Pieces of flair

I was asked the other day by Roger, a Starbucks partner and shift manager, what was my favourite film, and I must confess the suddenness of the question had caught me off-guard, especially as it is so difficult to narrow down just one title from the many movies I have seen and enjoyed and in many cases have collected at home.

But after much thought, long after Roger has forgotten what he asked or what I had responded, I have come to the conclusion that the film I have watched and re-watched the most is the quiet little film, Office Space, (Alles Routine, in German), a Mike Judge comedy about the world of work, with sterling performances by Ron Livingston, Stephen Root and Jennifer Aniston.

It is the story of computer programmer Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) working for a soulless firm obsessed with insignificant minutae, like cover sheets on TPS reports, at a job he hates, who, after hypnotherapy gone awry, becomes an unrepentant office anarchist.

His girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) is a waitress who also hates her job and is criticized by her employer for not having enough enthusiasm because she only wears the mandatory 15 “pieces of flair” (buttons pinned to the uniform suspenders) instead of voluntarily wearing more.

The way Peter rebels against the bureaucracy is priceless and powerfully stated with simplicity:

“Michael (his co-worker), I did nothing.

I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”

“The thing is, Bob (one of two “Bob” consultants brought into the firm to evaluate the employees to justify down-sizing), it’s not that I’m lazy.

It’s that I just don’t care.

It’s a problem of motivation, all right?

Now if I work my ass off and Initech (the aforementioned soulless company Peter works for) ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime.

So, where’s the motivation?

…my only real motivation is not to be hassled.

That and the fear of losing my job,

but you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

I wish every manager of every company saw this film.

I was reminded of this film last Friday at work at Starbucks.

Now, working at Starbucks is a stressful job even at the best of times, what with serving problematic customers, maintaining proper levels of cleanliness, following the myriad multiplication of rules and regulations set by faroff Seattle, dealing with the quirks of managers and fellow partners…

The list goes on.

Now take this stress and multiply it a hundredfold when higher management, out-of-store higher-ups, decide to come a-callin’ and inspect us.

Suddenly everyone who works at the store goes banana burgers.

Every detail that can be mastered and perfected is attended to, as we half expect the grandmasters of SB to come by wearing white gloves to inspect our ceiling vents for dust.

Because I only work 20% at SBs (a reference to the number of hours per week I work rather than the amount of energy I expend on the job) I had not witnessed an inspection tour before last Friday.

Our assistant manager, who clearly needs a boyfriend, showed up for work at 0400 to ensure all was in order.

Shift managers paced the premises like caged tigers waiting upon feeding time.

Humble baristas like myself were made to do our duties more diligently than common sense dictated.

Customers barely had time to finish their beverages before we would swoop in and grab their dirty dishware.

The store gleamed like a diamond.

We perfomed like a Swiss stopwatch, efficiently, professionally, competently.

I felt as proud as a father watching his son in the Marines perform in a martial parade.

We were…inspirational.

Then, enter stage right, along came operations manager, Captain Quality.

He says little to us, the drone bees, but instead spent most of his time on his mobile phone communicating with our manager, conspicously absent from the madness, our district manager and Zürich management.

For the six hours I witnessed Captain Quality amongst us, he sat staring at his laptop at one of the inside tables and studied with great intensity a website for finding real estate in Zürich.

His only comment regarding our operations was the exact positioning of our name shields upon our green aprons, the positioning of which he had us change at least three times.

I am certain if we asked him he could have told us how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Now, the socialist rebel in me felt offended by all this.

Our team broke our backs to ensure quality and performance were nigh perfect and we were as inconsequential as ants underfoot on a sidewalk.

Now, here is the part of the story wherein you need to pity my poor shift manager Bryan.

Bryan is an Englishman, and anyone who knows anything about the English knows that generally the English hate dramatic scenes or raising a fuss.

Now, yours truly is not made of this noble stuff.

I loom above the rest of my co-workers due to my sheer size and bulk of body, and though I am usually just a great big ol’ pussycat, I am, unlike most Canadians, not soft-spoken (having been raised by a hard-of-hearing foster father) nor discrete (having been raised in the countryside rather than amongst sophisticated city slickers).

So, I am almost certain that my expression of what I really thought of Captain Quality and his grand inspection did not go unnoticed.

Poor Bryan couldn’t decide whether to shoot me or himself.

Especially when I loudly sang from the back kitchen, where Bryan hoped to minimise my presence, Neil Young’s song “Old Man”, transposing the words “old man” with “ops man”.

“Ops man, look at our store.
We’re a lot like you were.”

Well, it was an OK job at Starbucks while it lasted.


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