Yesterday was a rare occasion – we shared a genuinely easygoing exchange with the boss.
Wait… Maybe for the average worker, who’s often on pretty good terms with their supervisor(s), this setup requires some context. See, I am rarely chummy with the boss. With most any supervisor I’ve ever had, really. There’s a sort of apprehension on the point of the employee, and the conscious awareness on the part of the supervisor that, in orderly to effectively manage, boundaries are established. Some bosses take an impersonal approach and don’t view friendship as a necessity with their staff. Some take that opposite extreme — Michael Scott types — who feel the need to be everybody’s friend. My boss is somewhere in the middle of spectrum, since there’s no real need to be either overbearing — or underbearing, for that matter — even given the tremendous workload shuffled by our small staff.
My boss is a four-foot tall workaholic in her late 60s, and when I first started at this job, not yet having reformed my previously shoddy work ethic, I was scared to death of her. My coworker, who’s a few months younger than me, and is generally confident, but softspoken in certain situations, admitted the same, though she quickly warmed up to the boss, having been in the department a year longer than I. It took me longer.
Recently, we had started the tradition of department meetings, which would help us sort through and follow-up on the flood of work on a weekly basis. Before, it was just my coworker, myself and my boss. But most recently, we had replaced our brainy middle age statistical consultant with a younger, more easy-going Russian woman who joins us for the meetings now. We’ve basically loosened up, and the meetings tend to be more relaxed. Nothing like a British wives tea party or anything like that, and maybe that the meetings are at the end of a Tuesday have something to do with it.
Today, we were discussing potential software purchases for upcoming projects and the Russian woman had offered to forward to my other coworker the URL to the webpage where we would this week download a trial version of SPSS. “But it’s called something different now,” she explained, not remembering exactly what the new website name was. My boss asked how this could be, and I replied, with my coworker confirming, that IBM bought SPSS.
My boss seemed unnaturally surprised about this, and to my surprise, considered this yet further evidence of larger changes she noticed lately, namely that the world is tailored to the young. On a recent vacation with her husband, she and her husband were in awe of the hotel in particular. “There was not one Yellow Pages phone book in the entire hotel. They expect you to rely on your laptop.” (Or your phone with Internet access, I thought). Surely, this must be a mistake, interjected my Russian coworker who wanted desperately to believe there was one somewhere, that my boss and her husband had left a stone unturned somewhere. “The concierge couldn’t even tell us how to get Lennox Hospital,” she said, when he looked it up on her computer, though this must have been an error on his part. All of this reminded me of Phil’s test of survival, placing someone outside of their normal, technically convenient environment – would they be able to manage to do what they needed to do. I used to think so, but without a phone book in sight, I’m not so certain.
My boss laughed, saying that she and her husband like to play CDs, but the hotel was only equipped with docking stations for mp3 players. “My, how times have changed,” she said, repeating that age old conclusion about how the world has evolved, as though this were not apparent to everyone. “We don’t listen to music with wires in our ears,” she added, referring to earbuds. I hadn’t thought about this before, except that the hotel sounded like the one we ran across in San Francisco, which had reinvented itself; once the old Vertigo hotel, it became a posh place with a hip-hop theme. Whatever that actually meant, it at least indicated what type of clientele they aspired to, at least in terms of age and cultural habit.
“How things have changed. Like for instance, I don’t talk to J (referring to me),” she said, “I email her. And at first I didn’t like it, but I got used to it.” Ha ha. Well, I am forced to engage some face-to-face time with my boss, but yeah, for the most part, even with her office being next door to mine, some things are just faster (and sometimes not even that urgent) if I can shoot out a quick email, especially when my boss is in the middle of writing reports, and is caught heavily in strategizing the next paragraph.
“The hotels don’t even have bath tubs anymore,” she continued in her stream of consciousness, and I remembered a Canadian home improvement show in which designers argued whether bathtubs were passe. They weren’t entirely obsolete in hotels, but they probably stayed somewhere higher end. And she comically described the showers, which no longer had curtains, but rather, glass doors that ran to the floor. The Russian girl was still baffled like this, and I thought it was curious that even my other coworker was a little surprised, given that this isn’t an entirely new feature in hotels, and I think was even the way the showers were built at the hotels where we stayed for the conference in San Francisco, and again where we stayed for work in Portland in October. “I don’t know,” she said, almost blushing with partial embarrassment, maybe at her own boldness at this point, “maybe it’s supposed to improve your sex life… one of the spouses can watch the other in the mirror.” At this point, I was hoping any further admissions were kept to a minimum, lest naked visions of anyone in the room suddenly, and reluctantly, popped into my head. But we all laughed at this, and I realized that yeah, it probably was tremendously uncomfortable for my boss and her husband who at that age, may not find each other’s nakedness as appealing as they did when they were say, our age. In the back of my mind though, that was a little sad to think about the things that slow you down, and change as you get older, though I’m always annoyed when my grandma and her friends always say to me, “It’s no fun getting old.” I know, I don’t want to rush it.
My boss stared off in the distance and somehow brought all this back to IBM buying SPSS. “So IBM bought SPSS, now.” I said, yeah, “will this improve your sex life?” a little surprised that I managed to get that last joke in (and hence hesitant to finish the punchline). It got a laugh, and my boss kind of wrinkled her nose, adding “not for me.”