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Tales of the cubicle

By Stacy A. Teicher
The Christian Science Monitor

An open letter to NBC:

Dear producers,

I am sooooo looking forward to the American version of the British hit comedy “The Office.” I’ve been telling friends about the “mockumentary” TV series featuring an insecure boss whose attempts to be funny only make life more tense for his employees. With only 47 percent of Americans satisfied with their jobs, according to one survey, who can’t relate to mock-worthy stories of America’s “cube culture”?

If you need ideas for next fall’s NBC premiere, here are a few real-life episodes I’ve come across:

The office candy bowl

A longsuffering receptionist at a Boston executive search firm keeps a candy bowl on her desk. A few polite types help refill it, but most just look for “desirable” pieces (i.e., chocolate).

“(One of the partners) was sifting through the bowl and was disappointed with the selection,” writes a friend who works there. “So instead, she reaches over the receptionist’s desk and helps herself to the poor woman’s lunch. While the receptionist was sitting there. I kid you not.”

Hit the stairs

Some offices hand out pedometers to encourage weight loss. At an online coaching company in Cincinnati, employees win a $1,000 bonus if they meet their exercise goals, according to Workforce Management magazine.

This is not the kind of place where staffers doze off in after-lunch meetings. If they feel drowsy, they’ll stop the meeting to run up three flights of stairs. (I take it that the dress code allows for sneakers.)

Fire-drill misses

Sure, it’s tempting to lollygag when the cry-wolf alarm system goes off. But what about the innocents who want to comply and simply can’t hear the alarm?

During one fire drill, “a co-worker sat blissfully unaware for 20 minutes and came wandering out finally with a dazed and confused look on her face,” writes a friend who’s a social worker in Buffalo, N.Y. “The alarms are so old that some of them plain old don’t sound off. Some employees volunteer ... to make sure everyone is out. I do not know why no one found this lady; I believe she had her headphones on.”

My friend fired off a flurry of concerned letters to the government agency that employs her. Replies were vintage bureaucrat-speak: “Employee safety is important to all of us here at Buildings and Grounds. Thank you for your concerns.” She’s saving the correspondence in case a lawsuit is ever in order.

The smells and the fury

Pity the poor facilities manager who fields constant calls about the office being too hot or too cold — simultaneously. This year, “too noisy” also made it onto the Top 10 list of complaints in a survey by the International Facility Management Association. How would you respond to these examples reported in the survey?

“The air in the building smells like bacon.”

“My workstation isn’t located in a place that’s going to get me a promotion.”

“Can you remove the skunk that is walking down the hallway of the vice president’s office area?” (In case you’re wondering, that’s a reference to an animal, not a fellow employee.)

Leave-your-daughter-at-home day

A computer engineer packed up his 8-year-old for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Called into the office of the human-resource manager, he brought along his little shadow — only to be told in her presence that he was ... fired. The man and his daughter were then escorted from the building, according to Workforce Management.

Mind you, most of America’s workplaces are not so insensitive. But a little mockery now and again might help assuage the smaller indignities of life in a cubicle.