"Could you please file somewhere else for a while? We’re going to be having a highly confidential meeting in the hallway."
Can I file somewhere other than the file cabinets? Can I find a place (aside from the mysteriously underused conference rooms) in that cubicle honeycombed office of hell where I can’t hear conversation taking place in the wide-open "hallway" area? Well, no, but I can go check my email some more. I can also go to the bathroom again, find another cup of coffee, and requisition more post-its and white out from the supply room. And you can learn from my example! Introducing the:
Were you unable to find a Real Job? Have you instead found short-term pseudo-work as a pseudo-employee in a big dumb corporation? Here are some easy-to-follow tips on how to mitigate the suckiness.
TEMPING RULE #1: Attempts at behaving logically or intelligently will not be appreciated. These will make people hate you. Working the System, however, is an indispensable skill.
"Well… I want to say that I expect it would be alright if you entered this data/un-entered this data/hid this pile of data behind that other stack of data, but really I don’t usually deal with that sort of thing, so I think I would have to say that probably you should consult Mike, or maybe Bob…."
Avoidance, avoidance, avoidance. Avoidance is the deep, wide river that flows through the offices of your friendly corporation. "Accept responsibility for nothing. Deny knowledge of anything. Locate candy bowl": these are the tenets by which the employees of our corporations live. But the industrious temp will recognize these generally unwritten rules as an opportunity to become his or her own supervisor. Is today Assemble a Box Day? Email Long Lost Friends or Lovers Day? Create Your Own Mad Lib Novel Day? Or perhaps there is a large quantity of paperclips in your work area that need to be linked into a chain. Because no one will accept responsibility for telling you what you should be doing or how it should be done, if you show some initiative in this direction you will generally get to plan your own activities.
TEMPING RULE #2: Fill those empty and meaningless days with unobtrusive and entertaining tasks. As long as you remember to appear busy and smile frequently at your coworkers, hours a day will be yours to wile away.
"Could you just push these three buttons in sequence for the next eight hours? Thanks..."
When you apply to a liberal arts college, they will tell you that they do not train their students in specific trades or skills, but rather teach young people the all-important, infinitely applicable life skill of How to Think. Some temps (especially those who graduated Magna Cum Suma Something only to find that their B.A. in Drama or Re-imagining Grasslands or American Culture is not quite as marketable as they had expected) might use their well-trained minds to ruminate on the utter suckiness of their current position, to analyze the inanity of their work, or to "un-pack" the dense web of stupidity that surrounds them. This is the wrong approach. The smart and resourceful temp will instead channel his or her thinking skills into creative diversionary activities. Remember Einstein’s thought experiments? The science-minded temp will conduct her own. A more literary temp might enjoy making up stories, perhaps about his coworkers, or trying to remember the first eight stanzas of that poem he had to memorize in the sixth grade.
TEMPING RULE #3: In the struggle to avoid the soul/brain death that is pandemic in our nation’s cubicles, an active mind can be your fiercest enemy or your best ally. Make friends with your brain by allowing to roam beyond the confines of the Office Hell that your body is forced to inhabit.
"So if you could just show up at 7:30am and then wait outside in the cold until a real employee comes and lets you in with their ID card..."
Being a temporary employee means missing out on many of the benefits that companies offer their employees in exchange for a soulless existence of mind-numbing busy work. You will not get that coveted discount at your corporate octopi’s local retail outlet. You will not be able to join your co-workers for Thursday’s much celebrated chicken ceasar salad at the company cafeteria, or if you are, you can expect to pay a good deal more for the soggy delicacy. On the other hand, the brevity of your employment with The Man (or at least any particular Man) liberates you from the social obligations that your coworkers are bound to obey. For instance, you should feel free to: horde office supplies; hide annoying or puzzling documents in remote corners of the office; or use data entry time to revise your resume, and then fax it to a more desirable employer. And it may well be your responsibility to inform the perennially maligned smelly guy in the next cubicle over that he is, in fact, a Smelly.
TEMPING RULE #4: As much as your position may suck, it is after all only temporary. Take advantage of this, and whatever else you can.