Monday, January 8, 2007

Mastering the Technology of the 21st Century Workplace

I have a love/hate relationship with cel phones. On second thought, no I don’t. I just hate them.

I loathe ring tones. There you are, enveloped in the perfect ambience of a beautiful restaurant, with classical or jazz murmuring softly in the background, and out of nowhere the Notre Dame fight song starts jangling from somewhere. Or the Minute Waltz. Or the thumpa-thumpa-scream of Top 40 hip-hop. To be followed by someone, always one or two decibels louder than necessary, discoursing into their pocket-sized annoyance.

I abhor cel phone service and reception. Dropped calls and stutter-step conversations ("What? Are you still there? Can you hear me now?") make me want to heave the monumental nuisance through the nearest plate-glass window.

I hate people who talk on cel phones and try to drive. I am not an idiot, and I believe I have better-than-average hand-eye coordination skills, but even I have a hard time piloting a vehicle through traffic and carrying on a phone conversation. I shudder to think of how that combination of activities might be handled by those possessing lesser skills.

And, frankly, I’m annoyed and more than a little frightened by the fact that no one seems to be okay either alone with their own thoughts, or with the present company. There always has to be that tiny box attached to their ear. The antithesis of the still small voice. The uninvited guest who steals the engagement from the companion across the table.

In the last six months, I have found yet another thing to detest about cel phones. It has to do with trying to operate a small business in the dawning decade of the 21st century.

Back in the olden days, those good ole nineties, employees had homes, with phones that were attached to those homes in some way. And if you needed to speak to an employee, you could call her on that phone, and if she were home, she would answer it. And you could say, "Someone called in sick today. Could you please come to work?" And she would say, "Yes." Or, "No." But you would have your answer right away and could then move on to the next person on the list if necessary.

But now it’s 2007. And I own a business in a small town. With a miniscule labor pool. And none of my employees have permanent addresses, much less telephones attached to those places. They have cel phones. Which are sometimes turned on. But which, much more often, are not. At least, not any time before noon, when it comes to young twenty-somethings who have not yet tired of the novelty of being on their own, out of school, and able to party far into the wee hours any night of the week. And we won’t even talk about weekends.

And then there is that handy little feature of cel phones, where the number of the caller is conveniently displayed to the "callee" when the phone rings. Which gives callees the opportunity to choose to ignore calls from unwelcome callers. Like bosses, or their places of employment.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have hired the most sickly human beings in the county. And if an employee isn’t sick, some disaster has befallen a family member. Apparently, working at the Old Town Café brings down some kind of curse upon the relations of any unsuspecting unfortunate who accepts a position at my restaurant. Car crashes, diseases, multiple hospitalizations and deaths have been epidemic among my employees’ kin. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, almost without fail.

Those cel phones are damned convenient for calling in with the grisly details as to why Jane can’t come to work today. But somehow, the reception is all static and dropped calls when it comes to me trying to contact one of them to stand in for a fallen comrade.

Today, though…. Today I got just the teensiest bit of revenge.

One particular employee, the one who has hardly worked an entire week without calling in or going home "sick" at least once…finally hit the wall with me on Saturday. We had to call HER ten minutes past the start of her shift (and got, of course, her voice-mail) to try to ascertain where she was. Ten minutes later, she called back, obviously still in bed and obviously the worse for the night before. "I overslept." "Okay, so you’ll be here as soon as you can?" "Um, sure…."  Another ten minutes and the phone rang again. It was Little Miss Party-Hearty. "I’m sick. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it…"

So today, I made two phone calls. The first was to my accountant to arrange for a final paycheck. And the second was to Miss Party-Hearty. Her cel phone. It went immediately to message. And I fired her. Right there on her voice mail.

That is SO not the way to fire someone. I knew it. And I knew I should feel really bad about it.

But you know what?

I didn’t.

Shame on me. 

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