Monday, July 2, 2012

You are not John Cena.

Architecture offices are busy places, between project meetings, deadlines, in-house reviews and critiques, and various conference calls and overhead paging from the receptionist.  Bosses are in and out of the office, running to interviews and meetings and site visits.  As the economy slowly improves and work starts coming in, staff in a firm are moving faster, and managers are barking orders and then running out the door to go get or hold onto a project.  If you're an intern staying back in the office and doing the work, it can feel like everyone's forgotten about you.  People just yell at you, throw some redlines and a research task in your direction, then head into yet another conference call or meeting.  No one even sees you because they're so busy.  So if the boss is gone all morning and then off to another meeting and then out of town for two days for a project interview, who's gonna care if you take an extra long lunch, or do some online shopping and fantasy baseball updates all afternoon, or even leave early?  I mean, no one can see you, right?

Folks, I'm here to tell you as a former intern and a present-day project architect: you are not John Cena.  I can see you.

I know you're out at a long lunch, because I call you four times between 2pm and 2:30pm to have you look up something for me in the IBC, and you don't pick up the phone.  I didn't leave a message because my request was urgent and immediate, so you don't have a record of the missed connection, but I do.  It's in my memory.

I know you're fiddling around on the internet without ever having to call IT, because when I come out of my meetings, I see you Ctrl+W nearly every time.  If you were working on work stuff, you wouldn't be minimizing your entire screen several times a day every day.

I know you're texting constantly, because my colleagues tell me about it.  I lament that you hadn't finished a task yet, and one or more of my fellow project architects say, "yeah, because s/he was texting all day like a twelve-year-old in line at a Jonas Brothers concert."

This isn't about needing to leave early or come in late because you have a life outside of work.  This isn't about needing to deal with something during work hours either.  We know these things happen, and the infrequent need to deal with something is okay.  This isn't about the day you have now and again when you just aren't at your best and are feeling scattered or goofy--we're all human and have those days occasionally.  

This is about a constant pattern of wasting time and taking advantage of a firm. This is about abusing the trust your supervisors and coworkers have in you.  By leaving the office and leaving you to self-monitor your behavior, your managers and firm are saying that they believe you have the ability to focus and to get work done. They believe that you'll be available if a call should come in from the field asking you to save the day with some research or information on which your boss cannot readily get his/her hands.  When you cannot self-monitor day in and day out, you waste time and resources.  You also waste goodwill--like it or not, fair or not, you give interns a bad name by betraying this basic trust in one's coworkers.

Maybe you're feeling burned out.  You're tired of working on this project/that task/so hard for so long with little to no acknowledgement.  It's been a long haul, this recession, and interns take the brunt of it.  Maybe you have lots of responsibility and no authority, and that will burn out the best of us.  Maybe you're dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling or dear loved one, and it's left you unable to really focus on anything anymore.  Instead of floundering and goofing around, tell someone about it.  Your personal problems are no one's business until they disrupt business, and then they're everybody's business.  If your daily flakiness at work is a recent development, then let someone know so a solution can be found--different assignments, decreased hours, change of manager, whatever.

But don't for a moment think that you can flake out multiple times a day, every day of the week, and keep your manager's confidence in your ability to get things done.  S/he will see your lack of focus through your lack of results.  His/her colleagues will tell what they've seen when s/he isn't around.  It's said that character is what a person does when there's no one watching.  But at a firm, you might be surprised how often someone is watching. 


  1. For the first few weeks of my internship I was given enough work to keep me busy throughout the day and now I cannot get anyone to hand work over to me becuase they don't have the ''time" to stop what their doing and explain things to me. Everyday I go around and ask everyone 'is there anything you need me to do for you today' and the response has been 'not now' or 'I'll let you know' for the past 2+ weeks to the point I don't ask anymore. I spend my time surfing the Internet for competitions and projects cause I literally have nothing else to do here. I am feeling like I am wasting my time here and I know my coworkers see it too but I don't really know what to do about it.

  2. Anonymous, your situation is not what I'm talking about in today's post. I'm addressing people who have been assigned things to do and aren't being diligent.

    If you're asking for things to do and no one is giving you something to do, you have two final options. The first is to go all the way to the top of your firm or office and explain the situation. Explain it exactly the way you just explained it in the comments here, and tell the owner/VP/head honcho that you're ready and available to do work and be useful and yet everyone's putting you off with "not now", "maybe later" and so on. If you haven't gone to the top of the ladder on this yet, it would be worth doing. Your coworkers are not doing themselves or you any favors by not taking the time to show you what to do and how to do it.

    If you have gone to the head of the office already, or if you do this (or speak up in an office meeting that you have nothig to do and are ready and willing to help someone out) and the situation doesn't change, then it's time to look for another firm. Smart firms want people like you, people who ask for something to do and want to be helpful and productive.