1. The two weeks of Christmas. I was sitting in a meeting this week where the great and the good were calling for all manner of things to happen in the next two weeks. It’s cute when they’re optimistic like that. Experience tells me that even the most dedicated senior leader is going to find it hard to get jack-all done when 75% of his or her workforce is sitting snug in their homes or on the road for the week before and after Christmas. It’s good to be ambitious. It’s good to have goals. It’s also important to know your limitations, especially when you’re working with a skeleton crew just barely large enough to keep the lights on. Reason 7,471 I have no interest in bossing ever again.
2. Not knowing when to STFU. There is a time and a place for raising new topics or for asking every question. When the guy sitting at the head of the table is trying to close things out and the meeting has already run twenty minutes past its scheduled ending, though, is neither the time nor the place. That’s when you should have been a bureaucrat long enough to know that it’s time to sit there and shut the fuck up.
3. Emergency slide flipping. If there’s anything worse than being stuck in your own meeting, it’s being unceremoniously suck into someone else’s meeting because their computer crapped out and getting it fixed takes days. Look, a) It’s not my program; b) I actually have my own work to do; and c) If we keep finding work arounds to the shit tech support we get it will never have a reason to improve. Being a slide clicker on your own material is bad enough, but the number of times I’ve been yanked away from whatever it was I was doing to flip slides for someone else is astounding. It’s like no one in this place has heard of opportunity cost or return on investment. There are days when I’m entirely convinced I’m the best paid clerk/typist in the whole damned country.
When I started in the current gig way back in ye olde 2010, there were 8 people doing the job in my little corner of Uncle’s vast universe. I won’t tell you that we were always busy, but we had our moments of mayhem and chaos even when all hands were on deck. That number ebbed and flowed – up one, down one – over time, but was remarkably steady until about six months ago when people started racing for the exits. From there, it’s been a foot race to get out of Dodge.
By this time next week, the number of the counting will be reduced to three. By all outward appearances, we’re just going to reallocate the workload and drive on as usual. That strategy might be ok when you drop from 8 to 7, but by the time you go to three there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep up. You reach a point where doing more with less isn’t just impossible, but it becomes detrimental to an office. It reminds me of an vintage Dilbert strip where Pointy Haired Boss tells Dilbert to pick up someone’s functions. Dilbert’s response? “I have infinite capacity to do more work as long as you don’t mind that my quality approaches zero.” I wish I could tell you that was farce, but it bears too much resemblance to reality. With every position left vacant, the quality of the work is diminished. Getting the job done just to that “good enough” standard is something that makes me just a little bit crazy.
I’ve worked in places that were more toxic, but the older I get the less tolerance I seem to have for the asshattery of it all. The only reason I’ve let it ride as long as I have is I happen to enjoy the particular piece of geography we occupy. I supposed even that’s not really enough to hold me if a change needs to come. As much as I don’t want to dive back into the land of the three hours commute, it’s time, past time, to put all the options on the table.
Two days after calling the vast bulk of the Department of Defense workforce back from our legislatively imposed furlough in the dead of night, some unmitigated asshat at echelons above reality decided it was a good time to launch a “command climate survey.” For those who don’t speak bureaucrat, these surveys are conducted a couple of times a year and are supposedly designed to gage employees feelings about leadership, their work environment, colleagues, managers, and get a general sense of the temperature of the organization. At the best of times I’ve always thought these surveys are of questionable value. A week after being told by my political masters that I’m nonessential, well, my immediate response was a stream of under my breath swearing and a resounding facepalm.
After six days of furlough this summer, four days of furlough last week, a sequester that means reductions in defense personnel are matter of when and not if, and a political class that’s bound and determined to undermine the long term stability of the nation, you really want to know how I feel about my job? You have absolutely got to be shitting me.
Morale? In the crapper. Opportunities for advancement? Nonexistent. Faith in our leaders? I won’t even dignify that one with a response. Work area has sufficient light? Well, at least you’ll get good marks on that one. They’ve managed to keep the electricity flowing to the building. I suppose under the circumstances, that’s a milestone achievement.
Walk around the building and you’ll learn all you need to know about the “climate.” We’re frustrated and we’re angry. We’re exhausted from being loyal pawns in some half assed urination contest… and we’re more than a little sad to see the strength of the nation being pissed away for no purpose other than the misguided self-aggrandizement of those we elected to lead.
If they’re dumb enough to asked how I feel, I’m just hostile enough these days to tell them how it is. Now they know. Now you know too.
Everyone likes to feel like they are an important part of what’s going on around them. Even though most people wouldn’t be missed much if they spun off into oblivion, organizations everywhere help mollify their workforce by engaging in the ridiculous pantomime of holding “town hall” meetings where everyone troops into the auditorium and tries not to look too bored as executives click through several dozen slides that someone made for them. Then they open the floor for a handful of delusory questions, give the shiny happy answer, and close the meeting because 99 times out of 100 no one in the room wants to ask what’s really on their mind. Most of us leave with no more information than we had when we showed up, but at least marched an hour or two closer to the end of the day. That’s a mercy at least.
Of course it’s only a small mercy if it’s not a two hour town hall scheduled to start an hour before most of your employees are supposed to be heading home. There’s also a good chance that if it’s the third “mandatory” meeting in the last four weeks to cover the same general set of topics and it’s just being presented by a different talking head, it could be overkill. As good an idea as these meetings were when they were held by our sainted forefathers in New England, they’ve lost a little of their zip. Maybe it’s time to get out the ol’ thinking cap and come up with a better way to engage the people.
Of course if you’re not actually looking for input from anyone, then feel free to disregard this idea in its entirety.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.