05 December 2008

Work Rant

I mentioned before that I work in a commercial bakery. It's a factory where we produce around 1200 cakes a day. I am the scaler and beside me is the cook. We are separated by the scaling shelf which is a very long and very wide scaffolding unit with an upper shelf and lower shelf.

Today I came into work and wondered if I was actually hearing music or if I was imagining it. After I punched in and got into scaling I realized that yeah, it was real and coming from the cook's boom box.

Something to note about me: I absolutely hate listening to someone else's choice in music at any volume. It makes me feel crazy, literally. I can't think, I can't focus, and I get more and more angry. It's like my brain simply does not have the capacity to filter out the sound of music. Now, I love music. I listen to it a lot - and very loud while I'm on the eliptical (I bought an eliptical machine, more on that later), but on headphones. I even like to turn up the music on my computer - when I'm alone in the house. I find music will accelerate an Up for me so I can burn the extra energy in a safe manner and sad music helps deepen the Down so I can bounce out of it sooner with no ill effects. So I've used music over the course of my life to regulate my moods, or at least, get rid of the extremes. But I cannot listen to other people's music unless it is the single and only thing I am doing.

So I leaned on the bottom shelf and asked her if that boom box was going to be on all day. I wasn't super-pleasant in asking, nor was I rude. To myself, I sounded firm with the undertones of serious conflict approaching. She said it would and that it's just music. I told her it was offensive and irritating and I needed her to turn it off. She turned it down. I could still hear it reverberating off the cement walls and floor (somehow it sounded like it was coming from the back of the boom box which was facing scaling). I went into her cooking area and told her that it was still too loud and offensive, it needs to be turned off. She kept telling me it's only music. I told her it was offensive that she would subject me to her taste in music, that I would never do that to her, and that it was distracting and therefore needed to be stopped. She told me to take it up with management, which I assured her I would and even told her I would take it to the Union if necessary.

Then I did something stupid. I unplugged the boom box and tried to take it away. This was me on autopilot. I'm accustomed to dealing with stubborn children (I looked after other people's children for seven years) and when the child is being rude with an item, the item gets taken away. Anyway, the cook flipped out and yanked it away from me, plugged it back in and turned it up.

Ok. Now I was seriously pissed off. I waited until the big boss came in about an hour later and asked to see him in his office. I told him what had happened and that I was unable to work with the boom box playing. It was far too distracting and annoying, and that if the cook wanted to play music before I came in or after I left then I didn't care. But not while I'm working as we have to share the space. He said he would talk to her. I went on my coffee break shortly after and when I came back, the music was off. For five minutes. Then it was back on again.

This is where box breathing came in handy. My mom taught it to me to calm down. You inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four, repeat. It really worked. Eventually. At least, I stopped shaking so badly that I could actually hold a scoop and get to work.

I waited for the second boss to arrive. He is the one in charge of personnel anyway. With both bosses in the room I asked the big boss if he'd spoken to the cook yet. He said the second boss would. Ok, fine. I told the second boss that I would leave it in his capable hands and if he needed to have the cook and I meet with him at the same time, then I'm available anytime.

Two and a half hours later the music was still playing. At one point I unplugged it and felt instant relief. The cook plugged it back in and told me it won't do any good to keep unplugging it. I considered getting my scissors and cutting the cord. That way I would owe her a boom box, but have relief for the rest of the day. That's when I could clearly see why my mom did some of the things she has in my life. That feeling of looking at another human being and completely unable to comprehend why he/she isn't complying with something was infuriating. At this point I was seriously considering getting the baker's sledgehammer (no, I have no idea why a baker would need a sledgehammer, but it does come in handy when the scaling freezer door is frozen shut) and just destroy the boom box. I had the unique experience of actually feeling like my blood was boiling and I knew (from experience) that I was about to lose control in a huge way.

About this time some other employees turned on the greaser (big-ish contraption that sprays grease in a box that you slide the cake pans through - way easier than greasing 1200 pans by hand) and I felt instant relaxation. My neck muscles untensed and shoulders started moving away from my ears. Then they turned off the greaser to clean the filter and I could hear the music again - I almost completely flipped out. I was only barely able to hold the rage back. Then I thought - What Would Hubby Do? Something my sister would ask herself as she took a situational judgement test. She understands that the rest of the world seems to know how to handle stress at work but it's a bit of a mystery to her. And me. I hope I just paraphrased her correctly - my apologies if I didn't. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to handle the situation without me flinging the boom box into the nearest cement wall.

Then I remembered my S. He is excellent with people skills (he has my share of them - I have none). I knew I needed to get some perspective on all of this as I wasn't thinking clearly at all. I called him on his cell and gave him a rundown of the situation, then asked if it's too much for me to go to the bosses again over this. He said it wasn't and that it was ok to let them know how stressed I was over it and how sick I felt (literally - my stomach was turning) and that I felt like I needed to leave.

So I did. I stalked the second boss until he was back in his office and I confronted him with every bit of emotion I had bottled up. With the exception of crying. As much as I wanted to cry, I knew that's just never apporpriate at work. I told him that for the first time ever, I wanted to leave work on the spot. Just leave the rest of my job to someone else and go home. I told him I needed to know what his timeline was in dealing with this problem so I could know how much longer I had to put up with the stress of it. He managed to calm me down (probably why he's a manager) and get more details from me. He said he'd already spoken to the cook and didn't find the music all that loud as he also listens to a radio in his office, so he didn't see the problem. He even brought up that I had a partner in scaling that had a radio and it didn't bother me then. I told him it was because it was a little clock radio that I couldn't even hear from where I would work. Now scaling is all mine and I'm using the whole space so I can't just ignore the music or filter it out. I also I told him I understand that some people can effectively work with music playing but I just can't, something is hardwired in my brain causing me to be unable to function. This whole time I was eyeballing his tinny radio and imagining flinging it by the cord across the room. He must have picked up on that as he reached over and turned it off for the duration of our conversation. He sat me down and talked until my blood pressure was more normal, my temperature normal and my shaking mostly stopped. Every time music was brought up I could feel my body tense, my eyes go wild and my body temperature increase. He said he had no idea that it affected me as much as it did (neither did I, really, it does seem kinda petty) and eventually told me that he would have it stopped even though he had originally given permission to the cook to have the music playing.

I left his office feeling much calmer, knowing that I am a valuable employee to the company and a radio playing wasn't worth losing me over. He did indeed talk to the cook immediately and I watched a bit but didn't listen. I didn't care what was said, just stop the damn music.

Not long after that I had to pass by the cook's area and heard her make a sound like "Waaah" in a loud, whiny voice. I didn't look her way. I didn't acknowledge that I heard her. I just kept walking, like she was talking to someone else. I thought for a brief moment - if I was trying to get a rise out of someone, what would infuriate me? Nonresponse. That would do it, not being able to make the other person feel angry or upset. So I resolved to be like my daddy and completely ignore the cook unless absolutely necessary, and then be professional, polite and brief in my dealings with her. On my return to the scaling area, I heard "there sure are some Big Babies working here". Again, I gave her nothing. When I went to the sink the cook passed by me with another "waaaah" close to my ear. Again, nothing. I didn't even acknowledge her existence for the rest of my shift.

Now I wonder, what will the cook do on Monday? Will she do her best to inconvenience me by taking my pails or lids? Will she repeatedly ask for ingredients to be re-scaled? Will she cat-call some more? If that's all she can do, then I suspect she'll wear herself out soon enough. I will just tolerate any inconvenience as I normally would when I'm dealing with a passive-agressive coworker.

It took hours for me to relax after all this. A couple of hours later I noticed odd muscles in my back ached, my bicep hurt, one pectoral was sore and my neck stiff. I must have been tensing all available muscles without being aware of it.

Interestingly, for the first time ever, I really didn't care what the cook said about me to others. I realized that although many people at work are fun and interesting to be around, I really don't care what they think of me. If I lose a companionship or aquaintance over all this, then so be it. I love my job, I love the company and I love the environment that I work in. The people make it interesting, but I'm ok talking to very few of them on rare occasions. I discovered I don't need or want a large social network at my job. I would be ok coming in, doing my job and leaving without actually speaking to anyone all day. In fact when this has happened, I am more efficient and feel like I've accomplished more during my workday.

But now I am simply exhausted, glad it's Friday and grateful that shutdown is in two weeks.


Anonymous said...

Um... You got it right - I have ZERO people skills. And that has caused me a great deal of hardship in the workforce (and for that matter, in life) Had it been me, I would have simply cut the cord after the first few attempts to get her to turn it off (or way down) and then offered to repair it the next day - or really the day I actually remembered to take the wire strippers and tape in :)

I think you handled it very well, considering your upbringing :) I love to see the signs of maturity in my daughters that I know I don't have in myself :)

Love, Mom

Chantelle said...

Can I tell you a secret? I have the EXACT SAME reaction to other people's music as you do. If I can hear the music AT ALL - even through headphones - it's too loud. And I can't concentrate while listening to someone else's music, either.

I think you handled it very well. When I was working, I had headphones that I wore that blocked out ambient sound.



The Hyperlexian Aspie said...

good idea with the headphones, chantelle. i knew this about both of you (having been at the receiving end of aforementioned irritation, lol)!

if music is too loud to talk comfortably, i don't like it, but otherwise i don't mind. i like having music around me, even if it's someone else's. i've had a lot of jobs where i had to listen to my boss' music!

imo opinion, it's not about music - it's about personal space. most people can be offended if a person infringes on their space in a physical way, and i guess my sisters might be offended by auditory infringements.

well, i'm glad you didn't cut the cord, sister! that must've taken some serious restraint!