but rather that I was allergic to meat, fish, eggs and dairy. I was wild and disobeyed, so I committed the incredible crime of telling people the truth.
Even though this all sounds crazy, you learn to accept these things as you go. Weird becomes your new normal and sometimes you don’t even realize anymore that there is a whole world out there where there is respect for people and their work. But maybe this crazy world was the price to pay for incredible opportunities. I’ve lived and worked in 4 countries, I met amazing people, I travelled a lot, I did home office before it was popular, I created projects from scratch and totally on my own, I was given a company car at the age of 22 and I have a bunch of stories to tell. I had fun. But I also had enough.
Maybe this is me getting older. But I decided I wanted to try the other side. This world I would only hear about, where people have meetings — I think before, in 10 years of work, I had around 10 meetings — where they have company culture and policies and events. Where I had someone as my boss who actually knows more than I do! It might sound incredible but, in 10 years of work, I was always had bosses who knew way less about journalism than I did, they were always salesmen who just wanted the job done — and I learnt: “a job well done is a job that is done”.
But I wanted a place where a job well done is actually… a job well done. Where I can learn from others, where my contribute for a common effort is valued and I can see a positive impact coming out of it. A place where I don’t have to lie and come up with excuses as to why I don’t eat the meat. A place where I get a salary at the end of the month together with a pay slip I wanted normal, I guess. I quit communications, I did a programming bootcamp and I found all that at my current job as a Business Analyst — finally!
Everything has a good and a bad side. Maybe I’ll get bored of normal eventually. 10 years did shape me quite deeply after all. But these 10 years have also taught me to appreciate what I have now. To be grateful for the little things — like that orange and the kitchen where I can eat it. For my colleagues and my managers being nice. For them being just normal. For them not putting food in my plate when they dislike what they eat. It sounds stupid but it isn’t — it’s perspective.