There’s no such thing as a free lunch

My biggest pet peeve at my job is the “optional” training lunches they hold FREQUENTLY. They bill them as being “optional” and “for your own enrichment,” but in reality, especially for young engineers, they are mandatory. When I first started I naively took the higher-ups at their word, and tried not going to some of the lunches, but they found me and told me I needed to be there. Well, no, that they would “like” me to be there. You know. If I chose.

There are so many reasons this bothers me.

First, I hate lectures. I hate them. I hate attending them. I had a really hard time in lecture-based classes in college because typically they move slowly and it’s hard to devote focus for that long when I’m bored. I never choose to go to lectures on anything, even though there were a bunch around my school, because it’s just not worth it! I’d MUCH rather read about it than listen to a lecture. I have a friend who’s a dog trainer who loves to learn more about the field through instructional videos. I go towards instructional books, videos are just difficult for me because, for all intents and purposes, they’re lectures. Now if my company wanted to tell me I had to read a report on something, great, no problem, happy to do it. But sitting there for a lecture? NO!

Second, it’s engineers giving these lectures, people. Now, I’m lucky in that my company focuses on hiring personable people, so the people I work with are in general really nice and good at casual conversation. But engineers are not typically the types of people who have a natural gift for standing up and talking to a crowd. So these lunchtime training sessions tend to be veeeeery booooooring. Even if the topic is good. I can only listen to someone read a powerpoint slide full of text, restating each sentence after they read it, for so long.

Third, JUST BE STRAIGHT ABOUT IT. These sessions are not optional. They are required. So just SAY that. When I was getting interviewed they told me about the optional lunches. I thought, great, if there’s a topic I need to know more about, I can go learn. But it’s probably not a “benefit” (as they pitched it) that I’ll use often. Same thing during my first day introduction to the office. But then when the time comes…nope, you have to be there. Now, if that’s the case just SAY it’s the case. But don’t tell me it’s a “benefit” I get of working here.

Fourth, part of why they say it’s a “benefit” is the “free lunch” they provide. Here’s what I say: 1) It’s not free. I have to sit through your lecture. 2) I get no say on what it is. Serving dry turkey sandwiches is not worth 1.5 hours of my time. Often there is nothing worth eating (by my standards) provided. This is not a benefit.

Fifth, something funny happened. Something that ended my patience with the lunchtime session “benefit.” When I first started, the company would pay for half of the lunch session. So half was my time, half was the company’s. It was still frustrating, because I didn’t used to take a lunch at all, but the sessions were usually only 45 min to MAYBE an hour, so that wasn’t too bad. But then, the recession hit (darn you, recession!). And someone in my office went to the higher-ups and suggested that they could save money by no longer paying for half of the training sessions (Thanks diligent employee! You’re lucky I don’t know who you are). Which they of course thought was a GREAT idea! Funny thing, though…once the company no longer paid for our sessions they got longer..and longer…and more frequent. Now sessions are always at least an hour and a half. Of MY TIME. I do take a lunch now, but it’s 30 minutes. So that’s an extra hour that I have to stay at work. And, since I am in this “session” through my lunch, it basically means I work 9.5 hours straight with NO BREAK (I do not do well without breaks). So on days like today, which is the last sunny day projected for at least a week, causing me to come in early so I could get home before sunset so I could work on rally obedience with my puppy outside (there’s nowhere well-lit nearby I can go), now I can’t get home before sunset. ’cause I have to stay an extra hour. ARGH.

Related to that, the notice for this “benefit” is getting shorter. We used to have an awesome secretary who at the beginning of every month sent out an e-mail with the dates of everything happening in the month. There were usually one or two training sessions, and I knew when they were so I could plan. Then she left. And the new girl is very nice..but not as organized. Now we’re lucky to get a weeks notice. A few weeks ago we were told on Thursday there would be a lunch session the next day. FRIDAY. They made us stay late on a Friday with no warning! ARGH!!

Part of my frustration, I know, is that I do not care about the topics. Don’t get me wrong, I love structural engineering. But I love it because of the math. Not because of the coolness of how ships are supplied with power while berthed. Or the fascinating topic of why concrete works the way it does. Or because I find the idea of a project that we’ve done interesting. Or ANYTHING AT ALL that civil engineers do. I like the math. The calculations. And the problem solving. And, to clarify, DOING those things, not hearing about them.

(I wish when I was in school someone had told me to decide what to study based on what I would go to lectures on. Because I would go to lectures on dog training. I was planning on going to an entire weekend FULL of lectures on dog training, until I decided it was too expensive and cancelled (darn economy!). And that’s saying something, given my feelings on lectures. But I don’t ENJOY learning about engineering. So why did I study it??)

I recognize that a lot of smaller companies do things like this…but they put it in the light of training. In the light of a requirement. They’re honest about what they’re doing. And they don’t start to take advantage of their employees after cutting their benefits (i.e. extending the time of the sessions after making it fully our time).

Be honest. Be honorable. And I’ll be quiet and suck it up.

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