Rantings of a recovering corporate animal: Senior

We start right at the beginning. Definitions to help you navigate as you read on:

  • Recovering corporate animal: One who has snapped out of the ideology that the pinnacle of a career is somewhere along a corporate ladder, and takes the necessary steps daily, towards building a real career.
  • Rookie: The young guy/lady who’s dreams, aspirations and qualifications are about to become largely irrelevant.

If you have spent a fair amount of time in a corporate setting, you will be very familiar with the culture around email signatures. You will have noticed the pride people take in adorning their signature with their delegated position, naturally this applies to a greater degree when one has a ‘heavy’ title to throw around. I hate to expose the unspoken code of the workplace, but, if we are being honest we would admit that the speediness of our response to emails if very often influenced by the title right at the bottom of the email content.

Emails are no longer just communication tools, they are also tools through which respect is demanded and authority enforced. (Which is no wonder why we encounter so many titles clearly grasping at straws, trying to be ‘all they can be all they can be’ i.e. Personal Assistant, we really mean tea lady. Access Control Manager who are we kidding?! That means security guard. Discipline Manager, this one is really reaching for the stars, I mean, we are simply referring to that guy Joe with the seriously coffee stained teeth and potty mouth, who has always been a glorified foreman).

We have all had those moments where we receive that regular email from the admin clerk and simply ignore it for hours or even days on end. Or that email from the HR officer requiring all kinds of bureaucratic paperwork that we pretend to not have received, if we can. Or the common IT email vying for our attention for this or the other IT related matter. An email bearing the tittle of director however, commands immediate attention and response, even more so when titles such as Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer etc appear on the signature, rightfully so.

In recent months I have more frequently than normal, received emails bearing the title Senior and have found myself seriously conflicted as to where to assign the importance and set response time in strict accordance to the workplace code…

Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware and agree that there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to be senior, particularly where the title senior is directly proportional to: an individual recognized for excellence, working to a standard of work befitting of respect and acknowledgement. It was/is a fairly common practice in organizations to reward individuals who display promise and managerial acumen with the title senior, on their way to the next tier in the corporate structure, typically middle management.

Here is where the debacle occurs, I have now shaken off my rookie years of employment, and have been at it long enough to know yet another one of the many workplace unsaid truths. My observations and experiences have led me to this inference; senior really means you have just been ‘here’ (same rank) too long, you have worked the bulk of your days and all you have to show for your years of toil, is the title senior, a half paid bond and a family that drives you up the wall (if you are lucky enough to even have a family, that is). We all know those people in the office, always in the midst of an imagined ‘managerial’ function, middle aged, almost always grey, heavyset, well-endowed around the gut and of course the classic shiny aperture where hair once belonged on the head.

We all, at some point or another have unwittingly found ourselves the object of the delusions of these so called seniors, who are typically still strongly convinced of their superiority and view that they are practically management. This scenario is much like the scene in Lion King when Muffasa explains to Simba the cycle of life, there is a cycle of life in corporates too.

Allow me to educate you.

The corporate cycle is far more vicious than the life bearing, all-encompassing, self-restoring, balanced cycle of life. No, the corporate cycle is built on ‘everyman for himself’, the balance is in the imbalance, for function to be sustained in the corporate eco-system the imbalance has to exist. Not everyone can win in this system, the irony however is that the winners need the losers and the losers then need some sort of consolation for their misfortune, which gives rise to passing the burden on to the next man, this only leaves the rookie (Junior, a topic for another day) next in line.

None of the parties to this conundrum can escape, real managers get on with real management matters, but still need individuals to focus on the difficulties secondary to more important matters, they then use the virtually impervious tactic of titles to dupe the next man in line to tackle these matters (all the while maintaining a spotless image and enjoying all the trimmings that come with being the ‘top dog’). And so the hierarchy is born, the lower end of the spectrum is where senior would most likely be situated, more succinctly stated, senior is positioned exactly at the bottom of the top and top of the bottom, the most precarious of all tiers in any management structure ever envisaged. This would explain the delusions, imagined managerial functions, micro-management tendencies and relentless foul temperament.

Surely an email bearing this title deserves nothing less than a waiting period of at least a day…?