It’s the third day back from vacation. The restive and restorative effects of having a long and happy break have long since worn off. Frankly they didn’t make it past Tuesday morning.
I’ve spent most of this week trying desperately to uncluster a Special High Interest (SHIt) event that, not unexpectedly, spent the last two weeks teetering dangerously on the verge of flying off the rails. It’s the kind of thing that happens when too many people who don’t know all the background information try to give things a little extra help.
I’m sure it was all well intentioned, but I could have done without the added mess in need of fixing this week. Easing back into the routine and building up a slow head of steam for the haul through the next four months doesn’t feel like it should have been too big an ask… and yet here we are, with me looking for the nearest load bearing structure to repeatedly bang my head against.
People will tell you that it’s good to feel needed. All things considered, I think I’d probably enjoy sitting in the corner being ignored far more than I do being the guy who gets tapped when the next SHIt event is in dire need of fixing.
Sigh. Some boys have all the luck. It’s me. I’m some boys. And all the luck is bad.
As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.
I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.
What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.
After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.
Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.
Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.
There are a handful of things that I can do at the office that I physically can’t do from home. They have more to do with obnoxious and largely outdated security procedures than they do with a lack of personal ability, though.
What I think we proved today was that with the exception of those handful of things that I’m prohibited from doing at home by law, policy, or regulation, everything else can run more or less seamlessly using our electronic mailboxes, a series of various interconnected world-wide web sites, and a portable cellular telephone. It’s far from perfect and not likely something that you’d want to do for more than a day or two at a time, but as a stopgap, it works well enough – or at least better than the alternative which would have been 100% of the work not getting done. If nothing else, it gives you an option to “keep the lights on” under circumstances where they otherwise would go dark.
Now, do I think this will be the bright shining moment where the bosses realize having people willing and able to work from home is more than having a bunch of personnel sitting around with their thumb up their asses? No. No I do not. Maybe they should, but I can’t imagine a scenario where that’s actually going to happen.
What’s far more likely is they’ll race hard in the other direction – specifying new minimum staffing levels, limiting the number of people who can be on leave at any given time, and focusing on the 5% that can’t be done instead of the 95% that can. I’d like to think I’m wrong about this, but history tells me I’m probably not. My entire career has been nothing if not a series of opportunities to observe moments where good intentions gave helpful cover to bad decisions. Getting the powers that be to thinking about productive work happening outside the walls of their adjacent cubicles feels like an awfully long way to stretch given the precedents involved.
If that’s not what happens here, you’ll find me a few months from now both stunned and amazed… and it would be one of those rare occasions where I wouldn’t mind being caught off guard in the least.
1. Performance appraisal. I’ve spent more time than I want to admit this week dicking around with the required “self assessment” section of my annual performance appraisal. It feels like a monumental waste of time. The “old” evaluation system was a pain in the ass too, but at least it was consistent. You could copy and paste big chunks of content from year to year, change some dates and key words and then move on with a minimum amount of fuss and trouble. Since the system we’re now under is “new to us” if not exactly new, it’s starting from a blank page… which translates into more time fiddling. Look, when you’ve been told, albeit in a roundabout way, that the system is designed to drive people to the middle and prevent too many from being way out in high performer land, the incentive to make the end product immaculate is pretty low. Instead of the time and effort going into this new evaluation, it feels like we could have been just as well served by accepting that if we were fucks ups, someone would have told us by now, and that our raise will in all likelihood be within a hair’s breadth of the average unless you’ve done something breathtakingly good or bad in the last 356 days. Going though all the added motions really just adds insult to injury.
2. “Upgrading” software. I don’t mind software upgrades that improve the function of my equipment or make it somehow more secure. I do mind software upgrades that fail to install on the first attempt and then run in the background indefinitely consuming system resources while providing no way to stop them from the user side. Sadly there is absolutely nothing I’m empowered to do about the low bidder equipment or substandard tech support we’re saddled with other than bitch and complain about it at each and every opportunity. So I guess I’ll either limp along as is until the aborted update grinds my system to a complete halt or the admins throw my machine off the network for not having received the update. If only there were a great big organization in change of electronic communications I could call on for help in these situations. You can’t see it but I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I’m currently staring at the inside of my head.
3. Thursday. Well, not just Thursday. I’m just really kind of over weekdays in general. I’m tired of dealing with people. I’m tired of the same bureaucratic and administrative Groundhog Day experience every five out of seven days. I want to sit on the living room floor dispensing ear rubs and playing tug with the dogs, drinking coffee, and reading books… and I’d like for that to happen without finding myself quickly driven into bankruptcy. The dogs have become accustomed to a certain level of lifestyle (and medical care) and I need an ever increasing amount of space for book storage, so that pretty much precludes any radical changes to how I spend the average weekday. Most of the time, the week goes by with a dull “meh,” but this week it’s more of a roaring angsty rage. Good times. Im glad we’ve had this chance to talk.
I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.
Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.
I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.
Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.
There was a time in my career I would have done back flips about the possibility of working 12-hour shifts. The work week that consists of basically three days on four off, the possibility of a steady supply of overtime, night differential, and holiday pay. Now that I’ve over-topped my projected career halfway point, though, the idea is less appealing on just about every level.
I’ve never wanted or expected something for nothing. I don’t mind doing the work in exchange for the pay… but in any duration that stretches on for much more than eight hours, I lose interested and focus at an alarming, perhaps even exponential, rate.
I’m not shy about telling anyone that I’ve long since reached the point in life where, with a handful of possible exceptions, the only place I really want to be is home. I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of money just to have those four walls and a roof. There are dogs and a cat and a tortoise there. The furniture is comfortable. I control the temperature and in a pinch can even make my own electricity. I’ve spent a half a lifetime filling the space with objects of at least personal significance. If it wasn’t the place I most wanted to be, I’d be concerned that I was doing something completely wrong.
I suppose that’s all a long way of saying that I’m going to take a pass at “volunteering” my name for the short list of people who might be willing to sign up for 12-hour days at some indeterminate point in a possible future.
Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.
Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world.
If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely.
It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity.