“You’re a bank jockey now.”
When my startup life blew up and I was left to start all over again, I joined a bank. A few weeks in a senior leader said this line to me.
A bank jockey is a low-ranking employee. I was a clown that had to juggle many balls every day. The first one was customers. They’d call. I’d answer.
“How may I help you sir?”
Often they’d be aggravated. The phone menu had so many options that it was a miracle if a customer ever reached the right department. The call routing was so bad there was an entire team conveniently called “switchboard.” I imagined them to be like those old school folks in the early days of phones that would take a cable from one hole and put it into another to connect a call.
The second ball I juggled is meetings. Just when I thought I had time to get everything done, some random meeting would appear in my calendar. Nobody cared about my time. I tried to work hard so I could get home at a reasonable hour and read.
My life required plenty of downtime because my mental illness was severe.
When your mind tells you that you can’t even trust gravity, panic is a daily occurrence. I could be eating a biscuit and go from calm to terrified in 30 seconds. It might sound interesting. It’s not. It’s my worst nightmare.
The only solution at the time was to relax the mind. Books helped. I read “One Up On Wall Street.” Then I realized I could never be confident and become a stockbroker. So I gave up that dream. Writing became my obsession.
The third ball I juggled was paperwork. Banks have a lot of compliance. If you sell something you’ve got to cover your tracks. First there was the legal script.
I had to read a script like this to every client. The crazy thing is, not one customer ever protested. It was like saying “we’re going to take all of your possessions and ruin your life. Is that okay?”
After the call I had to generate contracts, fill out spreadsheets, and write on a giant whiteboard. Then we rang a golden bell. It never made sense to me because everybody was always on the phone and customers could hear. They didn’t like the bell. They would often make comments about it being rung every 5 seconds like a Dutch Auction.
Because of all the meetings, I often didn’t get time to call customers back or keep up with compliance. 5PM would roll around. My day would just be getting started.
I’d stay back for hours to complete the real work I couldn’t do during the day, when douchebags in pinstripe suits kept calling meetings to stroke their egos. The meetings could always have been an email.
But they liked the feeling of control. They liked knowing they could round us up like sheep and stuff us into a tiny meeting room, while they talk nonsense about “the business” and accidentally drench us in saliva.
Meetings are why the workday is so long
I’m sure you can relate. Meeting overwhelm is an epidemic in the business world, according to research. Now that every employee has a Zoom or Microsoft Teams account we’re screwed. Microsoft Teams is the worst.
If you don’t show up to the video meeting the organizer can video call you and send you harassing messages telling you to hurry up and join. In the past you just didn’t show up and people would wonder. Then there are the statuses. People can see if you’re online, offline, posting on social media, out-of-office, etc. There’s no private life anymore.
I hear many people say “meetings aren’t so bad. Stop exaggerating.”
Wanna make a bet?
There are many employees in companies who should change their name. They should now be called “Meeting Organisers.” That’s the reason their job exists — to set up painful meetings. They don’t care because they don’t have customers to call back or spreadsheets to fill in. Nope.
They almost think all of the meetings are comical. They’ll happily email your boss if you don’t go to their “Product Innovation 101” bullsh*t meeting about nothing.
In the end the real workers who do the actual work end up staying back. Our partners or our kids spam our phones. “Where are you honey?”
We have to reply back “still working. Sorry. I’ll try to be home soon.”
The cuddly bear of meeting land
One of my former colleagues is a big cuddly bear. He’s too kind and it works against him. He says yes to every meeting.
When an ‘ask’ is given in the meeting he smiles. So they give him all the action items. His job is nothing to do with meetings. He’s supposed to focus on business analytics and analyze what’s working and what needs to change. I asked him why he didn’t complain.
“They’ll deport me if I do.”
Makes me sad. The meeting high priests have made him a piñata. Since all of the extra meetings started to occur he’s put on a lot of weight. His smiles hide the truth. He can’t say no, although he desperately has to.
I found out his secret. “Food helps me cope, Tim. It’s all I’ve got.”
At the same time he has a dream to be a writer. When he met me he thought all of his Christmases had come at once.
“OMG! You’re going to teach me everything you know about writing.”
So I did. I gave him some tips. I got him started. Three months later I said, “why haven’t you published anything?”
“I can’t. All the meetings eat up my day. There’s no time left. I barely get time to each lunch most days.”
That’s not it, either. Now they’ve got him doing meetings on weekends too. He misses his kid’s basketball game to sit on calls and listen to office jocks pretend the sport of business is some fancy invention greater than the entire big bang that happened thousands of years ago.
They don’t care. They’re in a different timezone to him. His Saturday is their Friday. They probably don’t even know he missed his kid’s basketball game to sit there on a call and waste away his entire life for a company that would happily fire him during a global health crisis.
Heck, his health problems could easily put him in an early grave. If they did, his employer would simply use the respawn button you find in popular video games to give his duties to some other poor soul. I doubt any of the meeting organizers would attend his funeral.
“Where is he?”
“Okay, let’s move on with the agenda.”
Then a subtle hero steps in to save the day
One day after I finished working with him I spoke to another colleague.
“How’s he going with all the meetings?”
“Not good. I’ve stepped in.”
To my surprise this guy saw the problem the same way I did. He was a lot more senior than me and had the power to do something. So he did. He rang up one of our customers to see if they had a job that involved heavy coordination and was action-driven.
A role didn’t exist so my colleague convinced them to create one. He found a creative way for the customer to pay for it. Since I last checked he’s now on the path to quitting his meeting jockey job for a better gig.
The sad truth is not everybody is as lucky as him. Not everybody has a knight in shinning armor to come and save them from back-to-back meetings that chew up the workday, lead to burnout, rob us of time with family, and force us to start the real work at 5PM.
Cut meetings to save your career (and your life)
The only answer to the meeting epidemic is to have the harsh conversations. Tell these meeting organizers. Tell your boss. Make it known to your colleagues. If nobody listens then change jobs.
Life is too short to sit in meetings all day and start the real work when everybody else who managed to stay immune gets to go home.
Meetings are one of the primary reasons I quit my job. 99% of meetings should be emails.
You’ll never regret a meeting. You will regret time away from the ones you love and your favorite hobby. Learn to say no. Practice saying no. Make meeting immunity a skill you force yourself to learn at all costs.