Olathe, Kansas. March 26, 2002: Despite countless warnings from coworkers to save her breath, Angela Dobbs went ahead with plans yesterday to have a face to face discussion with her superiors at Royce and Kelley Medical Laboratories yesterday. Though she went into the appointment with optimism and a youthful zest for change, Angela returned looking downtrodden and reportedly told coworkers that the meeting “totally sucked”.
Dobbs, 24, has worked at the medical laboratory for just four months, but she felt she’d been there long enough to make a few helpful suggestions to the management. “I just noticed that everyone complains about all these things we do wrong, and all this stuff that pisses them off, but nobody ever actually tells someone who could do something about it,” Dobbs explained from the break room this morning. So I made a little list of things I thought could be done differently…things I had noticed and things other people had said, too.”
But Dobbs was careful not to speak for anyone else, and she approached her other coworkers once she’d compiled the list, telling them she planned on taking them to their supervisor. “They were all, like ‘don’t mention MY name if you talk to [day-shift supervisor] Marty [Olsen]. If you’re going to rock the boat, I’m not going down with you,’ and stuff like that.” Dobbs shrugged and continued: “So I was like, fine, but I went ahead and told Marty I wanted to have a meeting so I could tell him some of my ideas. I was really excited when he told me he’d arranged a meeting with me, him, and [Lab Manager] Linda [McCormic] for Monday,” Dobbs recalled as she sipped her morning coffee.
The list that the industrious and helpful young worker had compiled included several ways to improve morale and a number of ways to cut overhead and save the company money. However, foremost on her mind, Dobbs reported, was “addressing the incredible disparity in workloads that exists here. There are several of us who have been here between one and five years, and we do the lion’s share of the work. Then there are several ‘old timers’ who’ve been here fifteen or twenty years, and they just sit around and talk on the phone. It’s really irritating to a lot of us, and I just figured the management must not realize what’s going on.” Dobbs paused for a moment before plaintively asking “why would a company knowingly keep on people who do only 30 to 40% of what they’re paid to do?” Recalling the disastrous meeting, the formerly-idealistic worker shook her head and said, “Everybody was right. I should have just kept my mouth shut.”
According to Dobbs, the meeting started out genially enough, with Olson and McCormic seeming to listen to her points intently. However, the encounter quickly turned bizarre once the 57-year-old lab manager began to respond. “Linda just kind of leaned back in her chair and looked at me for a minute or so,” Dobbs recalled flatly. “Then she launches into this weird, convoluted story about when she was in Mexico and some guy had two mules pulling a cart. After a minute or two, I realize she’s telling a moral or something, and the gist is that the guy is beating the one mule that’s working hard and laying off the lazy mule.”
For a moment, Dobbs was encouraged by the anecdote. “She was talking about the good workers being taken advantage of and abused while the lazy ones are ignored or rewarded,” she recalled, “so I was like, okay…she understands where I’m coming from.” But any connection with her superior stopped there, because “When the story was over, that was it. She just stopped and looked at me and smiled with this strange gleam in her eye, and I was like, okay…AND. But that was it. After a few minutes of awkward silence, she stood up and thanked me for my input. ‘We always value employees who aren’t afraid to step up and stake their claim’, she said to me, and shook my hand. I was dumbfounded.”
Dobbs reported that the rest of the day had passed in uncomfortable silence, as everyone kept eyeing her knowingly. “Finally, when Marty went to the bathroom, a couple of the guys came over and asked how it went. I told them, and they just shook their heads and went back to work.” Finishing her coffee, Dobbs looked at her watch and said, “Shit. I’ve got to go back in there for another ten hours again today. Damn. I liked this job until yesterday.”