Work and the Perception of Work

When people ask me what I do, my standard response is “cube monkey,” but probably a more specific description is that I work as a sales writer for a large IT company. It’s a high-stress job with tight deadlines and long hours of staring at a computer screen, which admittedly is not the ideal job for a migraineur. On the other hand, it turns out I really need rent money and medical benefits, so I can’t exactly quit. Thus the job that significantly contributes to the migraine problem is also the single source that funds the treatment. Who says perpetual motion isn’t possible?


This guy, apparently.

My company is actually pretty great when it comes to accommodating their employees’ needs, including good benefits and unlimited sick leave. My boss even let me start working from home some of the time after my health took a turn for the worse a couple months ago. And probably most importantly, I enjoy my work and the sense of accomplishment I get from doing a good job.

That said, it is not all rainbows and puppies working in an office environment, even a “flexible” one. The problem, as usual, is people and perception. Similar to how I seem to think other drivers should cut me slack while simultaneously I’m yelling at the moron sitting at the green light in front of me, people in an office environment are entirely too focused on judging their coworkers’ work habits while at the same time sincerely believing that accommodations should be made for them.

It’s a fundamental, unspoken, and unfair rule of office work (or really, any workplace) that it’s less important that you do your job well and more important that you appear to be constantly diligent and industrious. Whether or not things are busy or slow, and whether you are healthy or feel like throwing up, you need to make sure everyone sees you working at ludicrous speed. Anything less and the whispering starts.

Ludicrous speed. When Light-Speed is too slow.

The problem is that any given individual knows exactly how hard he or she works, but can’t know the whole story about those around them. A coworker of mine arrives at 10 AM every day, and everyone gives him grief for it. But the truth is he often stays until 8 or 9 PM, working longer hours than the rest of us. It’s easier, though, just to judge him or anyone else who isn’t adhering to the norm. It’s the devil in our subconscious saying, “Well, my case is an exception, of course, but why is he so special?”

For my part, I’ve had to battle the appearance of laziness with how often I work from home, go to doctor appointments, or even show up to work not feeling well and looking hungover. Sometimes it feels difficult to justify it all when often migraine is considered “just a headache.”


Just a monkey.

For example today, I dragged myself to work with a category 3 migraine (I rate them on a hurricane wind scale, so that’s 3 out of 5). It’s tough to not look as sick as you feel, and by lunchtime, I had to give up the facade. I couldn’t even look at the computer screen. So I took my heavy duty prescription abortive and closed my eyes for a half hour praying that the drugs would kick in so I could get through the rest of the day.

I try not to do this too often because it looks like I’m napping through lunch, which I’ve been reprimanded for in the past. Sure enough, I heard one coworker say laughingly to the other, “I think Suzie’s asleep.” I was in too much pain to tell them otherwise, so I let it go.

I’ve also been told that the recent arrangement of working from home part of the week is “making waves” and that certain people were complaining. Frankly, if certain people were to say any of this to my face, my answer would probably be, “How about we switch? That way you could have debilitating pain and I could criticize you!” Perhaps it’s just as well for my relationship with my coworkers that the comments stay behind my back.

Ultimately, it’s childish to complain about being unfairly judged in a culture that unfairly judges people pretty equally. I like my job and my coworkers, and the best thing I can do is cope with my problems and get the job done.

The advice I keep giving myself is to mitigate the gossip by looking as industrious as possible, especially when I’m feeling okay. Beyond that, I know I rock my job, and there’s no pleasing everyone.

Thinking about how I’m perceived sometimes is a good reminder to not to judge others, whether a coworker with a medical problem or an idiot in a Prius who doesn’t use their turn signal when they change lanes. I hate those guys.



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