The Company Man
By Jack Engelhard
(Originally appeared in The New York Times)
I work for a big company. I’m small. I’m much smaller than the company. My boss told me so himself. He said, “The company is much bigger than you.”
I work out of a cell. The company calls it an office but to me it’s a cell. There are no padlocks on the door, except those that I see in my mind. I could escape, but to where? Another corporation? That’s all there is. I’m a company man.
I do everything that I’m supposed to do, 8 hours a day, 12 months a year. I get weekends off for good behavior. I get paid once every week, whether I need the money or not.
I don’t make trouble. I play second base on the company softball team. I attend company picnics and parties and laugh when I’m supposed to. I don’t sexually harass female colleagues – it’s against company policy.
But this is a bad time of year. It’s review time. That means I have to go before my boss and have him evaluate me. This goes on, I’m told, all over the country. People like me get reviewed.
That’s part of being a company man.
I’m tired of getting reviewed. All through school I got reviewed. Before I got married my wife reviewed me. She still reviews me. Everybody – even the bus driver – reviews me. I thought when I grew up I could relax, be myself. No such luck.
America was once the land of the rugged individualist. Now it’s the land of small corporate man. Would Daniel Boone have stood for having his boss question his appearance, his cooperativeness, his initiative, his creativity, his productivity? Never.
But that was long ago, when Daniel Boone was big. People were big. Now, people are small. The corporation is big.
The man who occupies the cell next to mine is small. The other day, he was smaller. He’s a good company man. He uses words like “interface” and “input.” But the other day he passed by my office in a daze, as if he’d just been smashed by a demolition ball.
“That man,” I said to myself, “just got reviewed.”
Sure enough, he had.
He got a “fair” on appearance and cooperativeness, an “average” on initiative and productivity. “I didn’t get one ‘outstanding,’” he said.
He didn’t show up the next day. I think he was home crying. I think he’s destroyed.
Two days ago, I got reviewed.
“Let’s interface,” said my boss.
My boss is small, but I’m smaller. He’s a good man, my boss. I’m also a good man.
“You’re a good man,” he said, and he put a check next to “good.” Not “outstanding.”
Well, I said to myself, so I’m not an “outstanding” man. Who is? But I’m punctual.
“Yes, you are,” my boss said, and he checked off “above-average” for “punctuality.”
But do I comb my hair nicely, wear trim, dark suits, my tie in a corporate knot?
“I don’t know,” said my boss, mulling me over. “Your hair is kind of long. Your shoes could use a shine.”
I got an “average” for “appearance.” That didn’t hurt because back in the days when I was a rugged individualist I used to be downright “slovenly.” I prided myself in being a “slob” and in slurring my words like Marlon Brando.
“You know,” my boss said, “you slur your words like Marlon Brando.”
So I got a “poor” for “speech.”
All right, but despite these drawbacks, these flaws of character, I do “get along with people.”
“You don’t ‘get along with people’ do you?” my boss said.
That was a slap in the face.
“Who don’t I get along with?” I asked.
“You’re a loner.”
Yes, I am. I got a “poor” in “cooperativeness.”
It was downhill from there. I didn’t get one “outstanding.” Not for “initiative.” Not for “creativity.” Not for “productivity.” Funny, I used to think I was creative and productive. I even used to think of myself as cooperative and attractive. All I am, it turns out, is “punctual.”
I didn’t show up for work today. I’m home. Should I go on living? My wife says yes. She thinks I’m at least average. She thinks I ought to go back to work and tell him off, my boss. I can’t do that, of course – and that’s no way to get even. What I’m going to do tomorrow is review my secretary. I’m small. But I’m bigger than she is.
This op-ed classic, byline Jack Engelhard, was originally published in The New York Times, February 6, 1982.
Please contact www.jackengelhard.com for reprint permission.
About the author: Jack Engelhard’s latest novel, the newsroom thriller THE BATHSHEBA DEADLINE, is now available in paperback. Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel INDECENT PROPOSAL that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. He can be reached and his Works can be viewed on his website www.jackengelhard.com.