Against Evangelization at Work
by Megan Reynolds
In high school, school spirit seemed like a nebulous concept; an easy way to rope kids into building floats for homecoming and planning pep rallies after school instead of smoking pot in the hills behind the building. It was clear to me that high school was merely one stop on the chugging train that is the rest of my life, and so to place so much blind faith into an institution felt wrong. College was the same way. My alma mater wasn’t necessarily very spirited, but there were — and still are — a lot of kids who went there who are still stanning, hard, 10 years after the fact. I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I knew when I was in school that it was just four years that would eventually not matter that much, in the long run. All I needed to do was to finish it, get through it, and begin the plodding journey towards paying off my debts by becoming a member of the working class. I thought the evangelization process would stop once I entered the workforce, but I was wrong.
Being a part of a company implies that you will, at some point, allow yourself to be evangelized a little bit. You start a new job, wobbly and uncertain, quiet when you are normally very loud, eager to please but not sure how to go about doing it, and they will start the process of indoctrination. The first day is always the same: If you’re lucky, you are herded into a room with the others and presented with a sheaf of papers outlining your benefits, and a bunch of papers to sign. If your workplace is especially zany, there will be GIFs of Taylor Swift and pictures of Ferris Bueller in your company’s welcome packet, right next to the spreadsheet that outlines how much your copay is. This is intended to make you feel welcome. “You like GIFs and movies from the eighties, and so do we!” this says. “We know this benefits stuff is boring, but hey! This is like that email thread about brunch on Sunday that you’ve been trying to get out of. You’re going to like it here.”
I’m not saying that these things are bad — they’re not. Working somewhere where they make an effort to make you feel good about what you are doing is positive. It’s the sign of a good workplace, and if you want to believe the hype, go right ahead. I am not here to stop you. Just understand that the evangelization process exists to slowly erode the work-life balance. The more perks provided for you at work, the less likely it is you are to need to the comforts of home. I have a friend who is a video editor at an advertising agency. He tells me they get free lunch, every day, from the company.
“That’s so nice,” I told him, “that you’re free from the tyranny of Chipotle and sad deli salads.”
“It’s so that I can stay in the office and keep working while I eat,” he responded.
I enter each new job with a heaping spoonful of skepticism. Maybe it’s because my work history is peppered with layoffs and bouts of unemployment that have stretched on for way too long. Maybe it’s because I’m the kind of person with a low tolerance for earnestness and am hardly eager to please. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a skeptic, the kind of kid who refused to believe that the earth was made in seven days when they told us that in my very-brief stint at Sunday school. Whatever it is, I don’t trust it as far as I can throw it, until it’s given me a good reason.
It’s okay to feel good about where you work, though. That feeling of goodwill informs your work and ultimately makes you a better worker. It’s also okay to recognize that the place you’re working for will not be the only place you work, just like that dude you’re dating right now won’t be your forever man, or the apartment you’re living in is not where you will take your last breath. Life is fluid by nature. Placing vast heaping amounts of blind faith in anything is a surefire way to get your heart broken.
The last company I worked for, I was lucky enough to attend one of their quarterly meetings, in which the CEOs stand in front of the assembled masses and toot their own horn for about an hour and a half. Normally, I was told, these meetings are short. They provide a few salient facts about the financial quarter, traffic growth, someone says something about how we are poised to take over the world, and then everyone goes back to their desks.
This time, it was the “end of the year” meeting. We had met our financial goals. We had made an awful lot of money. There was a giant spread of breakfast, frittatas and fruit brushed with edible gold dust. The meeting was circus-themed. A mime walked up and down the line of employees who were waiting patiently for their turn at the free breakfast spread, pretending to be trapped in a box. The CEOs walked us through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that laid out a plan for disrupting the online publishing world. The speech was interrupted often by bursts of applause, spontaneous whoops and cheers, while the two men stood in front of the room, basking in the glow of the empire they had built. After it was over, and we all filed back to our desks, everyone was glowing, excited, manic.
“We’re so lucky to work here,” I heard a girl say to her friend as she clutched a tiny bottle of organic juice to her chest. “I love it so, so much.” Whatever they were doing was working.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.
Photo: Apps for Europe