Want to climb the work ladder?

It’s even harder to laugh at the boss’s jokes, writes Julie Ihle, if you have to make the email distribution list to get the punchline.

First published in SMH in 2002

These days, with all the insolvent millionaires floating around, ex-CEOs in rehab for stock option addictions and auditors who can’t tell the difference between a zero and a six, if you have any career ambitions left, beyond getting out of fire warden duty, then it’s hard to know where to start.

In fact, the only true career path left to the ambitious employee is getting onto the boss’s joke distribution list.

You see, the boss’s joke personal distribution list is the new inner sanctum. It’s the place where decisions are made and promotions are decided. All the trappings of career advancement that appeared in corporations last century are now off the corporate landscape completely.

The big office with its own window, for instance (even the boss is part of the cube farm now), the car space (forget it – pay for your own), the celebratory dinner at a swank restaurant when a project finishes (there’s no budget and nothing is ever completed anyway, because there’s no budget) and that old perennial – the junket. Enron execs will admit guilt way before that ever comes back.

But the boss’s joke list does have a couple of advantages over any of these things. For instance, getting a joke email from the boss does not involve having to do any actual work.

It does not involve having to let the boss beat you at golf, getting to a breakfast meeting on time or filling up the photocopier. And the best thing about this method of corporate climbing is that you get to communicate with the boss without ever having to actually talk to him or her.

But it goes beyond not having to talk to the boss. You can make strategic inroads into the organisation and stake out your territory. Because once you have received a joke email from the boss you can then forward it to a dozen other people on your own joke list and they will get to see that you are one of the boss’s chosen ones. So you get to create your own power base without actually having any power. And from seeing who else is on the list, you get to see first-hand who your competition is.

In fact, the boss’s joke list is pretty much the one durable thing about corporate life. These days, when half the time you don’t know the name of the company you’re working for this week and bosses come and go more regularly than Big Brother evictees, one thing in life is sure – there will always be a boss, and he or she will always have a joke distribution list.

With this in mind, it’s obviously crucial, if you are to have any career prospects left, to get onto that joke list. This is pretty difficult. But the most important thing to do is pretend you are completely unaware of its existence. And the second thing to do is create a cool, mysterious aura about yourself by doing something absolutely unheard of in any office, anywhere. Such as move to a smaller cubicle or clean the microwave.

This bizarre behaviour will definitely be noticed and pretty soon there will be an entire water cooler discussion group about you. The boss’s most reliable source of information is the water cooler discussion forum, so he or she will pick up that there’s something not right about you and will immediately think you work for Allan Fels. Out of fear that Allan Fels and his corporate cleansers may launch a raid in the middle of the night, the boss will add you to the joke distribution list.

And once you’re on the list it’s easy to stay there. You don’t have to do much. Just occasionally reply to an email with such comment as, “Very funny, I sent it to my brother/sister/godfather in ATSIC and they loved it.” And occasionally, just to show how friendly you can be, send a couple of jokes through to the boss, who is, you will soon realise, always hard up for material.

Perhaps one day offices, car parks and filtered coffee will return. Maybe one day companies will pay on real performance, reward people based on actual ability and promote from within, but until then your only hope of advancement is a joke.

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