Your Office Friend | “I’m just not good at instantly being clever in a chat window at work.”
Q: My company has been using Slack for a couple years now. At first it was slightly annoying to have one more thing to monitor, but it did replace some unwieldy email threads. It was a marginally useful piece of software. But at some point Slack became something more complicated. Certain people in the office clearly established themselves as being “good at Slack.” I don’t mean they used emojis and GIFs well. They were good at a kind of quick-twitch banter that I simply cannot keep up with. I’m not an old person (I’m 35), I’m just not good at instantly being clever in a chat window at work. Recently, some people got promoted and I’m convinced a large part of it was this maddening new “skill.” How do I get “good at Slack,” or whatever comes next? Am I seriously going to have a worse career because of this? — Brooklyn Heights
A: Because people who run the tools at companies are not usually the same people who run the culture of companies, and because people who are more senior are generally also locked in senseless endless meetings all day, the adoption of Slack in offices is extremely haphazard and hazardous. Communities of people begin working in different ways in the same workplace. Messy! Some of us Gen Xers and many (most?) millennials grew up chatting online all day, every day, and we have taken to Slack perhaps too enthusiastically, we know. You email people will never be like us! (Though learn to adjust your notifications — make Slack work for you.)
You can prove your value in another way. Make yourself a human connector, bringing value and warmth to IRL times. Or make yourself an indispensable mentor. Still, pop into Slack once a week to shock and awe. There’s real authority in not being accessible. I’ve seen senior leadership use extremely irregular Slack appearances for gorgeous displays of clout. Good news: It’s unlikely that a cool-kid chat room is anywhere near the actual center of power in any given office. Power is the province of the olds.
Slurper more bothersome than the slurp
Q: Two people in my office are egregious slurpers of their foods and beverages. One of them is my idol and I think her slurping is cool because she so obviously doesn’t give a darn. The other one is loud and obnoxious in all ways — not just food ways — and listening to his sumptuous consumption of his daily bowl of soup and bag of chips makes me want to die. He smacks his lips and lets out almost sexual sighs between his slurps. Headphones have done little to mitigate the problem, and he usually eats at 10:30 — way before a normal person’s lunch hour. How can I transcend my rage and get back to work? — Erin
A: Stage one can be executed by email or IRL. Consider the difference between “Would it be possible for you to stop eating at your desk?” and “I would like it if you stopped eating at your desk.” Notice that there is no apology necessary here. Notice also that we choose to ask questions when we are uncomfortable and want to blunt confrontation. Fine! Stage two involves turning your phone on him, recording a video, and sending it to him.
Now let’s talk about the youngs
Q: Many of my colleagues are very young and seem to think that they all are equally effective at their jobs (or maybe equally ineffective?) and freak out when someone is let go, without seeming to consider that their colleague may not have been good at their job, or that the situation was unfixable. I’ve been a rank-and-file staffer and I’ve been management, and I know some of this is important for worker solidarity! But a workplace where management isn’t trying to be recklessly cruel still has to be a business. I feel like I learned this by my second or third job, but how do new-to-the-workforce people learn it? — Manhattan
A: Nothing helps here except time. That being said … it’s hard for managers to remember how information-starved employees are. In America, they’re socialized to not ask “Does this company actually make money?” or “Is Bob suddenly gone because you finally found out he touched all those butts ‘on accident?’” Add an HR system that’s often captured by the concerns of lawyers, insurance companies and management, and is therefore bound to enforce a huge amount of silence, and we have an office of under-informed, overly group-bonded, hypervigilant people searching for any clue to what’s really happening. Yeah, they’re maybe sad because Bob is walking out with a cardboard box. But really they’re asking: Is this systemic? Is the company in trouble? And, at heart: What if I’m also a bad employee? Take a load off their minds and tell them how bad they are today.
Also? They might just be hungry. Don’t forget to feed and water your millennials! They have to eat their daily four pounds of Chipotle or they get fussy by 3:30 p.m.
Actually you do have a lot to learn, Punky Brewster
Q: It’s never said outright, but my colleagues are definitely ageist. There’s disgust and patronization all around for younger co-workers, and I am tired of hearing “you millennials” or “When I was your age. …” We don’t go around saying, “Wow, you’re old. Can you see this 12-point font?” How do we communicate without being dismissed? — Anonymous
A: Ageism is systematic discrimination against older people. Most age-discrimination laws in the United States enshrine protections for workers over 40.
You’re not experiencing discrimination, you’re experiencing teasing and/or meanness. I remember how much it chafed my rump when I felt dismissed for being young. (I am old now.)
And we know we should be nice to you, if only because Gen Z is going to die working in the Jeff Bezos Memorial Limb-Growing Factory on a freezing, burning Earth while being whipped by racist robot overlords. If it helps, remember we’re jealous that you can eat anything you want.
But try to respect us, hungry Teen Wolf, if only out of fear. We’ll have your millennial ageist butt ejected from the office so fast the wind shear will give you one of those racist undercut haircuts you dingbat kids love so much.
Your Office Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers.