6 Petty Things That Start Wars in Every Office
A little over two years ago, I quit my day job to pursue writing full time. That meant that I, at least for the time being, did not have to wake up in the morning and drag myself to an office anymore. Every working day of my life since then has been spent sitting on a couch or chair in my own home, usually unshowered and pantsless.
At least that was the case up until about a month ago, when I ditched my work-from-home ways and settled into a desk at the Cracked offices. The reasons for the change are several, and every one of them is "I need health insurance" or "If I don't see snow again for another 100 years, it will still be too soon." So I guess I have a day job again, even if it's the kind that asks during the interview process how comfortable you are with using the word "dong."
"Also, what's your stance on laundering money?"
Being back in an office after a few years of working from a room where the History Channel plays constantly in the background and everything smells like smoke is definitely a change of pace, but as you can imagine, it's not exactly like a traditional day job (especially the part where everybody is drunk on hand sanitizer). It's a pretty laid-back environment. I didn't even have to give up working without pants!
Nevertheless, walking through the door each morning never fails to remind me of all those years I spent working in offices of the soul-crushing variety, and all of the petty things that you wouldn't believe can escalate into full-scale wars in any office. For example ...
The office thermostat might as well be that comically large red button that sets off a nuclear war in movies. Take a quick survey of the thermostats in your office and you're bound to come across one that has a screaming yellow Post-it note attached to it with the words "DON'T TOUCH!!!" scrawled angrily across the paper.
It usually happens when, through some marvel of shitty heating and cooling installation, the room that holds the thermostat also features a radically different climate from the rest of the building. The thermostat might claim that the temperature is a comfortable 72 degrees, but in that one room, for whatever reason, it's balmy as shit. Meanwhile, the people sitting in the larger part of the office are as comfortable as can be.
"If not for the part where we all hate life, this would be paradise."
This setup works fine, provided that the smaller room is never used, but unfortunately, that's never the case. Instead, it's usually a meeting room or something, meaning a wide variety of people who may or may not be familiar with the atmospheric dynamic present in the room are filtering in and out all day. All it takes is for one of those people to decide that they don't want to conduct their two-hour meeting in the equivalent of a corporate sweat lodge and turn the thermostat down to, say, 68 degrees. It will still be kind of warm in that little room, but that four-degree drop in temperature might as well be the next ice age for everyone else.
Inevitably, the preappointed office badass, usually determined by a combination of tenure and who smokes the most, will kick in that meeting room door like Dog the Bounty Hunter searching for the deadbeat baby daddy of one of his toothless kids and inform everyone willing to listen that the thermostat is to remain at 72 degrees as stated on the note or hellfire will rain down on everyone in the room.
The people in that meeting will then spend the next hour and a half teetering on the brink of heat stroke and vowing to mess with that thermostat every chance they get going forward.
The Coffee Maker
One coffee packet or two? That's a question that has divided offices for decades now. The two-packet crowd likes their coffee strong, like a good espresso or a kick to the face. The one-packet crowd prefers a more civilized brew that tastes a bit less robust and doesn't mimic the effects of methamphetamine in such a pronounced way. One thing both sides can agree on, though, is that the other side is completely wrong.
If this seems like a trivial matter, keep one thing in mind: Caffeine is a drug. Toying with the influx of caffeine into a person's bloodstream is inevitably going to end in the closest approximation of a Breaking Bad episode you'll ever get at the office without literally working at a meth lab.
"Two packs of coffee. That's the deal."
Once a coffee divide arises in your office, it's nearly impossible to stop it from exploding into unbridled chaos. The problem is, neither side knows that the other has struck until they've actually poured a cup of coffee and had a taste. But that's beside the point. Even if it's common knowledge that Jane in accounting shows up 10 minutes before anyone else and makes the "weak" coffee, Rhonda in marketing, who prefers stronger coffee, will pour a cup, go through whatever elaborate Splenda packet and non-dairy creamer ritual is standard and walk all the way back to her desk before trying it out. She knows full well what she's about to taste and that she could have avoided this by just jumping on the next pot of coffee or whatever, but she will complain to her strong-coffee-drinkers-in-arms nevertheless, because petty complaints are the fuel that keep the engine running in any office.
Does your office have a rule against solicitation? Does it only cover prostitution, or does it extend to things like Girl Scout cookies and band camp fundraisers? There's a good chance that those last two things are addressed as well, which means that rightfully, you shouldn't have to put up with an army of soccer moms shoving frozen pizza order forms in your face every time their kid has to raise funds to pay for some bullshit school trip.
But workplace solicitation rules are selectively enforced at best, and even when that's not the case, the pressure just takes the more subtle form of a catalog placed conspicuously in the middle of the break room, replete with names of people who have taken one for the team and purchased a $14 roll of cherry monkey bread from some fifth grader just to keep his hyena of a mom from asking for the sale in person.
"Buy some Thin Mints and send my kid to Washington D.C., asshole!"
Not a huge deal if, say, the entire company is being asked to play Make-A-Wish with a perfectly healthy child, but it's never that. Instead, it's just something that's circulated between that tight circle of people who make up your department at work. If your department happens to only have 10 or 15 employees, being the lone selfish bastard who decides not to participate is going to draw some attention.
Soon rumors will be swirling around the office about your refusal to play nice. You'll be labeled an outcast who doesn't want to participate with the rest of the "team" and summarily blackballed when future events requiring monetary donations arise.
Translation: You won't be asked to chip in for a Boss's Day gift. Bummer.
When it comes time to celebrate a company-wide achievement, most businesses will opt to do so in a way that requires an absolute minimal outlay of cash. Sharing profits with employees hurts America, everybody knows that. One of the more common solutions to this quandary is to hold an office-wide potluck, where all of the weirdos you would normally cross the street just to avoid saying hello to in public whip up their very finest casserole and haul it into the office, expecting you to eat it.
When it comes to the potluck, most traditional offices will splinter off into three groups: the people who actually care about what they bring, the people who bring whatever is within arm's reach at the moment they remember they're supposed to bring something and the conniving heathens who bring nothing, but eat anyway.
It's that last group that's going to get the most scorn, which is perfectly understandable. Ass, gas or cash, nobody rides for free, bitch. If you're eating, you should be sharing; that's how a potluck works. Everyone can agree with that, and will eventually rally together as a unified front (albeit temporarily) to make sure these people are trapped, tagged and monitored like the wild animals they are.
The real tensions arise between the people who agree that they should at least bring something, but don't put a ton of thought into it, and the people who act as if a potluck is the community's one opportunity to eat for the entire year and therefore must make it an event. They'll put up with you bringing a plastic container of grocery store cookies for a while, but eventually, mandates will start coming down from on high about who should bring what. It will be noted that the last potluck consisted of this one person's elaborately staged tray of deviled eggs surrounded by 25 bags of plain Ruffles potato chips and that this cannot be the case in the future.
Over time, the grip on the potluck menu will be tightened to the point where everyone in the office just decides that eating at all is too much of a logistical nightmare to worry about at the office.
Burned Microwave Popcorn
Microwave popcorn is a staple in any office. It provides all of the action and adventure of going to the movies, except for the part where you're watching your hopes and dreams die in front of you, as opposed to watching Tom Cruise pretend to be into chicks or whatever. But microwave popcorn is a tricky beast. If you don't heat it long enough, you're left with a quarter ounce of useless unpopped corn in the bottom of the bag. But heat it too long, even just a few seconds, and you've got a bag full of foul-smelling nastiness.
Unfortunately, you won't know this until you've opened the bag and the acrid smoke from the scorched corn rises into the air and permeates every inch of the building. At that point, there is nothing you can do. You're about to be the most hated person in the building for like 34 minutes or however long it takes for that smell to clear out.
It will probably be a while.
Meanwhile, hate-tinged words directed at the person responsible for putting those noxious fumes into the atmosphere will start springing up like fires in a riot. It will start with little whispers and "What's that smell?" type of queries. Everyone knows exactly what that smell is, but pretending that some detective work is needed to figure it out is a welcome distraction from the rigors of doing actual work and worrying about important things.
Once the offending smell is identified as popcorn, the radicals start coming out of the woodwork to make absurd claims about how popcorn should just be outlawed at the office altogether if people can't handle the privilege responsibly. This grassroots movement will inevitably die out with a supervisor sending a company-wide email reminding everyone that burned popcorn smells like death and that they should be mindful of not giving everyone lung cancer with their scorched kernels.
And then someone burns another bag of popcorn a few days later and the cycle starts all over again.
Failing to Reset the Timer on the Microwave
Speaking of the microwave, if you want to whip the OCD types in your office into a frenzy, heat something up in the microwave and take it out before the timer reaches zero. It doesn't matter how much time you leave on the clock. There is somebody stalking around your office who is of such fragile mind that something as simple as seeing "0:01" on a microwave timer is too much for them to handle. At first, they'll just hit the "Clear" button and reset the timer on their own. Why? Because this is what a sane person would do, and at first, they are perfectly sane.
But slowly, it's going to wear on them to the point that you not resetting the microwave timer and the boss making everyone work on Sunday are travesties of equal magnitude. Eventually, Post-it notes will start showing up on the microwave, imploring you to make sure there is no time left on the microwave timer, because "your mother does not work here." That's always the go-to point in a situation like this. Your mother doesn't work here, so you need to clean up your own messes. It's a perfectly valid point, except for one thing ... your mother wasn't a neurotic control freak who demanded that everyone around her be in full compliance with all of her bullshit tics and quirks, which is exactly what this maniac is doing.
"There are kids in China who would kill to have those seconds on their microwave! Or to have a microwave! Or food to put in it!
Or to not work 14 hours a day building microwaves!"
Nevertheless, this person will eventually rally enough people around his or her cause until, suddenly, your company has a problem with using the microwave. Memos will be sent, notes will be posted and everyone will be expected to fall in line.
It's enough to drive you crazy, if you let it.
For more from Adam, check out 5 World Leaders Who Were Accused of Being the Antichrist and Closeted Badasses: 6 Famous Wusses That Would Own You.