June 19, 2024

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Why the young should go to the office

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In a white-collar working environment, at least a British one, which member of staff would receive the following compliment? “She just runs the place, that’s all!” Or how about this one, which might come with a mock-martial salute. “We serve at the pleasure of this man.”

It isn’t the boss, whose power wouldn’t need stating. No, the object of this studied overpraise will be a receptionist or an executive assistant. When I began office life a generation ago, this behaviour struck me as well-meant. And it was. But over time, something else came through: the awkwardness of credentialed people around non-graduates. Degrees are so cherished among the professional class that we assume those without one must need putting at ease around us. The result is this cringing heroisation of grown men and women. “You’re a lifesaver!”

Without knowing it, I was learning about people: their hierarchies and irrationalities, their unwritten codes. I could cite other reasons why the young should go to the office. Three times in 2023, a corporate executive, each in a different sector, has told me that junior staff who work from home are holding back their career in the company, but can’t be informed of that, as a matter of law or protocol. But that’s another column. I want to major for now on the power of the office to socialise people in a way that families, campuses and friendship circles are too narrow to match.

So what else did the office teach me?

Wearing a suit and tie when it isn’t required is a mark of low status, not high. It is “the south of France”, not “southern France”. (Getting it wrong suggests you don’t visit or have a second home there, you serf.) The loneliest men in the world are married. To establish trust with someone, disparage a third person in their presence. Self-deprecation is in almost all cases an assertion of…



2023-11-03 18:00:25

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