Sour Apples – Part 5
After a half-year of being miserable at the job, I finally gave my notice of resignation on a Tuesday at the beginning of August. I sent the email at the end of the day, so on Wednesday I went to work not really knowing what to expect. But for Wednesday as well as Thursday, it was business as usual. Neither the president nor the supervisor mentioned my notice of resignation, and my supervisor actually seemed to be avoiding me. I was fine with this – so long as they honored my final working day, I would have been content to just continue working and then no longer show up.
However, on Friday the president called me out for a private talk. He asked if I’d cooled down and changed my mind, which explains why neither of them had brought this up sooner. I explained that this wasn’t some hasty decision I’d made in the heat of passion – it had been building for months until I’d finally reached a breaking point. He then said that he didn’t want me to quit – he asked me to write up all the grievances I had with the company. The following Tuesday we would talk about it and he would make his plea to get me to stay. I agreed to write out my complaints at least, with the president telling me to hold nothing back.
We did meet the following Tuesday – I was expecting a talk within the company, perhaps with the supervisor included. Instead of that, we ended up going to an izakaya drinking bar (the one the president now owned), just the two of us. There, I presented him with my list of complaints I’d had over the past year. I tried to include everything that had frustrated me since the beginning of the year – getting ridiculed over errors, given tremendous amounts of work with no help and no acknowledgement that it was a lot of work, the supervisor’s constant riding of me…well, you’ve all read the story up until now.
The president read my list and seemed to sort of take it in, but there was one area he stopped at – where I listed being accused of not working hard, and even getting my pay cut for it. “You admitted that you were only working 20% of the time,” he said. “No,” I explained, “you went into that meeting convinced that I was only working 20% of the time, and I realized nothing I could say or do would change your mind. Certainly, I’d had my moments where I wasn’t exactly working, but it wasn’t the 80% you think. I only agreed to that to keep it from becoming an argument that went nowhere.” His response was, “Oh, I see,” and he kept reading.
After studying my list for a few minutes, he said that if I would “give the company another chance” he would work to change these issues. He also began to talk about lofty long-term goals, such as opening a branch office in America and having me be the manager of it – everything I’d been doing up until now was sort of training to get to that point.
He asked what I would do if I did quit. I hadn’t really thought about it – the immediate focus was the wedding that would take place next month. I said I supposed I would search for jobs for awhile, and if I found nothing good I’d have to go back to English teaching. He said that would be a tremendous waste – he saw great potential in me, which is why he didn’t want to let me just quit like that. I could even take the entire month of September off to plan for my wedding and to recuperate afterwards.
But there was still one big, burning issue on the table – my cut salary. I said that the idea that I hadn’t been working hard enough was a false assumption, and I didn’t like losing a big chunk of my paycheck because of it. I wanted it back. As Japanese people are prone to do, he gave an answer that deflected the question – he insinuated that he personally wanted to give me back my cut salary, but since this was something that was decided by the parent company, it was out of his hands.
The president told me that I didn’t have to give an answer right away. Take the weekend to think about it, and then give an answer next Monday. But before any deliberations were to be done, there was one other thing I needed to resolve if continuing to work there was even going to be an option – the supervisor. Actually, I wanted to resolve that issue regardless of whether I continued there or not. My mother taught me that sometimes, you just have to be the bigger man and take responsibility for things, regardless of who you think fired the first shot. I felt that I’d been wronged first by her actions at the beginning of the year, but in this bitter and pointless war of emotions, I hadn’t been perfect either. No matter what my reasons, wrong is wrong. So I sent an email to the supervisor later in the week, and we met privately as well.
During our talk, I noted that we’d had bad blood for quite a few months now. I said that I had my reasons for it, but ultimately that didn’t matter – some of my attitudes and responses were not suitable for a professional working environment, so I apologized. That was all I wanted to do, whether she accepted that or not, I’d done what I needed to and should have done.
However, she accepted that and also apologized as well, admitting that she’d been especially hard on me. She said that it was only because she expected so much of me – because she knows I can succeed, she’s especially tough on mistakes and failures, even little ones. She pointed out that she can be very hard on herself as well (somewhat true), but acknowledged that such an attitude can be discouraging and frustrating, so she promised to back off (and to her credit, she did for the remainder of the time that I was there).
She seemed very concerned about if I was going to continue the job or not. I told her I hadn’t decided yet, but this was something I needed to do regardless of whether I was there for another year or another day. We ended the discussion with a friendly handshake. I knew we probably couldn’t go back to being all smiles and what not, but at least now maybe we could work together in peace. She even went back to calling me “Az-chan”, something she’d done before the war started.
As the weekend came, I had a lot to think about. Despite my recent misery, there were a lot of reasons to keep the job. Financially, I was most certainly in no position to quit, with the wedding already taking a major toll on my back account. I knew from experience that this time wasn’t any good for job hunting. Aside from the president and supervisor, I liked all my other coworkers a lot. I was completely fine with the content of the job as well. If the president and supervisor could actually change, then why shouldn’t I keep working? I wasn’t thinking about long-term, but I could at least stick to the original plan of working until the end of my contract in January. The job market would be much better, hopefully financially I’d be better prepared, and I could also search for new jobs while still working.
I see-sawed quite a bit, but going into Monday I was leaning towards keeping the job. I decided not to volunteer that information – if they were serious about wanting to keep me, they’d have to come and ask. Monday came and went with no talk of what I’d decided. By the weekly meeting on Tuesday afternoon, my decision still had not been addressed. Which was a good thing, because it was about to change.
To start off the meeting, Doris asked our computer programmer about something customer service related. We’d recently renewed the website and the internal systems. Overall, things would work for the better/more smoothly, but for now there were still a lot of bugs and kinks to iron out. A certain automated daily report that the customer service department used to get wasn’t being processed. Doris noted that it’d been over a month since she’d asked about it, but they still didn’t have it.
It’s important to remind our readers here that we only had one computer programmer. Again, for a business that operates solely on the web, you would assume there’d be a team of programmers, but no. Just one guy.
He tells Doris that he hasn’t forgotten about her request, but it’s just been queued among a billion other things that has to be done. And there were a lot of things that were much higher priority that had to be taken care of first. Doris accepted this answer, but the supervisor, perhaps sensing blood, took this opportunity to pounce on the programmer for – wait for it – not doing his job. She says that even if he can’t do the task, the least he could do is update Doris on the timeframe or give her a progress report. The president started to get in on it as well, accusing him of making the same mistakes he did at his last company.
The programmer is a very short-tempered Japanese guy. He’s been known to snap at food servers for not responding to table calls fast enough. I don’t know about everyone else at the meeting, but I was thinking that he was showing incredible restraint for simply taking the dressing-down from both the president and supervisor without snapping back. He did make one mistake though. The president said something, and the programmer responded back with “Isn’t that just your way of thinking?” The key word here is “you”. As some of you may know, Japanese as a language has many different levels of politeness. The programmer used a word for you that wasn’t very polite, and in some cases would be considered rude (for you Japanese speakers/scholars out there, he said “omae”). It’s certainly not a word you would use to address a boss.
Well, the president flips out at this point. “What’d you call me? What’d you call me?” He just starts laying into the guy, and this continues for a few minutes. Needless to say, it was extremely awkward for everyone else sitting there – at least 10 other employees, not to mention the 5-6 people who weren’t actually a part of the meeting but were within earshot.
After a few minutes, even the supervisor is feeling that this is excessive. When she finds an opening, she jumps in and gets the meeting back on track. But the president was far from done. At one point in the middle of the meeting, he starts up again! “You know what I really like about Korea?” he says. “They have well-defined levels of politeness, and they treat the people above them with proper respect. Isn’t that right?” he says to the Korean guy. The Korean guy is good friends with the programmer, and regardless of that, anyone in that situation would want to deflect as much as possible, which is what he did. “Well, I can’t speak for all of Korea,” and “Well, there’s lots of different situations…” he’d repeat as the president continued to pressure him to confirm Korea’s “outstanding” social levels. “Ah, okay, you don’t want to be dragged into this. I understand,” the president says, and continues to lay into the programmer, saying things like he’s “raising him to be a productive member of society” and he should be respected like a father.
The supervisor jumps in again and gets the meeting back on track. We finish all the issues on the table and everyone starts to pack up their things in anticipation of a conclusion. However, the president is still not done. Literally, people starting to make getting-up motions and he starts in again on the computer programmer guy. “I think you should write a 2-page essay on the importance of good manners in society,” he says. The programmer has just about had it at this point. “I don’t think I have to do that,” he says. “Sure you do,” the president fires back. “No I don’t,” the programmer responds. “And why not?” “Because I’m quitting. Please stay after the meeting so we can talk about my terms.” With everyone else finally set free from that spectacle, the programmer, supervisor, and president stayed behind and the programmer kept true to his word, setting his final work date for the end of September.
Seeing what happened in the meeting more or less confirmed for me that I was done as well. The president had promised to change things, but that day I simply did not see him having a capacity for change. Before he could fix the issues, he had to fix the source of the problem. And I just didn’t see that happening – he didn’t even seem aware there was a problem. It was all of us who were wrong, and only he who was right. If I’d stayed, maybe things would be okay for a little while, but I saw things invariably inverting back to the way they were. It was best to get out now while I had the chance. Later that day, I drafted up my response email where I confirmed that my last day of work would be the end of the month.
This feels like a place where I would write a conclusion to this saga…but as you all know, we’re not done yet.