Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Driving stick.

Dear Internet,

Let's say you have a great job at a great company. Personal and professional fulfillment and all that jazz. One of the perks of this job is that the company gives all its employees* a company car. In fact, it has been doing so since Day One. People used these cars and would, almost always, arrive at work without fail. These cars, for as long as anyone could recall, happened to be stick-shift.

Now, one day, the CEO, in the wake of a stockholder's meeting in which it was decided the company would modernize and update itself, decided that new company cars would be automatic. Immediately, practically all division Vice-Presidents and Regional Managers made sure that all these cars came outfitted with column-shift automatic transmissions. Some employees were ecstatic, some were appalled and most just shrugged and accepted the change.

Those who preferred stick-shift were derided as unwilling to accept the resolutions and authority of that famous stockholder's meeting. With great effort and at great personal expense, some of these employees managed to -- somehow -- get approval to drive stick-shift to work. Regardless of their performance, loyalty to the company or qualifications, these employees were often passed over for promotion and advancement. Middle management, on average, made no secret of their disdain for people who drove with such baroque impedimenta such as clutch pedals and manual shifters. "What's next? Manual chokes? Cow-catcher fenders? Steam power?" they sniggered.

In time, a great many employees stopped coming in to the office. Since most of these employees drove the cars with the automatic transmissions, many of the Vice-Presidents and Regional Managers figured they must do something else to stem the tide of employee absenteeism. (After all, such absenteeism by an employee threatened that employee's pension upon retirement.) Furthermore, productivity was down. More worryingly, the number of employees who were applying to enter the Executive Training Program was down, sharply.

The VPs believing the problem was rooted in teh company cars not being automated enough, jointly and severally came up with changes to the company cars, often without any regard for what the company policies were. They touted these innovations as being in line with the "spirit of that stockholder's meeting." (This was possible, because employees hadn't been informed what was in the Company's Policies and Procedures Manual for decades. Worse, they had never read the actual minutes of the stockholder's meeting!) Some had the cars delivered with massaging seats, others with horns which, when honked, played "La Cucaracha" or "Dixie," yet others opted for fancy stereos or digital instruments or leopard-print upholstery. Those who suggested that perhaps giving employees an option to drive stick were usually impugned as atavistic malcontents, Hell-bent on "taking the Company backwards."

One day the next CEO said there was really nothing wrong with preferring a car that was stick shift. The CEO wrote a memo to all division Vice-Presidents and told them that, if an employee asked for their company car to come in stick shift, that their permission should be "wide and generous." Most of the VPs grumbled among themselves and allowed the odd stick-shift requisition form to go through; usually to some employee in a departmental backwater or in a far-off corner of the branch office.

Still the employee absenteeism issue continued to harm the Company. Several employees went to work at other places, their relationship to the Head Office in hot dispute. Those who preferred stick-shift were joined by other employees in noticing the relationship between the new column shift Shift-O-Glide automatic transmissions and employee absenteeism.

Worse, many of the employees who WERE showing up only did so to drink coffee, help themselves to supply closet, or issuing memos and directives in direct opposition to stated company policy. In view of this, other employees suggested that perhaps floor-shift or semiautomatic transmissions ought become the norm, and those who preferred automatic or stick shift could opt for that. Not surprisingly, these employees were also regarded as throwbacks to an earlier age, when employees of the company were not concerned about better relationships with other companies, or not concerned about the lack of staples or sticky-notes in some supply closets. Their suggestions were dismissed and many were demoted or sent off to perform procedural tasks well below their skill set.

However, many of the newer employees and many of the junior executives started filling out forms for permission to have their company car come equipped with a stick-shift transmission. So many in fact, that the VPs and the Regional Supervisors started noticing the trend. Many of these senior executives began to shift uncomfortably in their seats, but some saw the requests have honest merit. Not only did these relative newcomers to the company request the manual transmission, they even began to tell other employees, at lunch and around the water coolers and coffee machines that stick-shift was a LOT more fun to drive, it got better mileage and had better performance!

Nobody knows exactly why, but the people over at the Human Resources department really frowned on this new trend. In the various office newsletters they explained why stick-shift cars were really not desirable. Of course, there was the ever-present argument against "taking the Company backwards." Also it was mentioned that nobody really wanted to drive stick shift, and those few who did were a few old geezers who were picoseconds away from retirement, and maybe a few stray youngsters with a dully romanticized notion of a company that never really existed, anyway.

When the current CEO took over, he surveyed the state of employee morale, the rate of executive recruitment and the degree to which executives and employees had wandered away from company policy. This CEO was something of a "gearhead" and, not without reason, many executives (especially the ones in the Company Publications Office) were openly wary of him. It became an open secret that he would revisit many things, including the matter of company cars. While the CEO deliberated, these executives made it known (again) that so very few people want to drive stick-shift anyway, and those who did were the aforementioned geezers, young nostalgics and assorted cranks and oddballs who never really cottoned to what the last stockholder's meeting was really all about. Others helpfully mentioned that in the process of driving these cars stick-shift would be an insult to employees of other companies, especially of those employees of the firm from which our company was spun off.

Regardless of these claims, it became apparent to anyone paying attention that employees who favored either the stick shift or some variant of semi-automatic transmissions didn't really want to take the company back to the dreaded days of the 1950s. They also had exemplary employee records of clear and meritorious service to the company. And so the CEO issued a memo clarifying what the original stick shift adherents had been saying all along: that driving stick shift had never been forbidden to employees. Employees had every right to want to drive stick shift if they so chose, and their immediate superiors should accomodate them without having to go up to the VP level or filling out complicated forms. Of course the CEO realized that most people would prefer the automatic, but that perhaps the interaction between those who drive stick and those who drive automatic (or some semi-automatic variant) would be good for the whole company.

Of course, many of the VPs have issued memos to the effect that the CEO was wise in doing so, even though the only purpose of the memo was to bring back to the fold those disgruntled employees who left in a snit when they couldn't get their car stick-shift. Also, they (the VPs) had preemptively been very generous in allowing all those who wanted a stick-shift car (either Obadiah, the nonagenerian custodian or the third assistant superintendent of pencil-sharpeners working the graveyard shift) to do so. Not that so many people wanted to drive stick you see, or even knew how.

"This memo from our CEO is great, not that it will really impact us here in the Widget Division. Of course, if -- for some bizarre reason -- anyone else wants to drive stick-shift, well, we'll see about that, provided we have enough entry level executives who have demonstrated they can drive stick-shift at a Le Mans level of proficiency and that enough employees with seniority show up with helmets and racing suits."

So here we are, loyal employees of the greatest company ever, ready, willing and able to pop the clutch. What's there to be afraid of?

-J.

* Notice I didn't use the word "workers." That was on purpose.

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