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Humans or Robots? Essay

As Americans, we are told from a young age that in order to have a fulfilling life we must work hard to reach the American Dream. We must get an impressive degree; we must get married by age thirty to someone of the opposite sex; we must have two kids—one boy and one girl; and most importantly we must work a nine-to-five job, writing reports at a desk in a successful corporate business. If one does not fulfil these requirements, others expect that they probably were not up to par, or as deserving, as the other Joe Schmo who did. In Daniel Orozco’s short story, “Orientation,” the narrator is showing a new employee around the office, telling him/her about all of the rules that he/she must follow, about the personal lives of the other employees’, and about the “perks” he/she will have as an employee. By illustrating the corporate workplace as being void of any human element, the story argues that the workplace is an impersonal and a relentlessly unforgiving environment, and that people should be aware of this crisis in corporate America, and furthermore see the faults of the corporate workplace.

The story begins with the narrator telling the new employee rules about his/her phone, and that he/she may not answer it or make any personal phone calls, unless it is an emergency. However, after the narrator tells the new employee what he/she must do in the case of an emergency call, the narrator describes the consequences to not following the rules by saying, “If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go” (484). This illustrates the company’s capacity for human emotion (which is obviously extremely low), showing that the company’s value of its rules is more important than any emergency. An emergency is something that comes up unexpectedly and needs to be attended to right away to fix the problem. In this case, the company has no empathy for its employees but rather for the efficiency of the business. The employees are expected to put their job before everything in their lives, even though a job is, in most cases, a source to support the other aspects of their lives.

The narrator goes on to point out the receptionist who is a temporary employee, but is only labeled temporary because historically they always seem to quit. The narrator states, “Be polite and civil to our temps. Learn their names. Invite them to lunch occasionally. But don’t get too close to them, as it only makes it more difficult when they leave” (484). The narrator is instructing the new employee to be “polite” and “civil” to the receptionist, which contrasts the human tendency to want to be friendly to co-workers. This illuminates the narrator as being robotic and emotionless, just like the company.

The narrator and the company alike are incapable of genuine emotion, which is evident when the narrator tells the new employee to be “polite” and “civil” but to not get too attached. The emotional ability of the narrator is clearly forced when he/she tells the employee to be “civil” towards the receptionists, to “learn their names”, and to “invite them to lunch occasionally.” The low magnitude of what the narrator perceives as friendly is disturbingly unhuman-like. The narrator has no difficulty telling the new employee to put in the bare minimum of his/her emotional effort, by purely tolerating the receptionist, without being too mean or too nice to her. The narrator expects the new employee to be just as detached and emotionless as the company, because if he/she is not, it would only make it emotionally harder for him/her to endure the emotionless acts and values of the company.

In another attempt to make the company appear good, the narrator tells the new employee about the comprehensive health plan that covers the costs of any family illness or tragedy. The narrator uses the example that if anything happened to any of Larry Bagdikian’s daughters, all expenses would be covered and that, “he would have nothing to worry about” (486). The irony behind this is that if an illness or tragedy happened to any of his daughters, he would have the illness or tragedy to worry about rather than the breadth of his health plan. Like any good father, he would fret about his child’s well-being above any financial costs. This piece of evidence has a strong connection back to when the narrator said that if the new employee ever made an emergency phone call without asking, the new employee would be let go.

Another example of how the comprehensive health plan does not take away worry is when the narrator talks about how Barry Hacker’s wife died, and how she was completely covered but she has “haunt[ed] him” (487) since. The company’s comprehensive health plan shows that the company expects family illnesses and tragedies to come up, but the company would rather make up for their lack of empathy during the emergency, when it is already too late and has turned into a tragedy. Although the company tries to make the comprehensive health plan look like a perk to the job, Orozco argues that it is more of a plan to compensate for the company’s faults and is purely intended to take employees’ attention away from the corrupt workplace environment.

An ongoing pattern throughout the story that illuminates the strict workplace environment is shown in the repetition of, “you may be let go”. A good example of this is when the narrator states, “Feel free to ask questions. Ask too many questions, however, and you may be let go” (484). In a humane workplace, there are typically universal rules that, if broken, would result in an employee being fired. However, the company’s rules that will get an employee fired are all irrational. The company expects its employees to act without human error and to balance everything with perfect proportion. This is manifested when the narrator says to not ask “too many questions” but does not tell the new employee what that exactly means. The amount of questions that the new employee will perceive as too many is subjective, but the narrator sees it as an objective amount and expects the new employee to also see it objectively and without further clarification.

The narrator goes on to explain the rules about the coffee pool and the microwave oven. When talking about the coffee pool, the narrator says, “You are allowed to join the coffee pool of your choice, but you are not allowed to touch the Mr. Coffee” (486). Immediately after, the narrator goes on to describe the rules for the microwave oven when he/she states, “You are allowed to heat food in the microwave oven. You are not, however, allowed to cook food in the microwave oven” (486). When it comes down to it, the company’s strict guidelines have little to do with the company itself. The rules for the Mr. Coffee and the microwave oven are both very simple and perplexing. Rules are generally used as safety precautions or for efficiency. Touching the Mr. Coffee and cooking food in the microwave oven have nothing to do with safety or efficiency, and have everything to do with the unforgiving and power-driven nature of the company.

Through the absence of any human element, the story argues that the corporate workplace is emotionless and harsh and that it sends a negative message to corporate workplace employees. Orozco’s agenda behind writing “Orientation” was to articulate how corporate bureaucracies exploit their employees by subjecting them to irrational standards and by expecting them to work without human error. I agree with Orozco because corporate businesses tend to care more about the money and the success rate of the business, rather than their employees. This subjects the employees to neglect and in essence makes them slaves to their workplace. The message is not outdated, and the workplace conditions are currently, in my opinion, more taxing than the author intended to portray. The message that we should always be aware of the faults in the corporate workplace will never be outdated, and furthermore it is important to remember our history for generations to come so that the history of corporate workplace conditions does not repeat itself.

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