Day Job: A Workplace Reader for the Restless Age opens with this traditional disclaimer, "The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are products of the author's imagination and bear no relation to any real person or actual happening." But author Jonathan Baird must have trod some similar paths in his 26 years to those walked by his fictional protagonist, the young and confused Mark Thornton. Baird simply knows the territory.
In a way that a hundred expertly conducted interviews would not convey, this offbeat fictional journal of a day in the life of a college-graduated twentysomething stuck in a customer service job vividly captures the ambition, ennui, frustration, and sanity saving sense of humor of someone in his or her first "professional" job. Not knowing exactly what he wants to do (it's got to be meaningful and fulfilling), not sure how to get there (or even how to start), and certain only that his dead-end job is robbing him of life, Thornton is in a perfectly alienated position to lampoon the absurdities of the modern office and of management fads. Seen from the bottom up, this book also illustrates how difficult, if not impossible, it is to manage and motivate bright young people in jobs for which they feel vastly overqualified. The book's clever conceit is that Thornton, as part of an ironic tribute to the company's obsession with implementing Total Quality Management (TQM), volunteers to keep a journal and present his findings to an outside consulting firm. The journal gives him a modicum of power and a place to vent. This finely drawn portrait of Generation X unease is aided by its arty layout. The text is presented in old-fashioned typewriter type, augmented by illustrations, doodles, and arrows. The originality of the story is aided by frequent and well-chosen excerpts from a host of books on management, philosophy, and other subjects selected by Carol M. Allen. The combination makes for a unique reading pleasure and a "truthful" look at some intractable workplace issues.