20 November 2009

Back on the chain gang

I work in a fairly professional environment. It is an organization under the umbrella of the great State of Texas, therefore, we pay a rigorous amount of attention to matters concerning human resources. Good old HR. In all fairness, I’d have to say that it is the most professional environment in which I have ever worked and in my experience, everyone is treated with equity and respect. Right down to job titles and the descriptions we use to describe those jobs.

Which brings me to an essay I read by inspired blogger
Blogget Jones the other day, in which she discussed her professional status in the organization where she works as a peon. I had to laugh. Really. I am among them, the multitude of peons that commute to work, attend meetings, crunch numbers, draft reports and write executive summaries. The spotlight does not often shine in our direction, but that is OK with us, because we do not so much seek it. We seek the camaraderie of our colleagues, the creative challenges lurking within the layers of our assigned projects and the opportunity to make a contribution without a whole lot of drama or fanfare.

But still, we sort of bristle at the word peon. It seems, well, so menial. I have to tell you, and this is the honest truth, I was in a client’s office (years ago, not in my present place of employment) and my boss actually used the term “underling” in his conversation with the client, in reference to me and my team. Yes! I could not believe my ears. I felt the red sting of humiliation, as though I had been instantly diminished. Transported to a chain gang and sentenced to hard labor under severe conditions.

Maybe I was the only one who noticed. The meeting continued without remark or incident.

In another example, much more recently, a friend used the word “minion” when referring to a member of his team in a serious professional conversation. He did not say it disparagingly or in an attempt to be funny. The staff member took grave offense and promptly issued a complaint. My friend was sternly instructed not to use that term again. He thought the staff member’s reaction was an overreaction.

I don’t happen to think so. We are peons, hear us roar!


  1. Those were definitely not overreactions! People need to be sensitive to how they refer to other people. I'm quite sure they'd bristle if they were spoken to in such a way.

  2. I completely agree! "Peon" "minion" "underling" - all condescending and unprofessional terms. How could anyone describe someone as one of those? If I were to hear that from my colleagues, I would be instantly offended and morale would dip to the floor. Some people are so self-righteous, it still amazes me.

    I found your blog from Kayla Aimee's - I'm really enjoying your writing!