Far from the hallowed, riotous, envied halls of employers like Google there exists a gray, dull land where most of us live out our work lives. In the more sterile—and far more common—outposts of corporate America you’re lucky if the break room features a functioning microwave, let alone gourmet meals.
In this land of gray cubicles, gray carpet, gray desks, and gray management, even small signs of life can be cause for dismissal, as one worker recently found out. What was her crime? She had a newspaper in her possession. And yes, this happened in America. In Colorado, in fact.
Fired for reading a newspaper
Her co-workers teased her about reading in “analog” format. But she was old-school enough that she still subscribed to the dead tree version of the Sunday New York Times. Not that she was even that old, in case you’re thinking this is an ageist thing. It was a habit. She liked to have something to hide behind on breaks or at lunch. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the physical version of the Sunday Times but it’s huge. In linear “analog” format it can take you all week just to pick your way through Travel and the Book Review.
One morning her boss stopped at her desk. This was odd in and of itself because he rarely talked to her. He stood there awkwardly for a minute making a pretense at small talk and than said:
“Um, uh, you know, if, um, can you not have the newspaper on your desk? It looks bad to my boss.”
Sure. She complied immediately. And then she wondered.
Looks bad to your boss that I care about what’s going on in the world? Looks bad to your boss that I keep up with current events? Looks bad to your boss that I . . . read?
Mind you, she wasn’t sitting back with her slippered feet up sipping a latte and reading for hours. She was not holding the paper. It was not open. The Times was simply there. On her desk. To the right of her keyboard. Just lying there not doing anything, along with her purse and her gloves and her car keys.
Bottom line: She couldn’t have the newspaper out in plain view. It looked bad. Somehow, in some unexplained way.
And then she was fired.
Meanwhile, just down the gray cubicle corridor, another co-worker had a veritable Elvis Presley shrine. Not outside of Graceland was there such an accumulation of Elvis photos and memorabilia. And her newspaper was a distraction?
Not long after she was shown the door she heard that the Elvis collector was fired too.
You spend—best case—nine hours a day at work. Best to leave anything interesting about you, anything non-work-related, anything that isn’t gray at the door.