Monday, March 30, 2009

The Right Stuff

In Gore Vidal’s Inventing A Nation, he recounts how Talleyrand, who headed the French foreign ministry under Napoleon, used to encourage his clerks to masturbate before coming to work “so their minds would be clear for at least part of the morning.”

Those were the days. Would that we could still work under that kind of management. Now they just order us to pee in a cup, although some companies prefer to swipe saliva off your inner cheek. I live in a gambling town where the casinos, presumably because they have more money to burn, go super high-tech and suck out a few of your hairs, which enables them to see what drugs you’ve used for up to the previous three months. (This method is advertised as ‘less invasive’ than urine or saliva tests.) So if you want to be a dishwasher on the graveyard shift in some c-rate coffee shop, just say no to smoking that joint three months before applying. Never mind that most over the counter cold medications show up as methamphetamine or that poppy seeds test positive for opiates; what does it matter? If you’re denied a job on the basis of a false positive on a drug test, that’s your problem. If you don’t like it, f-you. Step aside and let someone else take your place in line. You’re the beggar, they’re the choosers.

Meanwhile, you’ve tested ‘positive’ for drug use. Someone, somewhere, has this information along with your name, social security number, birth date, birthplace and mother’s maiden name. They know who you are, where you live, and where you went to school. What do they do with this knowledge? Where does it go? Who sees it? What is it used for? And why?

No matter. It’s all moot anyway if you don’t pass the ‘personality questionnaire’ first.

Before they’ve rummaged through your bodily fluids, they gauge your mind with some generic and vaguely sinister personality survey. I took one about a year ago when applying for a very low-skilled, low-wage, part-time job. The manager told me not to worry about it. “It’s all just, like, psychological stuff,” she breezily told me. “There aren’t any right or wrong answers.”

Most of it was standard, innocuous, human resources department pap: Do you embrace challenges? Do you work well with a team? How do handle disagreements with co-workers? But sprinkled throughout were some more interesting items, most of them short statements that required a simple, true or false answer. For example, People sometimes irritate me or I get angry if things don’t go well at work; I believe using company materials for personal use is theft or I often disagree with my supervisors. You get the idea.

I kept waiting for one that said, I resent having to answer probing personal questions that are nobody’s damn business but my own, but it didn’t come up.

There were also some multiple choice questions that followed a similar vein. One of them asked you how you like to spend your days off. The possible answers were something like, ‘work around the house’, ‘spend time with family and friends’, ‘play sports and exercise’, or ‘spend time alone, reading and watching TV’.

Again, this is before they command you to piss in a Dixie cup.

I wondered if the bright lights who concocted this ridiculous examination were aware that ‘reading and watching TV’ are very different activities, and that someone who’s apt to watch a lot of television probably doesn’t read much, and vice versa. And let’s ignore how egregiously innapropriate it is for a prospective employer to ask you ‘how you like to spend your days off’. Why would a company that insists upon its right to examine the contents of your bladder have any qualms about asking something so minor as that? And what’s to be gained by categorizing someone’s personality on the basis of simplistic, true or false questions?

Suppose they’re only trying to ferret out malcontents or potential mass murderers. Shouldn’t the sharp young ‘business psychologists’ who invent these tests be aware of the fact that a sociopath who plans to bring an assault rifle to work and shoot people can probably manage to lie his way through a pre-fabricated ‘personality survey’? And if they are aware of this, what’s the freakin’ point of making people take the test in the first place? What possible value does it have? Why does a company that squeals bloody murder about paying some poor schmuck’s health insurance gladly dish out money to pay for these idiotic ‘surveys’ that are such an obvious waste of everyone’s time?

To ask these questions is to sound like a dangerous introvert who spends too much time alone ‘reading and watching TV’.

Anyway, I guess I had the right stuff, because I got the job. So I endured a week of ‘orientation’ because it was paid. When Friday came around I collected a measly paycheck and quit. The whole process occurred in an atmosphere of hostile condescension where you were treated like a deformed orphan or an unwanted stepchild in some grim nineteenth century boarding school. I would describe it as Oliver Twist meets Office Space, or Jane Eyre’s Day at the Human Resources Department. It was pure fucking lunacy.

Oh yeah, it was a union job. Where was the union, you ask? Good question. Not helping the workers, I can tell you that. The job paid eight dollars an hour.