I work in an office. Chances are, you work in an office too.
I am a low pay band worker bee. Chances are, you are a low pay band worker bee too. Though if you’re not, don’t fret – I’m sure there’s some things here you can resonate with regardless.
Offices are a curious little Petri dish. In them, you have a collective of disparate personalities all thrown together to realise the common goal of an organisation that most of them don’t share or particularly care about. People who might otherwise never have anything to do with each other become the people you spend most of your life with. Often the only thing you will have in common wth your colleagues is the fact that you work in the same office. This is perhaps true for most professions, though it is never experienced with as much clarity as it is in the claustrophobic, sedentary office environment.
But some rather interesting dynamics and archetypes unfold in this environment. So let us take a little sneakpeak inside my brain and see if we can’t come to a mutual perspective on the matter.
The first office archetype is woman who doesn’t know when to end a conversation. I toyed with the idea of saying ‘person’ who doesn’t know, but it is invariably women who fulfil this archetype, at least in my experience. So I’ll call a spade a spade with a disclaimer that – although I am fractionally sexist, this isn’t an example of it.
These women are always nice women. They always have nice personalities and their topics of conversation are mostly to be found on the ‘moderately interesting’ patch of the conversational spectrum. They usually speak of relatively harmless, small topics and overall they are good conversationalists – they can hold court with ease and do not feel their audiences judgments burning a hole through their soul. This is actually a crucial life skill to possess, a very useful skill indeed. But it is a skill for which their audience often has to pay the price…
For their judgment shield also blocks out the otherwise obvious subtleties of body language and vocal tone that communicate to the speaker that she should respectfully wrap things up. We have all been locked into those conversations. We have all felt our joy and gusto ebb away with each passing word. We have all felt the feeling of hope and promise and salvation when we sense that the current anecdote is nearing its conclusion, and we have all felt that spiritual slump when, inexplicably, the speaker is somehow able to seamlessly merge said conclusion with a brand new anecdote, thus securing us in auditory bondage for at least another few painstakingly long, drawn out minutes.
OK, OK, perhaps we shouldn’t take such a passive role in the conversation in the first place. Perhaps we should take control of it and direct it somewhat to its final destination. This IS the way to avoid being drawn into these conversations, but the office environment demands civility and politesse from its inhabitants and there is a point of no return. If you don’t engage early, you will never find the courage nor the opportune moment to hijack and land that conversational plane once the speaker hits altitude. You will be relegated to the role of displaying courteous nods, timely chortles, and empathetic vocalisations as your happiness and sense of purpose corrodes.
Speaking of hijacking conversational planes, that brings me onto the next archetype. Closely related to the first, this type comes in male and female varieties in equal measure. This is the person who, no matter what the topic of conversation, will always, ALWAYS, find a way to make it about themselves. You know the type. I KNOW you know the type. Everybody does. Have an impressive story to share? Not as impressive as that one time when this person did likewise. Did the strangest, most unlikely thing happen to you that you would like to share with colleagues? Not as strange as the experience that this person had. Telling people about something horrendous that happened? This person has an even more horrendous story to share. Just back from your holidays? Want to share your experiences? Lets hear about this persons holidays instead. Getting married in a few weeks? Lets instead talk about this persons wedding of years ago.
Yes, we all know people like this. Trouble is, they are often ‘nice’ people too. Relatively harmless, they are just ignorant of social courtesy and believe that unless they are the ones speaking, they are being ignored or somehow disrespected and trodden on. It is rather amusing to witness their facial microexpressions when they are part of a conversation in which they aren’t given the in to speak of themselves – when the other participants of the conversation actively disregard or rebuff their offered ‘hooks’ for the sake of the pursuit of the original storytellers concluding segments. Like a confused cat with a quivering lip and ping pong eyeballs, their face betrays a rapid attempt to inwardly process what just happened, and it makes its observer feel a little frisson of petty smugness at the schadenfreudian display of subtle social justice.
Schadenfreude abounds in the office environment. One of my favourite archetypes, and the one I find perhaps most amusing, is the heterosexual male who becomes the comedic homosexual. Whilst it may be somewhat funny on face value – funny in its own right – the humour value for me lies in what is occurring behind the scenes, in the mind of the performer.
Lets be honest with ourselves here, fellas. Every guy has within himself the ability to out-girl even the girliest of girly-girls. Every man on the planet can do camp. Every man can display grace and a light-loafered finesse, not to mention an indefatigable ability to turn every word, every thing, into a sexual innuendo – homo or hetero. We just don’t do it publicly. Well, OK, maybe if we are goofing around with friends, having had a drink or two in an informal setting. We certainly don’t do it in the workplace though. But some do. There will always be that one guy who, when bending down at the filing cabinet when another man walks past, will don his homosexual persona, complete with feminine vocal stylings, and say something literally gay for the amusement of everyone within earshot. Something like ‘I know what you’re after, big boy’ followed by a wink, or ‘like what you see?’ in reference to his bum, or who might say, without even standing back up to say it, ‘snice, ain’t it? snice.’ and give a little booty-shake.
It’s true, in the absence of an actual homosexual in the office, some unfortunate guy will just gravitate unknowingly towards filling that void, that archetype. Somebody’s always gotta be the gay guy. Fact.
Thats why I find it funny. Because I know. Cruelly but understandandbly, I find myself laughing more at rather than with. But more at the archetype than the individual.
The Matriarch, or The Coven of the Matriarchs. The backbone of most offices, the salt of the office environment, is often women who are in the final quarter of their working life. Their hair has usually lost its pigmentation. They mostly, though not exclusively, wear a ‘jig’s up’ haircut – styled relatively short almost like a gents hairstyle because, well, its all about function over fashion at this late stage of the game. Usually led by one dominant, fire-breathing, immorigerous, silverback mistress of bitterness, they sit in judgment over all that they survey, unfettered by the unwritten rules of civility and fairness that the rest of the colony must abide by and they exhude a formidable aura of unquestionable righteousness. They have an authoritative presence, a genuine air of command, yet within their ranks there often lies a power struggle – a fascinating display of Machiavellian-style courtiership. Loyalty is at a premium amongst their ranks and yet their power struggles are for nothing. They don’t have any actual power that makes the struggle worthwhile. They too are mere worker bees, yet the impulse is within them to assume the archetype of Queen (not to be confused with our previous example). Oh, and before I forget – they are mostly also slovenly, corpulent beasts with a penchant for sampling the lunchtime cuisines of local eateries and they will find any excuse to partake. They love it, the portly, procellous, slubberdegullions.
I am not myself a mere spectator of office archetypes, exempt from fulfilling them. I too must perform my role. So which archetype am I? Regrettably, I find myself acting out the part of the arrogant archetype – the one who loves the sound of his own voice so much so that, when speaking on the phone, he cranks his voice up a few decibels so that his lesser peers may marvel at the staggering range of his vocabulary and the fluency with which he draws upon it. That’s me. This archetype always fails to recognise that no one else is impressed by him and that rather than looking upon him and his apparent smarts at face value, they look at the underlying, behind-the-scenes archetype – much as I did myself with the hetero-cum-homosexual. And they find his obnoxious boastfulness contemptible. This guy has apparently no idea that his intentions always fail to hit their mark and that they actually serve as a gross disservice to himself. But that only seems apparent. Having filled this archetype, I have the inside scoop. It’s not me, guv, honest – it’s the archetype. It’s wearing me like a glove. I am but a helpless puppet to its invisible hand – a hand that forces its way into my rectum and makes an Orville out of me.
But even so, somebody’s gotta do it. This guy assumes himself to be undervalued. He assumes that he has a superior intellect over the rest of the office and that there is a conspiracy to keep him down. Why haven’t the powers that be came and plucked him from obscurity and made him their king? Why haven’t those who have overheard his fastuous phone manner pledged their undying allegiance to him and petitioned the bosses to recognise his superiority by giving him lordship over the business and its minions and dominions? Yes, the feeling of conspiratorially frustrated potential is great with this archetype. He is a prince among men, but with a lachrymose, Count of Monte Christoesque tale to tell.
The ageing rocker/goth/emo/alt chick/chap. Its one of the truly, truly fascinating things about society that people forge these things called identities according to the things that they resonate with, and that they adopt certain styles and attitudes that reflect and communicate said identities to other people. The fascination for me lies in the fact that everybody has to work and that most will find work that is relatively menial. They just attend so that they can pay the bills, live in accommodation, feed themselves etc. But their styles and prevailing attitudes and identities are brought with them into the workplace and into the melting pot that is the office environment. The office environment is, in itself, a great social equaliser in that regard – whilst there, you are paid to be there and do one thing and one thing only, namely to execute that list of proscribed duties that are collectively termed the Job Spec. It does not care who you are outside of itself, it cares not for your hobbies, your values, your beliefs or your principles, nor for your lifestyle. It is but a big, blank, emotionless machine that only requires that you keep its wheels and cogs greased in line with its intended function, as laid out in your job spec. But it is people, with their differing attitudes, perspectives, beliefs, styles, values, identities, preferences, experiences et al that apply the colour to that otherwise blank canvas. And it takes all kinds. It is no discriminator of personality itself. Only people are, and so the office can become a sort of social crucible, populated by people who never realised their dreams, perhaps never had the courage to pursue their dreams, perhaps never had dreams in the first place, or who never went to college or stuck in at school, but who still unavoidably have a strong sense of their own identity. Lets face it, as far as the possibilities provided by society go, we workaday, nondescript office types are all losers in the game of life. The one characteristic, if any, that we all have in common. Perhaps being aware of this fact on some level, combined with the differing life perspectives of its inhabitants, is what fuels the heat that is applied to the great humdrum social crucible that is the office.
No identity really stands out more though, makes itself more obvious, than the ageing alternative chick or chap. There’s an automatic sense that they just won’t grow up, won’t fix up and look sharp, to paraphrase Dizzee Rascal. They have their identities, are usually loyal fans to the music of their youth – AC/DC for le males, New Romantic for la femmes – and always exist outside the office orthodoxy, as far as there can be such a thing. The females of this species are the ones most likely to still actively follow their interests outside of work. Whereas the male may frequent the rock pub for a post-work drinky-poo on the Friday following payday, or attend the once in a blue moon gig when one of his old favourites visit town, he will most often be found reclining at home in his underpants watching things like Family Guy, probably eating beans right out of the pan he cooked them in (if he’s single), with only his ponytail giving him away as a rocker when clothed. When he is clothed, he will wear band T-shirts, like Megadeth, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, the Clash etc. The alternative female is a much more interesting character.
She often dyes her hair an attention-grabbing colour, dresses in an attention-grabbing way, and has extra-curricular activities that would just grab your attention. She may be a fetish scenester, have a non-Abrahamic religion such as paganism, have strong political views, is an amateur painter, well-travelled, is usually eloquent in that uneducated or self-educated kind of way and is something of a social butterfly who is connected to a large network of artist types, photographers, burlesque dancers, festival-goers. The bastard spiritual offspring of goth and hippy, and a perennial outsider. Perhaps the most outwardly striking archetype to be found in the office, she is often the victim of The Coven of the Matriarchs vicious snipes which of course she will attribute (and probably partially correctly) to their jealousy at her comparatively svelte frame and ability to wear such eye-catching garb.
All the girls know him. He stares at your mammaries. He rubs his thighs whilst he’s talking to you. He makes even the most banal, mundane, should-be-innocuous stationary-inspired banter rife with licentious suggestiveness. He wants you, girls. Did you hear that? He wants to take you to heaven and have you call out for god. Can you resist his divine temptations girls? Can you? Yes, you can. And you have given him a reputation around the office for being a perverted creep. This would-be lothario just can’t help himself. He’s honest at least. His eyes go where they want to go and he doesn’t hide the fact. He is but a man after all. But that is not appropriate behaviour for the workplace and he is in no way attractive. He makes you feel uncomfortable. When he is showing you things on your computer, he positions himself a little too close for comfort. You feel sex breath on your neck as his torso establishes contact with your elbow. And it all just has that creepy, sexually charged dimension to it. It’s a necessary evil in the office environment.
Then there’s the guy that he wishes he could be – the guy who actually does rove around, laying all the women. The player. The seducer. The Don Juan. The actual lothario. That cheeky, charming chappy who can frighten off a pair of pants from a hundred paces. He knows what the girls like. He knows what they like to hear. He is in tune with the only fundamental reason for our existence and he is content with just that. To the fellas, there often seems nothing particularly conspicuous about him at all – he’s just a lad. But to the ladies, somehow his words and presence just transport them to moist city, population: let’s bone. Not an ever-present in every office, but when he does sweep through, he does so in the manner of a devastating sexual hurricane, if you can imagine such a thing.
Another role that always seems to be filled, though not strong enough to be an archetype in its own right, but a supporting cast member, is that person who never realises that their breath smells literally like shit. Why does there always have to be someone who lets food rot between the spaces of their teeth? Always one.
Perhaps the stronger archetype is the person of general sub-optimal hygiene. Admittedly, this one is me too. They usually have a feint (or overpowering) stale, musky odour. Now I’m not making excuses for myself – far from it – but I rarely do the housework, I often wear clothes on a number of occasions before washing them, I don’t change my bed sheets as often as I should and if pressed for time I will forego my morning shower. Not that I’m making excuses, but taking all of that into consideration how could I not sometimes be a little smelly? I guess its just another example of the rampant prejudice that finds expression in the office environment. Again, somebody has got to wear that cap I suppose.
And as the old office saying goes “if they’re talking about me, they’re leaving some other poor bugger alone”.
I am almost out of archetypes. There are just two more that I want to get off here. I’ll save the most prevalent for last.
The penultimate archetype on our list is the listless, jaded, hen-pecked husband. The nicest of chaps, you just know he feels disillusioned and imprisoned by family life and his dead-end job. You know he desires to live a free life, be a free man not at the mercy of his responsibilities or society. He is most acutely aware of the gulf between his true nature as the principal beast of the earth, the foremost of animals, but an animal nonetheless, and the role he unwittingly pledged himself to. Forever. And ever. And ever. And ever. And from whose bonds he will never find release. He likes to share jokes and he is a good, upright and moral man. He just has a yearning for feral nature which will never be fulfilled.
Last on our list, and the most common one too, are the legions of 40-something, drug-addicted women. Forget what I said about the Coven being the backbone of the business, these Matriarchs-in-waiting are surely the true backbone, if for no other reason than their numbers. There is a bounty of them, but they are no treasures. They are drug-fuelled lunatics. Pirates from sanity. Their sense long since tossed overboard to the waiting alligator.
Either women truly develop a bewildering panoply of ailments as they shift into their 40s, which are factually only kept in check by copious amounts of prescription drugs, or women also realise – like our jaded, listless husband above – the futility of their own existence and thus turn to prescription drugs as a coping mechanism. Or perhaps there are more than two ways to skin a cat. Nevertheless, all roads lead to Rome – and Rome in this case is a prescription drugs empire whose citizens and subjects are mainly women in their 40s (and 50s).
Did you enjoy how I strung those proverbs together and tied them into a neat little bundle? I know I shouldn’t break the fourth wall like this, but I was a little pleased with myself and just wanted to let you know. Anyway, getting back on topic…
There probably is a much deeper and broader issue at hand here with the prevalence of prescription drug dependence amongst pre and post-menopausal women and if I were to think about it in a broader and deeper sense it would irk me, and get me wondering. But mine is not to reason why. Actually, I don’t hold to that for a minute – mine IS to reason why, just not here and just not now. But I do often find it puzzling that so many women carry around with them a little satchel of drugs. They have an actual accessory dedicated only to transporting their daily drug intake, and it is a lot more professional looking than the cellophane that you use to carry your cocaine in, or the freezer bag you transport your weed around in – these ones have zips! Or lids! And they are made from much more durable material. Yep, they were custom purchases in their own right. Now that’s commitment.
Tramadol, Paracetamol, Brufen, Aspirin, Simvastatin, Levothyroxine Sodium, Ramipril – I mean, come on ladies! Come on ladies! One pound fish? oops. Sorry, I meant to say: What the fuck?
Why take so many? They’ll only mess you up worse in the long run. They’ll shut down your kidneys, do all sorts of damage and ultimately only make you unhappier. Then again, you might actually need them. Still. I worry for you a little bit.
Honourable mention goes to the archetype who makes terrible jokes and thinks they are genuinely funny. They usually are pun-based and result in that all too common office background noise of brittle, feigned laughter. And if they start stacking jokes, eyes start rolling and each forced chuckle becomes more and more transparent.
Anyway, that concludes my list. If you have stuck it out with me this far, please feel free to drop me a reply and refute or add to my analysis of these office-based archetypes. Also feel free to highlight any archetypes that I may have missed off – I know there must be plenty. But for now – Enjoy!