Last year, I wrote about how I did a little online research to find out exactly how introverts are perceived at work, and I responded to some of the opinions I found online in this post. One of the points I made is about how employers seem to be incorporating personalities and being sociable into work environments, which is quite disadvantageous to introverts.
One thing employers like to do nowadays is force socializing. For example, sometimes you have after-work parties and everyone is expected to be there. The thought that someone wouldn’t want to be there never crosses the organizer’s mind. The job I had prior to my last job–the one I had while I wrote the post to which I link above–forced socializing at times. I remember on my last day working there, the other techs had been called into one of the owners’ office to talk about some after-work holiday party–either Thanksgiving or Christmas, can’t remember. As if you don’t spend enough time with people at work…yeah, you really want to show up after work to hang with them some more.
And not long before I left that place, there was some other little thing forced on us…I can’t remember why, but we were all expected to bring a dish–not even just bring one, but actually cook it. Oh, yeah, it was a Potluck. Fuck that schitt, man–I don’t cook. But the b!tch who organized it would have been pissed if I declined to bring something, because she was precisely that type of woman. In fact, I think she sent me and a few other people an email after a while because we hadn’t signed up yet, and, if I remember correctly, in the email she claimed we didn’t have to bring anything. But you could tell–we were indirectly being pressured. You better believe I headed to Kroger, purchased a little thingy of potato salad, put it in a plastic tupperware container as if I had prepared it and was done with those b!tches.
This was that place where everyone I worked with was white, and I noticed cultural differences all the time. This Potluck was one of those times. For some reason, the old[er] non-tech bitties and I ended up talking about how my father is a better cook than my mother and how my mother almost never cooks. They started with all this crap like, “Oh, my gosh, a woman who doesn’t cook…how do you keep a man” or whatever they said, but that was basically the gist. They couldn’t fathom a woman not cooking. And this is cultural both racially and generationally. I’m not saying black women don’t cook, but black women are more often the sole breadwinners, make more money than their husbands or just have some sort of job that keeps her out of the home. This is not how white households are. A lot of older white women are housewives or have somewhat of a housewife mentality because they grew up with mothers who were housewives or during a time when a lot of mothers were housewives (where they lived). Ask a black woman, and if she’s being real with you she’ll let you know that most of us think being a housewife is one of the dumbest things we’ve ever heard.
Black women have too much going on to cook all the time, and their roles often overlap that which has been traditionally thought of as “male roles”–especially more often than white women’s roles do (as I said, black women tend to make more money than their male counterparts and are also more likely to even be employed than their male counterparts are. Both of my sisters make more money than their husbands do–one of my sisters is her household’s sole breadwinner). And you also now have a generation of all kinds of women who want to be working professionals and will not even be home at dinner time, let alone cook it. Nevertheless, their comments kind of pissed me off. This is the kind of crap in which I’m forced to participate with these damn Potlucks and holiday parties and other nonsense I don’t want to attend.
So, this morning I just decided “thanks, but no thanks” and skipped the stupid little breakfast party that my co-worker Linda told me about. I contemplated my childhood and how, whether I was around or not at certain things at school, no one really seemed to know or care. Why would anyone notice or care if I don’t go to this breakfast thing? I figured no one would give a schitt. And even if they did, I hadn’t been told this thing was mandatory, and you almost always get a pass when you can say “no one told me” or “I didn’t know.”
Oh…my…world…turns out almost everybody noticed and cared…including my manager. I could barely even listen to my music for all the people harassing me about why I wasn’t at the breakfast. That’s really all I wanted to do today–listen to music, get my work done and go home. I didn’t want to sit around fake-laughing at co-workers making fun of each other…um, co-workers who are pretty much all at least in their 30s, but they make fun of each other all day. Even the manager gets in on it. Gimme a break…The most peace I had all day at work was the hour they were all gone to breakfast. Plus, only certain people are allowed to make fun of me, and that doesn’t include anyone I barely know, like co-workers.
I was really wrong about how little people would care, too. For starters, turns out that while I was relieving a craving for Dr. Pepper, Linda told another co-worker to make sure he brings me to the breakfast. I didn’t know this at the time, so when he was insisting that I come with him and another co-worker, I was thinking, “Dude, what the hell…?” He just kept telling me to come with him and wanted to know why I didn’t want to go. The co-worker who was with him happens to be related to my manager, and I’m sure she heard me when I told this guy, “I’m not going to that.” I’m sure she heard the way I said it, too, and I would bet she told our manager.
Anyway, when the co-worker responsible for bringing me to the breakfast came back, he told me Linda had food at her station. My friend/co-worker Clara kept telling me about food that was left over. It was like these people were trying to make me eat. My co-worker Corey, with whom I worked on a project last week, said something to me about not going to the breakfast. He tries to make me eat, as well, because I told him that I never eat breakfast and almost never eat lunch. He probably thinks I’m anorexic, but I definitely don’t look it. Linda acted almost horrified that I didn’t go and wanted to know if my co-worker had told me about it, where it was located, etc–that’s how I found out she told him to bring me.
And, of course, my manager said something about it. He basically let me know indirectly that garbage like that is mandatory for social reasons and that I should be at the next one. Why is stuff that people at work think up as ways to have “fun” mandatory? “Fun” and “mandatory” don’t go together, and that’s why my job is just my job to me. It has nothing to do with socializing, and, to me, it shouldn’t. Jobs are about making a living, paying for stuff that is actually fun (like my upcoming trip to Michigan to see my alma mater beat our rival Notre Dame) and paying bills; otherwise, I wouldn’t be working. See? Mandatory, not fun. That’s why all I think about at work is getting my work done, listening to music (to help me get through un-fun work) and going home. I’m not thinking about food or hanging with co-workers. (And yes, I do know work is not 100% mandatory…see the “housewife” stuff above.)
Clara and Linda didn’t let it go, either. Clara asked me again later why I didn’t go to the breakfast, and I just told her I didn’t think anyone would notice. She said that not that many people work in our area at work, so people would notice. But, I pointed out to her, I only really communicate with her at work (so why would others notice if I’m not there?). She took that as my saying that I didn’t go because I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to, which is part of it but not the point, and she said I could have sat by her.
I know that, to many people, socializing is the way they deal with un-fun, mandatory work. And they can’t even begin to understand people like me who just want to work, just want to listen to music and don’t want to go to social events or stand around half the day talking. And, for me, it’s not even about not liking my co-workers–I like most of them, and I’m fine with them one-on-one. But a room full of them, where we’re expected to socialize for an hour, is not my idea of a good time. I don’t really think it’s any introvert’s idea of a good time. It’s actually more anxiety-producing than anything else. That’s what I don’t think people understand when they come up with these work social events.
Whatever people might think about this communication style, I speak to people who speak to me…meaning if someone doesn’t initiate a conversation with me, we’re not going to have a conversation. There are very few exceptions. Some of it is just not being interested in talking to most people. Some of it is a lack of social skills. But some of it is, again, thinking back on my childhood. For example, when I was growing up, if some people were having a conversation and you inserted yourself into it–let’s say these are black people–oftentimes one of them would say something like, “Ain’t nobody talking to you!” Or “This is an A and B conversation–C your way out.” White people might just look at you like you’re crazy.
So, I’ve realized over the last few months that I believe people shouldn’t enter conversations unless they’re invited to do so. Something has changed over the years, because now if you don’t go up to people and just start talking, people want to know why you never speak to anybody.
Now I’m just wondering how I’m going to be able to tolerate the next social event at work. After I spoke with my manager, I thought about how I hope my job doesn’t have another one of these things before I move on to another job. Unfortunately, because of this trend where work and social life are expected to intertwine, the problem is not going to go away, nearly regardless of where I work. It’ll probably just get worse…until someone comes up with “Sensitivity Training In the Workplace” geared towards understanding and working with introverts.