Groups to avoid: the moaning canteen gang

I call them the “moaning canteen gang” – that coterie within any sizeable company that hates their employer. They’re certain their bosses can do no right – and are vocal in letting everyone know: advertising their disgruntlement – usually during breaks – like a badge of honour.

The moaning canteen gang is a tight unit. It knows who’s onside and who’s not with respect to its core function of feeling justified in its complaints. Yet, like all organisms, its goal is to multiply – this time through recruitment (usually of the young and impressionable). Yet – make no mistake – they’re a disaster for any burgeoning career. Despite the bosom-buddy welcome, the moaning canteen gang is a career cul-de-sac. As an entity, it’s one to neatly sidestep (though not to antagonise).

In fact, I received an early education regarding the mixed blessing of joining the moaning canteen gang. My first job, as a supermarket Saturday shelf-stacker, had a fissure running right through it: between the full-timers and the part-timers. The full-timers were older, less educated and with a negative outlook compounded by years of doing something they disliked for people they didn’t trust. Meanwhile, us part-timers – often sixth-formers or students – were younger, more confident and saw this as no more than beer money for Saturday nights (usually spent trying to snog each other). Indeed, we enjoyed the job: it was more fun than classes and books (involving lift and cage races, cardboard cutting skills and lots of warehouse and shop-floor banter).

Yet the full-timers detested us. They occupied the best tables in the canteen and barked angrily if we transgressed their unstated rules (such as claiming the newer drafts game or complete chess set, or returning to work a minute too early). It was an antagonism that bemused me – at least until I was offered full-time work for the summer. Overnight I was pressured into becoming part of the moaning canteen gang. I was enticed by insights into the senior management’s proclivities (some highly personal), but also cajoled into pacing the work (now full-time in the warehouse) and into strictly observing any job demarcations.

And, soon enough, I too became irritated on a Thursday evening when the part-timers arrived to cover evening opening. They were just too cheerful, too noisy, too enthusiastic – and certainly too fast. They disrupted the pervading sense of indifference in the canteen and corrupted the lackadaisical pace of work – established to bridge the time between breaks with only the minimum expenditure in effort.

Eventually, the head warehouseman found me staring at the outside world through an air-conditioning grill and declared I’d probably had enough of the windowless warehouse: it was time to move on. Anyway, the moaning canteen gang had decided I wasn’t one of them after all (I liked the senior staff too much) – leaving me (yet again) the outsider.

Of course, this was 30 years ago. The supermarket is now a Burger King, with the canteen gang almost certainly all retired. Yet my guess is their moaning got them nowhere – just reinforcing their overall discontent with their lot. Meanwhile, the evening-and-Saturday kids – only a minority of which were Uni bound – will have taken their enthusiasm with them wherever they went, and now have their own moaning canteen gangs to contend with.







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