Sour Apples – Part 4
I was growing increasingly miserable at my job. The project I was given turned out to be much harder than expected. The more I progressed, the more things seemed to move further out of reach. It was like unlocking one door and finding three new locked doors behind it. I still had no one to help me, and now my ability to research was limited as I figured my computer screen was probably being monitored.
One of the most difficult aspects of the project was the handling of data. One early problem was that the data I got on our end was incomplete. I’d asked our computer programmer to create a data file for me, and he did, but for some reason two or three cells of every line of data were cut off – missing information. I asked him to remake the file, and he did, but the same problem arose. The computer programmer guy was plenty busy with work of his own, and I didn’t really feel like asking again – even if he did remake the file it probably would have had the same error again. So I set out to fix the file myself – which involved looking for the translation file, finding the particular line of data, and then fixing the cells that got cut off. I had to do this one by one, and considering I had to handle hundreds of product information data lines…well, it was a time-consuming task to say the least.
There was also the issue that I’d never really worked with processing data like this before. It took me a little while just to understand how it worked on our end. And then I had to figure out how it worked on eBay’s end. I’d never done this type of thing before, and suddenly I had to familiarize myself with two different formats of doing it.
But the biggest problem was that our data format, and the data format eBay wanted, just didn’t match up. At all. Even when I finally did figure out how eBay’s system worked, it was going to take a lot of work by hand just to make our data into something I could upload into eBay’s systems.
As my supervisor was always continually barking to me about reporting to and consulting with her, I decided to do just that. I wrote down some visual examples, translated it in Japanese, and took it to her desk one day to describe the difficulties I was having. After I illustrated my problems, her response was “Hey, that’s easy!” …It was anything but easy. I tried to re-explain my dilemma, but again, her response was, “You know, our data team does this everyday, so it’s not some impossible task. Hang in there.” It’s only in hindsight that I realize the utter ridiculousness of that reply. Our data team – team – implying more than one person, did this job everyday. As the data team, that was their job – they’d been trained to do it, and that was the primary thing they did. This was merely only one aspect of many that I had to do single-handedly. And that’s only for this project, let’s not forget that I couldn’t abandon some of my other English division duties lest I be seen as dumping my work off on my subordinates.
Curly sat next to me, and could see for himself the volume of work I had. It frustrated him that neither the president nor the supervisor could understand. Having some proficiency in coding, he created a few Excel functions which helped to automate and reduce some of the work I had to do. That was definitely a big help, but even with that there was still much to be done that just couldn’t be automated. Once, a group of new hires to the company were going around and observing everyone’s post, seeing what they were doing. When they came to my desk, I showed them one aspect of the project – cleaning up our data before I could process it. They all pretty much agreed that it seemed like a massive volume of work and wished me good luck. After they moved on, Curly and I both noted the significance of the brand new hires acknowledging that I had a whole lot of work to do, yet my bosses could not. And this was only one small aspect of the project!
Meanwhile, my supervisor continued to bulldog me whatever chance she got. If no chances were readily available, she went looking for them. During the weekly meeting I had to give reports about the status of the project. I’d say what I was working on and how much more had to be done. It was enough to satisfy the president’s curiousity, but from here without fail, the supervisor would start digging. She’d start asking me questions about various aspects of the projects, and continue to ask questions until she could find something she could criticize me about. If she asked me 10 questions, and I answered 9 of them in perfect detail, but didn’t know the answer to 1 of them, she immediately jumped down my throat. “Why don’t you know the answer to this? What are you doing? You need to work harder.” I’d love to say that I was over exaggerating her attempts to bulldog me, but if anything I’m afraid its being understated. At least once the president had to tell her “enough already” as she continued to try and find ways to come down on me. Other people who witnessed it would also ask me in private if I’d done something to piss her off on an extremely personal level.
After a while, I finally reached a point where I could get the project off the ground. I’d made some basic pages in HTML, and emailed the president, the supervisor, and all relevant parties about them and asked for advice and input. None ever came. Feeling continually pressured to show progress, when I came to the point where I could get the thing running I reported that it was possible. The president finally seemed pleased, so I launched the project. I knew it was far from perfect, but if I could at least get the damn thing running, maybe it would get some of the monkeys off my back and I could focus on improvement as I went along.
However, only a few days after the project had started, another meeting was held. The point of the meeting was basically to show me how I’d fucked the whole thing up. The quality of the HTML pages was far from adequate, I’d forgotten to include a lot of important information, I’d broken a few policy rules that I had no idea even existed, and a lot of other things I’ve long since forgotten. Although the meeting was basically a “This is what you did wrong” exhibition, most people there, including the president, were sympathetic, realizing that I’d never done this before and didn’t have any training or help. Except for, of course, the supervisor, who I figure must have wet her panties over so many opportunities to derail me, which she did so almost gleefully. After the meeting, I was now able to go to the computer programmer guy and the web design guy and the data team and ask for help, and actually get it. So that made my life easier, although I couldn’t help but to wonder why it took a “this is what you did wrong” meeting to get to this point. Especially since that wasn’t the first time they’d seen what I had been working on – I expect it wasn’t, unless they were just flat-out ignoring my emails.
Now with help, I was able to re-launch the project successfully – somewhat. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was at satisfactory operational levels. And there were still many, many things to be fixed, added, and improved on, but at least it was up and running. However, getting the project running would not signal the end of my problems at work.
With the project finally up and running, I felt a small sense of relief. My supervisor was still riding on me pretty hard about everything in general, but I hoped that with the project underway, I could simply focus on that until January. I knew I was not going to renew my contract, but I hoped I could hold out in the job until then. I wasn’t really in a good position to quit, and 2 years at a job on a resume would look a lot better than a year and a half.
More than that though, financially I couldn’t afford to quit. My wedding ceremony was just two short months away – through careful budgeting and planning I figured I would barely be able to save up for the wedding. But things were very tight, and they would remain so even after the ceremony wrapped up. That’s if things had gone as planned. By now, I’m sure you all realize that’s never the case.
One day in mid-July, the president called me out for another private talk. There, he informed me that he would be cutting my salary for July, August, and September, because I “didn’t work hard enough” for the months of February, March, and April. I tried to protest the “didn’t work hard” claim again, but much like the last time, this wasn’t so much open for discussion as it was an official announcement. Although the portion of my check he was cutting was supposed to be $350 per month, my paycheck was ultimately $500 lighter. To date, I’m not sure how the numbers worked out – I think resident taxes may have kicked in at really bad timing, or perhaps I was getting taxed on my whole paycheck first and then the $350 was getting taken out afterwards. I’m not sure, but either way, my take-home pay was ultimately cut by $500.
When explaining the pay -cut, the president tried to blame it on our parent company. Though we weren’t directly a subsidiary per-se, this bigger company supplied us with the majority of our products, and as such they a measure of pull and influence. He tried saying that this is something that had been decided by the parent company. I figured he was full of shit – but I had no way of calling him on it, and even if I did it wouldn’t have really changed anything.
It’s hard to explain how I felt at this point. Anger would be expected, but more than that I just found the whole thing laughably pathetic. More than anything, I was amused by the timing of it all. The president knew I was getting married in September, he’d known for quite some time now. During the whole pay-cut talk he even asked me about how plans for the wedding ceremony were coming. I looked him in the eye and said that money was extremely tight and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford it anymore. He didn’t flinch. I think cutting an employee’s salary because you don’t think they’re working hard enough is plenty shitty as is, but if you’re going to do it, common decency might say to not do it in the months leading up to an expensive wedding he can barely afford.
I’d just like to re-state, for the record, that during the three month period in which I “didn’t work hard enough”, the English Division missed no deadlines, our quality improved, and if one were to ask my co-workers Curly and Ms. Shocker, I don’t think they’d say I was dumping off my entire workload on them.
The situation was made even more frustrating at home. My wife was infuriated to hear the news – angry at the president of course, but also angry at me for not fighting back. I tried to explain to her that fighting would have done no good. Other people had tried to challenge the president on various issues before – he simply doesn’t listen, and then if you’ve rubbed him the wrong way he makes it a point to make your life more miserable. Even if I were to quit then and there, getting all angry and violent wouldn’t help my case – it’d only serve to justify his actions. I tried explaining that, but my wife saw it as weakness on my end and was annoyed with me. She took the whole incident almost personally, noting that we would be losing $1500 over the course of 3 months.
Unfortunately, there really was nothing I could do. My paycheck was getting cut, and that was the end of the story. The president had made up his mind, and nothing was going to convince him otherwise. And I was in no position to quit – even a reduced paycheck was better than none at all.
But when all was said and done, my paycheck was only marginally bigger than my wife’s, who is on an OL-salary (for those unfamiliar with Japanese office lingo, an “OL” is short for “Office Lady”, which is more or less a glorified secretary). Any motivation I might have had left for the job instantly flat-lined. I was miserable and being paid a basic clerical-work salary. Despite being in no position to quit, I dreamed of the day when I no longer had to work there, and resolved that the next incident to really tick me off would be the one to send me over the edge.
In the grand scheme of things, the incident that made me snap wasn’t that major at all. Certainly, there’d been worse up to that point, but it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It was the first week of August. Aside from the project from hell, I was still the English Division Director which meant I had plenty of other jobs to take care of. One such job was managing our outsource translators. When translation projects came down, first the supervisor and Small Wonder would discuss between the two of them how much we would do in-house and how much we would send out (in theory, I should have been able to input how much we could do in-house, but in reality this was decided for me). After the outsource translations were decided, they would inform me, and then I had to consult with the supervisor about which translators I wanted to do which work (which was pointless, seeing as how she knew little to nothing about our translators, and their abilities…). Once she signed off on my choices, I’d send an official translation request to them. To help our translators we send them free of charge copies of the catalogs where the actual items are listed – so they can see what they are translating. Once the translator has been decided, I notified the supervisor, who would then send out the appropriate catalogs to the translators.
Before the official process starts, I liked to keep in contact with the outsource staff just to get a feel for what they could do and when. Many of our outsource staff only did translation as a side-job, or they also took on other projects which made them temporarily unavailable. When translation projects were about to drop, I’d contact them and ask about their status, and how much they could do. They’d answer, and from there I’d look at who was available, the projects on the table, and try to think up a good match. When the projects actually dropped, I’d contact them again and tell them that, while not official, this particular project was on the table, would they be interested. If they were, I’d take that information to the supervisor to get her to sign off on that choice.
While I felt this method made things go more smoothly, I was often criticized for it, mainly because Small Wonder did things differently on the Chinese side. Rather than feel things out beforehand, she’d wait until everything was decided on our end, and then just contact the translators out of the blue and say “Here’s this project. Do it.” Much like every other time, I couldn’t quite explain to them that Chinese and English aren’t the same and what works for one language/division may not work for another.
So in this particular incident, I’d proceeded in my usual manner. The translators had expressed their desire to do the projects I’d offered, so I went to the supervisor and got her to sign off on those choices. I wrote an email to her asking her to please send the catalogs to the translators, knowing that she keeps busy and wanting to get the catalogs out to the translators as soon as possible. I then drafted up the official translation request and sent it out. I have to CC the supervisor and Small Wonder to the official mail, which I did. When the outsource translators reply to the official mail, they don’t always hit “Reply All” so usually the reply only comes to my mailbox.
I did this around Thursday. Monday was a national holiday, so when I came into work on Tuesday, I found several mails in my inbox from the outsource translators, wondering where the catalogs were. As most of them are based in Japan, had the catalogs been mailed by Thursday they certainly should have reached their destinations by now. But it was possible that the supervisor was just busy and didn’t have a chance to mail the catalogs, that has happened before. So I sent a mail to her simply stating that the outsource translators hadn’t gotten their catalogs yet and were asking about them.
A few minutes after I sent the mail, my supervisor came up to my desk. “Why are they asking about catalogs?” she asked. Turns out that she hadn’t sent them out yet. I referred to the email I sent her where I clearly asked her to send these catalogs to these translators. “But, that mail went out before the official mail did. And I haven’t seen any replies to the official mail, so I don’t know if they’ve even accepted the assignment or not.” I’d like to stress again here that my mail to her wasn’t “I think they might” or “in the case of acceptance” or anything like that, it was “please send the catalogs”, period. I pointed out to her that not all the translators think to hit “Reply All” when sending answers, so I had their confirmations in my inbox – but regardless, I’d asked her to send the catalogs back on Thursday. In a highly indignant tone, she again stresses that she doesn’t know anything – all she’s seen is me sending out the official requests and no replies. She asks me to forward everything I’ve gotten from the translators to her – again, a laughable request considering that the mail exchanges are mostly in English. But, I do so anyway. I’m highly annoyed at this point, so I merely open the mails and hit the forward button. Big mistake, because she took offense to that as well. “You just forwarded the mails with no translation or explanation of what they are and no greeting or anything? That’s pretty rude, don’t you think? That’s basic office etiquette, and you should know better than that. What are you doing anyway? Get your act together and do your job properly!” This nice little exchange took place right in the middle of the office, with everyone else present.
And that was the breaking point. Before this little spat, I’d been typing up an email to the president and supervisor noting that, because of my wedding ceremony and parents coming in September, I’d need to take a lot of time off. It wasn’t very hard to change that mail to “I plan to quit at the end of August.” I finished the mail, stored it in my drafts folder, and then at the end of the day, I sent it with no regrets. If anything, the feeling that washed over me was “why the hell didn’t you do this sooner?”
Now, I know I keep ending these entries with “the worst was yet to come”. You all probably figure that at this point, especially with me turning in my notice of resignation, that we’d finally come to the top of the mountain. Nope. As unbelievable as it is to say…well…you know the rest.