I feel like I should start off by saying there are a number of relatively decent things about my current employment situation. I’m paid reasonably well, I’ve got a fighting shot at retiring instead of dropping dead in my traces, and I don’t have to sling 50 pound bags of anything from one end of a warehouse to another. It’s important to acknowledge that, I suppose, before I start ranting and raving about whatever utter asshattery takes over any given day.
As a sat at the office for a second day with no working telephone and people getting increasingly irate that I was “avoiding them,” though, the perks felt largely insufficient. Look, I loathe talking on the telephone, but in an environment where “communication” is right there in the name of the organization, basic telephone service a pretty damned significant tool. The only thing worse than having one on your desk is not having one. It’s just one of those petty, but constant sources of irritation that makes the day to day minutia of getting anything done exponentially more difficult.
I don’t have the energy to get started tonight on the dull hum of two massive televisions spewing news in every direction or the dozen shouted conversations from one end of the room to the other or the score of other distractors that are apparently going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. But, the wise leaders tell us, this change will make us better. While I won’t entirely rule that out of the realm of the possible, thus far it hasn’t proven to be anything more than an enormous pain in the ass.
In my 13+ years of service I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been reorganized. Half a dozen is the “for sure” number and if I were guessing there are probably two or three more occasions that I’ve mentally blocked out. Technically, reorganizations don’t have to be a bad thing. Theoretically they should be employed to achieve some long term goal like improving the efficiency of operations or to refocus an office on areas that historically are part of their core mission set. Good ideas, those. Unfortunately, what a reorg usually means, though, is that someone, somewhere has no other idea what to do so changing the lines on the wire diagram is the logical place to start. If things aren’t broken already, you can always count on a reorg to bend them till they are cracked and bleeding… It’s got to be the oldest make work project in government.
So it seems we’ll be at the old games again. New desk, new boss, new mission, new projects, but the same old faces and ever aging technology. But then the pay’s the same and it’s the same eight hour day that it’s always been. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter if it matters… as long as the checks don’t bounce on every alternate Thursday.
The problem with doing good work is largely that the reward is often finding yourself with even more of it that needs doing. In exceptional circumstances you’ll arrive in a position of having done so well that a well running portfolio will be taken away and given to someone else so that you can take on a whole laundry list of troubled efforts in order to get them turned around. That’s really the ultimate punishment for a job well done… It tends to be a vicious cycle; spend a few years getting things right just in time to hand them off and spend the following few years getting other things right. Trouble is, you never get to really kick back and enjoy the tasty fruits of getting it right before a whole lot of wrong ends up falling on your lap.
The sorry truth is when it comes to work, I’m not a brilliant seer of the future. I’m really a rather simple sort who’s content enough to put my head down and bull through whatever’s in front of me. I’ve given up any ambitions of being a boss, so I fight where I’m told, and I win where I fight. It’s a simple if not particularly energy efficient approach to getting things done.
In the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind, though, I do sometimes wonder how many cycles of wash-rinse-and-repeat the designated fixer should reasonably be expected to contend with before losing his proverbial shit all over the executive suite.
1. Getting a new project. I don’t mind taking on different work, but there are few things more professionally frustrating that being on the receiving end of a data dump of information about a project you haven’t in any way been part off. Generally I tend to prefer the quick hit projects that run for a couple of months, have their big finish, and then are put to sleep. It’s the never ending, ill defined efforts that are always a constant source of aggravation and annoyance. I suspect that’s mostly because of not having the background of how and why certain decisions were made. Basically all you end up with is an enormous steaming pile of email without history or context. The best you can hope for is that the guy running the project before you didn’t leave things an unmitigated cluster fuck and that you’ll be able to sift through the mass quantity of electronic paper to find the few gems that you really need to know.
2. If you say you value your people as your highest organizational asset, but then hold them two or three hours after the end of their normal duty day because you want to have a meeting and can’t be bothered to be in the office more than one day during the week, well, you can pretty much forget about ever recovering your credibility. Time is arguably the most rare commodity we have and when you think your people don’t have anything better to do with their (alleged) personal time than wait around to play the fawning audience, you’ve stopped being a leader and started being just some guy with a really good parking spot. I’ll respect the office because it’s the right thing to do, but respecting the office leaves me plenty of room to consider you a pretty crummy human being.
3. People. A dear friend of mine pitched the idea of going to DC to wander amongst the cherry blossoms this weekend. It sounds like a fine idea in practice. It’s a rare enough thing for both the blossoms and the weather and a weekend to cooperate all at the same time. The fact is, as good as it sounded, all I could really think about was the vast sea of humanity who would be there doing the same thing. I like the idea of festivals, concerts, and events in general… but the people. Sigh. Thats another matter entirely. I’ve heard that we all have some kind of neurosis and this one seems to be mine. I’ve never mastered the fine art of being around large groups of people and hiding my disgust at how many of them are oblivious to everything and everyone outside whatever personal bubble their occupying. I can do it when I have to or with sufficient preparation, but a whole day spent elbow to elbow with the masses sounds more than slightly hellish. The mental energy it would take not to completely lose my shit would leave my exhausted for the better part of the next week. I’m told I can be quite engaging with individuals or even a group of people I know reasonably well, but I’d be well and truly hopeless schlepping around a Tidal Basin full of perfect strangers.
If you stick around long enough occasionally good things happen to good people. Most of the time that’s not the case, but just occasionally the universe gets one right. It’s nice to see someone finally get compensated for the level of responsibility they’ve already had. It’s a damned rare thing and I’m happy to see it.
The flip side of such recognition, however, is that when these good people move up and out you inevitably end up with a pile of their old job on your desk because someone still has to do it when they’re gone. Anyone who’s been in the game any length of time at all has been on both sides of the “workload balancing” equation. So it goes.
My advice at times like this is to remember that the day is only eight hours long no matter who’s trying to cram 12 hours of work into it. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed until the weekend arrives. A decade ago, this kind of thing would have made me nervous and jerky. Now I mostly just shrug and accept there are some things that will never rise to the top of the list of things to do – and even if that’s not technically ok, it’s just the way it is.
So let’s say you’re the boss. You’re going to be out of the office for a few days and you have to pick between your underlings to tag someone to be the “responsible adult” in your absence. There are any number of ways you can go about making the selection – by seniority, but lack of seniority, by drawing lots, or even by throwing a dart at a list of names. All are sort of a pot luck approach to section that all but guarantees someone who doesn’t want to be in charge ends up, albeit temporarily, making the decisions.
If I can offer up a pro tip to those of you who ever find yourself needing to designate your own temporary replacement, the guy not to pick is the one who has been eyeball deep on a single project for the last three weeks and who has no earthly idea what anyone else is doing, what their project status is, or really anything beyond how many emails have piled into their inbox since the last time they were at their desk. When you do that, all you’re really going to accomplish is to leave everyone even more confused than when they started the day.
Sometimes the vagaries of staffing and coverage mean you can’t avoid the unprepared leading the unwilling towards the unforeseen, but it’s not going to be what you might call a best practice. If history has taught me nothing it’s that I’ll gladly make decisions regardless of how ill-informed I happen to be on the subject. As always, in the absence of clear guidance, I will create my own… and that course of action has nothing if not a truly mixed bag of results.
Somewhere, somehow, someone is lurking around our building complex sucking down cheap liquor like it’s their job. No. Literally. Like it’s really their job. Most people might say that’s pure speculation, but I know it’s a fact. I know it because the facilities people blasted out an “all hands” nastygram informing us that in excess of 100 “miniature” bottles of Fireball (empty, of course) had been found making a mess of the local sewer lift pump station… which means the individual in question is hanging around in the can to get their morning eye opener or afternoon pick me up and then flushing the evidence.
As a tax payer I should probably be profoundly offended. As a professional I should be ashamed at the actions of someone who is nominally my colleague. But really all I really am is pissed off that this asshat has managed to sneak a little happiness in a bottle into the place and they haven’t been polite enough to share anything. That’s just rude, because God knows most days the sun isn’t even over the yard arm before I start feeling like it’s time for a cold one… or a warm one, depending on how the prick is smuggling in his contraband.