"What do you read, my lord?" "Words, words, words." So say Polonius and Hamlet, in one of the most-quoted plays of all time. Some things never change, O readers. Happy Why Do I Work Here Wednesday, on which I shall be discussing the nature of words, how they can mean both exactly what they say and something very different.
Anyone who's worked in the modern world is familiar with business platitudes, sayings which may once have been wise but are now simply tired and frustrating. One of my least favorites happens to be "It is what it is". What a delightful way to say "I can't help you" or "We can't change that" or "Shut up and stop whining" without the other person being able to take offense!
Today's platitude comes from a manager, the same manager I discussed a couple weeks ago, who wanted me to "strive for results...and not let the defined process get in the way". In other words, go around the rules for his benefit. Click here if you need a refresher course on Mr. Manager and his attitude that he and his needs are more important than the rules.
But that was then, and this is now. Mr. Manager, yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, sent me a contract with one of the many outside vendors our team uses for services, with the note "FYI - for your records". Now, it has never been part of my job to keep records of this sort. Our accounting department and the managers who hire the vendors do that. It's certainly possible that it could become a part of my job to keep those records, but no one, to this point, has ever asked it of me.
So I wrote back to Mr. Manager, asking, as politely as possible, if he thinks that keeping these records should be part of my job. Here is the most important sentence of his reply:
Just stop for a moment, O readers, and soak that in. "Your job is what you define it to be." What a beautiful sentiment. What a fabulous caption for a motivational poster. What a lovely chapter title for a self-help book.
In other words, what a crock of poo.
My job is not what I define it to be. My job is what other people define it to be. It's right in my fancy title, in the second word of it: "assistant". Nobody assists themselves. It's the same problem I've run into with our new talent-focused, goal-setting culture here at Glass Bathroom Bank, because the people writing the guidelines assume everybody's doing independent, self-guided, goal-oriented work. Yeah, not so much here. Thanks.
I also deal with the fact that a lot of other people around me believe this pretty little sentiment, and mostly those people define their jobs by saying, "Oh, I won't do that. I shouldn't be expected to do that. I wasn't hired to do that." The problem is, whatever that may happen to be, usually it's an annoying necessity to the smooth running of this office. And so my job is to go around and do a lot of that all day.
Let me also mention that Mr. Manager, after sending me this lovely statement about how my job is what I define it to be, loaded the rest of his email with a lot of heavy hints that I really should define my job to include this new duty, because it would be so convenient for him. In fairness, I don't think he realizes that his language can be taken that way. But when someone of a higher rank than me says that he is offering me this new duty for the chance to "educate yourself abut [sic] vendor contracts and in the process learn something new", what's the implication? That if I turn this down, I'm refusing an opportunity to learn and grow, which looks very bad for me.
Sometimes I wish that these managers could come and sit where I sit for a little while. That they could try, with only the roughest of on-the-job training about our infrastructure systems (which are constantly changing, and not for the better), to handle the everyday needs of over 100 employees and 12 managers. That they could see what it's like to fill out six copies of Form A to have it rejected and be told it ought to have been Form B, and do it all again on Form B, only to have Form B rejected and be told it ought to have been Form A after all. Sometimes I wish.
Does that mean I have a bad attitude? Maybe. Maybe I'm just tired of nine hours a day of the Red Queen's racetrack, where I have to run as fast as I can just to stay in the same place. Maybe I'm just tired of everybody's well-meaning advice, which always seems to presuppose that I have perfect control over my emotional reactions. Or maybe I'm just tired in general. I don't know.
Thanks for reading, assuming anybody made it this far. More fiction on Friday, I hope. Cheers.