Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Review: "This Could Hurt" by Jillian Medoff

Things at Ellery Consumer Research Group haven't quite been the same since the crash of 2008. Even the HR department took its licks, shrinking from 22 to 16 to 13 people, then finally to 11. But even though promises of stability were made throughout the company, even a year later, times were tough, and rumors of more layoffs float throughout the halls.

Rosa Guerrero is the chief of human resources at Ellery, a woman who fought hard through the years to get where she is now. She battled hostility, sexism, ethnic prejudice, but now, comfortably in her 60s, she rules the roost, and is well-respected throughout the company and within her own department. She knows the importance of both looking the part and acting it, and her own employees seek her advice, her counsel, her knowledge, and of course, her approval and favor.

She knows that the company may need to downsize itself a little longer, but she wants to do everything to protect her employees. She tries to put plans in place that will keep her staff out of the crossfire, while continuing to demonstrate her value and that of her team, but circumstances constantly foil her. Her staff is somewhat of a motley crew of ambition, ego, insecurity, hunger for power, and occasional dysfunction. What's a boss to do?

After discovering the wrongdoing of one long-time employee, Rosa feels betrayed, and starts to wonder how much longer she can handle the pressure of the job, especially as the CEO is breathing down her neck, expecting her to find ways that will allow for more people to be laid off. Little by little, chinks start to appear in Rosa's once-impenetrable armor, and her staff realizes they must protect her if they're going to be able to protect themselves.

This Could Hurt follows Rosa and her employees through a tumultuous year. From Lucy, the immensely ambitious yet insecure woman whose professional life flourishes while her personal life languishes, to Kenny, whose degree from Wharton makes him feel he's just biding time in this job until something better comes along—until he realizes nothing might, Leo, fiercely devoted to Rosa and the company, yet unhappy with himself and the path his life appears to be on, to Rob, happily married yet wanting more than he has, each employee faces crises, of conscience, of faith, and in their lives.

Truth be told, this book didn't work for me. I think it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be funny (sporadically the book features unnecessary footnotes a la Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series, yet none were as humorous as intended) or serious, because the book did deal with some emotional issues as well as office politics, but it never stayed firmly in one camp. While I started out thinking the characters were interesting, none of them were really that likable, and their foibles and issues became repetitive.

I feel like when authors write novels about the workplace, they strive to capture the magic that the television show The Office had, but I've yet to find a book that can tap into that effectively. This Could Hurt is well-written and had an interesting premise, but it took too long to wrap itself up, and its conclusion, told in organizational charts over the years, is jarring, because they divulge changes in the characters' lives without explaining them.

I'm disappointed, but you can't win them all. At least reading this book made me realize I've worked in far crazier and more dysfunctional places, no contest there!

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