It’s Still A Dilbert World

The headlines continue to speak towards employment uncertainty in a lot of places. Layoffs are certainly no laughing matter. I was caught up in two of them, and unfortunately for me they were back-to-back in the mid-section of my career, working in manufacturing supply chain roles (planning, purchasing, logistics). In the first instance, my company was acquired and merged with an overseas operation who grossly miscalculated the cost of such an acquisition, and decided to rectify the problem via layoffs. In the second instance, my company decided they would be much better off making a more cost-effective (cheap) product in Mexico, completely shutting down its U.S. location in the process.

The comic strip Dilbert debuted in 1989. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s probably simplest to report Scott Adams’ strip contains all the righteous and outrageous sarcasm about work and the workplace later characterized in both the British (2001) and American (2005) television shows The Office. For those of us who were in office jobs at the time this strip began, it quickly became clear Adams was drawing from his own personal experience – which aligned with our experiences – making the strip even more relatable and timely.

For me, the craziest thing about this 33-year-old comic strip is it is still relevant. The title of Adams’ most recently released compilation is called The Office Is A Beautiful Place When Everyone Else Works From Home. His next comic collection, scheduled for release next month, is titled Not Remotely Working. Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately companies are still just as stupid as ever, humanity is still not a part of human resources, and co-workers are still…unique…whether we’re dealing with them in the office, remotely, or both.

When I began my self-titled First Retirement at the beginning of June, I really felt at that point like I was just walking off the chessboard (spoiler alert, the name of this blog). I think at certain times in our lives we can feel like we’re just pawns on a chessboard, especially with regards to work. I know after those consecutive layoffs, I felt like I had no control over how life was playing out. I never did get another supply chain role quite like those two positions I held, which also happen to be the best jobs I’ve ever had.

You know how you’ll focus on something as a way to shut down negative or anxious feelings coming on? A memory, thoughts of a loved one, a quote or saying…anything at all to put whatever you’re dealing with in an easier-to-deal-with mindset and perspective? For me, navigating corporate workplaces in those earlier years was a hell of a lot easier with Dilbert around because if nothing else, it reminded me I was far from alone in the daily, relentless struggle against organizational bad behavior. Back then, I didn’t have nearly as much life experience as I own now. Whether I return to work someday or not, I can easily maintain a healthy sense of humor about anything work-related. I have always believed you shouldn’t dwell or ruminate upon things out of your control – like business decisions, bad bosses, crazy co-workers – and keeping a sense of humor about work helps me stay sane.

Dilbert’s portrayal of layoffs were strikingly similar to mine…

Layoff #1 – After our company was purchased and merged with the overseas organization, oh, we had our suspicions…

Layoff #1 – When our company had to decide whom to layoff, I certainly envisioned some of our departments doing it along these lines…

Layoff #1 – Our company referred to the layoffs as “right-sizing” the organization. Using the word “layoffs” was obviously considered way too realistic. For those “survivors” not in the first round of layoffs, they were pretty much left behind with this scenario…

Layoff #2 – Initially, our company told us we would be teaching the Mexico facility how to make our products so they could help the entire organization out. Our U.S. location had a healthy backlog of orders we could not make in a timely manner, and their facility recently had “acquired” some additional capacity (they lost a major customer…yeah, that usually results in additional capacity…). A few months later, we knew better when…

Layoff #2 – Pretty much the conversation I had with someone in management at our company before the layoffs were announced…

Layoff #2 – As rumors continued to run amok, I just wanted to take off on a Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend…

Thank you, Scott Adams…then and now.

 

Pictures Courtesy Andrews McMeel Syndication

121 thoughts on “It’s Still A Dilbert World”

  1. Not only is Dilbert a classic and so darn relevant, workers anywhere at any time can relate to it. No matter if one works at a Fortune 500 company, a local business, health care or in the public sector, everyone finds it very real. But like you said, it is also a way to help people survive their turmoil. Thanks, Bruce.

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  2. Dilbert was/is the best. I did not realize the strip had been around that long, though. My favorite thing to do at work was to read Dilbert and then send the strip out to my department teammates–not the supervisor. We’d all be cracking up and she knew. She’d yell down the hall, “Lois, did you send out Dilbert and forget to copy me?” That strip still makes me laugh–and I have no intention of ever going back to work, thank you very much!

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      1. I had one supervisor that was Wally to a T. And he’d laugh at the comics I had of him on my cubby wall. My teammates and I would look at each other, “Does he know that he IS Wally?” The chiefs were clueless. The indians should have been running the company.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was never a comic strip person, or as my dad would call them “the funny pages”. Sharing Dilbert though shows a very universal dilemma for corporate employees and is incredibly timely Bruce. My careers were always healthcare related, mostly small or private practice scenarios so there was much more of the individual angst rather than major company chaos. I did get to encounter some aspects of corporate America in my last job prior to retirement. Ridiculous is an understatement, and the reason I retired.

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    1. Deb, the craziest thing is that in my experience, the bigger and more corporate the company the more ridiculous things were. I had the chance to work for a couple of smaller companies along the way and while they had their own set of challenges, it was nothing like the global companies you’d expect to have things more squared-away and employee-friendly. Just the opposite, and this year I decided I needed to walk away from that nonsense…at least for awhile.

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      1. Oh no, I get that. I’ve never encountered a global level but worked for a national health company that contracted with statewide medical entities. I remember saying each year- this really can’t get any worse- and yet it did.

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  4. I’ve been laid off twice in my career, both times due to a takeover/buyout. I’ll never be in that field again I’m sure, and so now I’m still struggling with what to do for the rest of my life! Thanks for the reminder about having a sense of humor. It definitely helps.

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    1. Fraggle, on one occasion one of my friends was called into a conference room with a few other folks, told they were laid off, had to hand in their door-entry keys, and were escorted back to their desks to gather their things for an immediate exit. Cruel is a perfect word for it.

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  5. Somewhat ironic I was always the one to do the walking off…I must have had some sort of teflon coating during those decades, never was laid off. Perhaps it was because writing and org skills and a willingness to do the dirty work was always in demand? They just moved me around and piled on extra work… My first semi retirement was at 50, became a consultant and ended up working longer hours, harder than when employee. 4,5,7 ??? semi retirements later, I now work only for myself and draw no appreciable salary while I develop/finish novels. I sincerely hope you don’t repeat my bad habit of quitting, not quitting… My 3 fav Dilbert work quotes: An optimist is a pessimist with little actual job experience. Sure, happy to make these unnecessary changes to this irrelevant doc. Doing nothing is hard…you can’t tell when you’re finished. Now I’m part of Little Red Hen School of Business and define success by how long I can sit on my butt and how many eggs I can lay…

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    1. Jo, I love those work quotes. The best thing over these first six months? Not having extra work piled on. At the last position, we had a person leave. No replacement. We had a second person need a year off for a medical issue – no temporary person hired in the interim. We then had a second person get laid off during Covid. When the business came back, no replacement for them either. Bizarre.

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      1. Oh merde, they piled it on you as well, awful, and corporate US wonders why workers are doing ‘quiet quitting’ and organizing to bring back unions again. I have notes for a work in the trenches novel, Of Savages & Flings, a play on cabbages and kings… We could collaborate, you write about the savage working conditions, I’ll write about the flings… chuckle

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice! I was aware of Dilbert, but never read any of the strips … till now. I just found a new addition to this year’s Santa List – thank you!

    ( I too had 2 layoffs. The first, as a Bank Manger, was delivered when I was called to a meeting about training and courses the Bank were going to send me on! Cowards the lot of them! The Halifax Bank of Scotland – HBOS – it was. About time they were publicly named and shamed. (Not that I’m still bitter eighteen years down the line, you understand?) 😉 😀

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  7. During my working days, I was a huge fan of Dilbert. It amazed me how accurate Scott Adams was in his depiction. I used to think he must have somehow had a secret window into our office.

    Your line _ “companies are still just as stupid as ever, humanity is still not a part of human resources” _ is spot-on. In too many instances, corporate just doesn’t take the time, or have the interest, to understand workplace issues and the impact on people, and it took me too long a time to figure out that HR departments existed only to protect corporate and local management from costly legal snafus in the workplace, not about helping employees.

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    1. Mark, I read an article the other day saying HR departments were starting to use the phrase “go forward.” That is if someone is getting laid off…don’t say laid off…say the employee just doesn’t happen to be in a “go forward” role. The company’s wellbeing is always most important, and employees should just be grateful the company will continue to go forward even if they’re out of a job. Your last sentence on your comment is spot-on as well.

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  8. The art of plausible deniability is quite oftentimes something less than artful. And yet, every time I peruse the aisles at a Barnes and Noble, some corporate poobah is writing a book about the nuance of negotiations or how to close the deal in Zen. It’s bullshit of course, but hey, someone’s reading this stuff!

    I love the Dilbert markers, they fit perfectly!

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  9. I spent my entire career automating systems to make the companies I worked for more efficient. I’m sure you and Dilbert know the results. The only time I was laid off was when I recommended an off-the-shelf system for the project I was assigned to. Since we didn’t need to develop the system, we didn’t need me. Dilbert understands.

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  10. Dilbert did seem to capture the inanity of office decisions and communication. I worked in quality management for a long time, and what a strange job that was! I could write a comic strip collection about that absurdity. I’m sorry you had to endure layoffs, Bruce, but at least you can laugh about it. And you weren’t alone.

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  11. I had forgotten about Dilbert, but boy, they hit it right on the head. My (un)favorite phrase for being let go is, “We decided to go a different direction.” No amount of quizzing on what that direction might be ever receives an answer.

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    1. I mentioned to another commenter I recently saw an article about HR folks now using the phrase “go forward” instead of layoff. They are to tell the unfortunate workers it’s just that they aren’t in “go forward” roles. Of course, we always want the company to go forward, even if we aren’t going with them. You’re right…what IS that direction?

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      1. Aren’t in “go forward” roles. How stupid do they think people are? I figure it’s just so they don’t get sued for discrimination of anything…age, gender, race, etc. In the end, no matter what they say, you’re still without a job.

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  12. I forgot about the Dilbert strip, but I remember enjoying it, along with my beloved Calvin & Hobbes. Now that I have worked several office jobs, I would probably get more out of the strip. I suffered two consecutive layoffs at Sony Pictures and then at Warner Bros here in L.A. Both were due to “outsourcing” since I worked in the billing of physical media (DVDs & Blu-Rays). With the rise of VOD and streaming, the math pointed to a “reduced” workforce. I still can’t wrap my head around working from home, or the hybrid situation, since I enjoyed going into an office and seeing my co-workers. But I can see the advantages for someone with a long commute or families/children. It’s a brave new world, and I’m sure Dilbert will find some humor and commentary.

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    1. Chad, my wife got me invested in Calvin & Hobbes, and it is probably was/is her favorite. That is so cool you worked at Sony and Warner Brothers! I actually went totally remote work from when Covid first started until I resigned/retired at the end of May. My wife is still working, and she has been remote the whole time as well. Our commute was brutal, so it was easy to like. And yeah, Dilbert is taking on the whole come back to the office/work from home dynamics now.

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      1. My last year at Warner’s was totally remote, and I see the benefits. My roommate loves the hybrid remote style and will never go back. And I’m a big fan of Calvin & Hobbes. I picked up the complete compendium during the pandemic, and reading the exploits of Calvin helped me survive the madness of the covid lockdown.

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      2. i run a secondhand bookshop and last week we sold a very handsomely bound slip-case edition of three volumes of Calvin and Hobbes. As ever, I get the chance to look over the merchandise and it was fabulous read what was effectively a greatest hits collection. Can hardly do any work this weel as I got two boxes of movie books.

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    2. I wonder if this generation will soon grow tired of working from home, seeing no one all day long, and missing the physical interaction with work colleagues. I am hoping you are the person to set me right on the demise of the DVD. Do studios actually make more money via streaming or is this one of those situations where the brave new world turned out to be false?

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      1. That’s a great question, and I could do an entire article on the physical media vs. streaming dynamic. I worked in the physical media section since 2007 for Sony Pictures and then Warner Bros. Over the last 15 years, the sales of DVD/Blu-Ray have been in steady decline as the convenience of streaming is hard to beat. They really cratered after Disney + launched and then the pandemic lockdown. But DVD/Blu-Ray (and now 4K) physical sales still make a robust profit for the studios. With the customer preference for streaming, Hollywood has doubled down and is spending like crazy with hopes that they can start turning a profit from streaming in the next 2 – 5 years. So in answer to your question, we don’t know yet. If the studios spend themselves into debt over a subscription model where they can’t make a return profit, then we’ll know if the emperor has no clothes.

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      2. This is a really interesting subject for me on two fronts. One, I still like holding the movie I own in my hand instead of on somebody’s cloud. I know that sounds “oldish” but I have a collection I like to add to. Second, I am waiting for what I thought would be an inevitable consolidation of streaming services so it would be a bit easier to see a larger selection of films and series without subscribing to six or seven different entities. That may take awhile…

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      3. I think it’s a generational thing. Like you, I’m a physical media guy through and through, with a sizable collection of Blu-Rays (and now 4K). I enjoy the collectible aspect, not to mention the superior picture and sound. And you’re not dependent on the internet to watch a movie. But talking to anybody under 30 and owning a film on disc is a foreign concept. They tell me they like the convenience of not having physical discs take up precious real estate in their apartments. But the subscription model makes you dependent on the big studios for content, which they can take away at any time. I hope the next big thing is some sort of consolidation or standardization of these many streaming services. It’s getting just as expensive as cable.

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  13. I survived four. The first they herded some people in one room the rest in another, they forced a new hire to give the good/bad news. When the people that go the bad news were herded out, no one in the good room could say goodbye to those leaving. The second time the company decided to downsize and just got rid of third shift, the third time we were bought out, people were given the opportunity to take severance and leave (the new owner said those people were the smart ones, that stings to this day), the last time it was the department. My wife and 5 others were let go, the other 6 people moved to other departments (I was one of those people)

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      1. Yeah especially for a devout Mormon with the worst sense if humor and zero tact…dude was also president at the time, but has since relinqushed that role to another. I had a bad car accident/totaled one year and the owner nicknamed me crash…then sent me a fruit basket with a card that read I wouls have given you flowers but thats usually reserved for kinfolk of the deceased. Real Class Act indeed.

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    1. It’s horrific nobody can find a better way of handling this situation. The first time I was fired I worked in a theatre that staged operas where we had a multitude of bars. One day everyone got fired for straling. When I went to complain that I had not been straling, i was reinstated, one of only three honest employees as it turned out. The second time was much much worse.

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  14. It is somewhat comforting to fund others going through the same thing as you are, and that’s what happens when you read something like Dilbert and relate. Yeah, I went through my long-time company telling me and a bunch of co-workers not to come in anymore after X day, too, Bruce. Coming up on the 10-year anniversary and I can still get triggered.

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  15. The humor in Dilbert never quite hit with me. I understand it, watched it play out with my husband and friends who worked in corporate America, but felt it fell flat. Maybe that’s the point. For me Pearls Before Swine nails the angst of adult life.

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    1. G, my wife is still working from home. She works longer and more accurately, yet the drums have started up about everyone coming back in to the office 2-3 days a week. We shall see how that plays out, but both her and I have committed to office-less work from here on out. We agree with your version.🙂

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  16. I would love to continue being topical for decades and decades like Dilbert, but Scott Smith’s done a much better job than me, lol.
    I couldn’t agree more about companies being dumb and never changing, as long as $$ is the bottom line. I already thought being an English major at school was problematic but had confidence in my skills, at least. Later in the job marketing, especially captioning, where I ended up, when jobs began getting outsourced to ESL countries, I realized that, no, companies weren’t the dumb ones. I was, to think I had a valuable resource that would never become obsolete.

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    1. Stacey, I think many folks will have their talents made obsolete in due time. I took a whole bunch of classes to get “certified” in supply chain years ago, only to find the companies around here didn’t much care about that additional training and expertise. That turned out to be dumb on my part.

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      1. Thanks, Bruce. Yeah, I fear you are correct.
        And about feeling dumb: like I told someone recently, “In my next life, I’m not playing by the rules. It’s a waste of time!” lol

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    2. That’s kind of hard on yourself. We all develop. At the last count I’ve had six careers. Started off as a journalist, went into PR, then events management, then ran an association for chefs, owned a cookery school, and now I run a secondhand bookshop. I think the only valuable resource I had was me.

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  17. Although I was never laid off (retired after 30 years with the same company), I can well relate to everything else in this post As for Dilbert, no other comic strip ‘nails it’ better. Great post.

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  18. I find it so saddening how easy it is to complete mass-layoffs with big companies (e.g. all the social media platform layoffs we’re seeing these days). The impossibility of assuring some form of stability in that kind of business is quite scary and could ruin so many people… Great post, Bruce. Love that you integrated your blog’s origin story!

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    1. Charlotte, no doubt he’d have a whole new comic strip to write if the subject was auditioning. Thank you for stopping by and following…and I look forward to following your work as well…especially with the opera production project starting to round into shape.

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  19. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! My stepson works in logistics and has changed jobs quite a few times. I think his best spot was working with BMW which he did for about 7 years. Now he is in Indianapolis. He has had the opportunity to enjoy multiple places while working. He also has a family of 4. I am a teacher and since there is a shortage I don’t expect to be pushed about too soon. But I do look forward to retiring as the days become longer.

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    1. I hope your stepson enjoys his Logistics work. I know I really enjoyed working in that area. No doubt, you’ll likely enjoy as long a career in Teaching as you’d like, but even though you’re looking forward to retiring, it is nice to know folks like you are still working in such an important function. I wish you and yours the very best of Thanksgiving!

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      1. Thank you. I also work online, so might retire from in person to online sooner as long as my body holds strong. Yes, he does. He is fairly high on the food chain. He is a good worker. You, also! Enjoy your family!!

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  20. I started out in IT on a helpdesk in the 90s…after that, I was promoted to tech. Everywhere I worked…this comic was in some cube somewhere in every company I worked at.

    I was laid off in 2006 and yea…first time I ever hyperventilated. I hate the games corporations play but I ended up at the job I have now and made it to IT Director…so I guess most of the time it works out.

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  21. Over the years I’ve gotten turned off by a lot of the comic strips, but not Dilbert. Simple, straight up, wise, funny and no nonsense. It takes great talent to do all of this in a comic strip. I’ve seen how dehumanizing lay offs can be. Fortunately, I wasn’t involved, but fairly early in my career I decided to avoid them by working for myself (a consultant in medical editing/writing/publishing). Loved it. After that I worked many years with non-profits, where they underpay but they need you so much, you are loved every day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pam, I think it is some kind of bizzaro-world rule that those who do the most life-changing, most inspiring work – often in non-profits – get paid the least. I get what you are saying, and it’s good to be loved by those you work with…and for!

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