Skippedy-do

We spent our whole, entire day today at one of those workplace Town Hall sessions. I know you’re feeling sorry for me already. Thanks. It was pretty painful.

The managers were all trying to act like fun people. The executives talked about “visions of the future” (like so many sugar-plums) and re-evaluating our “core competencies” and briefed us on “strategic positioning”. (I don’t know what any of that means anymore, if I ever did)  There were a few group exercises. And the requisite motivational speaker who told us all how to be more effective leaders and better team-players.

Then because the Head Cheeses are always obligated to have some time for questions and answers, we had a few minutes for questions and answers — just before lunch … to discourage lingering. A handful of employees who didn’t know any better, asked some questions to which they got the party-line answers. Then we had lunch. Then we did more stuff in the afternoon which I barely remember because the room was extra hot and stuffy and smelly after lunch and I was nodding off.

For me, the whole day reinforced how very much I do not ever want to be a boss. If it was painful for me and my fellow employees, I can only imagine how it must be for those in charge trying desperately, in one day, to undo years of lethargy, apathy, antipathy, suspicion, cynicism and hostility.

It was sad.

So anyway, I have to be very careful at this point in my career to avoid any further success. One more rung on the ladder and I’ll be obligated to have staff. I hate staff.

I’ve had staff during assignments. Staff make your life a living hell. You have to make sure they have enough work to do, but not too much or they’ll freak out and have nervous collapses or go crying to the union or something.

 Then you have to make sure they’re doing the work they’re supposed to be doing and not spending their day updating their resumes. And you have to be responsible for all the work they do produce; all the work they fail to produce and all the work they totally mess up.

Staff are always whining about something. They’re always getting into “conflicts” with other staff that you have to resolve. They have personal problems and expect you to do something about them.

And no matter how nice you are or how accommodating and pleasant you try to be, your staff will hate you just because you’re the boss of them.

You really have to walk on eggshells when you have staff. I’m terrible at walking on eggshells. The whole analogy is terrible because walking on eggshells results in a lot of crunching and grinding and pulverizing of eggshells. How is that even supposed to mean something like “being really, really careful”? No matter how careful you are; if you walk on eggshells, you’re going to make a mess.

Just like being a boss. It’s a lose-lose proposition. You can be as careful as all get out about absolutely everything you say and do and think because it can all be taken the wrong way so easily by staff who really want to take things the wrong way. And they always do.

 You have to look like you’re working much harder than any of your staff or they’ll stop working altogether. You have to get in before them in the morning and stay until the last one is gone. And when you finally go home you can’t relax because your mind is full of your aggravating staff.

Okay, maybe it’s not always like that. Maybe some bosses have only great staff just like some people have only great bosses just like some people ride unicorns to work.

I just think the whole “manager-staff” set-up is a bad idea. I don’t think anyone really likes being a boss and for sure, no one really likes being staff. Being staff is still better than being a boss — except for that whole money thing and that whole being bossed around thing. The whole thing, however, sucks.

But, as Red Forman once said, “That’s why they call it work. Work is not about fun; it’s about work! If it wasn’t work, they’d call it ‘Super wonderful crazy fun time,’ or ‘Skippedy-do!”

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30 responses to “Skippedy-do

  1. It is tricky, but someone has to be in charge. It’s certainly better than “rule by committee,” which you could also do a whole post about.
    You will probably never be a boss because you are too intelligent. From personal experience, it seems that to be a boss you have to be pretty freaking stupid.

  2. I’ve been a supervisor a couple times in my career, and you described exactly how I felt. To me, it wasn’t worth the little extra money I was paid. I’d rather just be responsible for my own output, because at least my parents taught me, mostly by example, dedication to doing a good job and not calling out sick all the time. And my bosses have shown their appreciation for that, both verbally and financially, even without me having to ask for a raise. Unfortunately, like you hinted at, that also makes them think you’d make a great supervisor, when what I might wind up really doing is smacking some people silly 🙂

  3. I guess I haven’t been in the PS long enough to be cynical about the town hall meetings.

    I find it hard though, because a lot of times they say they will do things and not do them.

    If (when?) I become a boss that’s something I want to avoid, saying stuff and never following through.

  4. You overlook entirely the sort of nerds who usually become bosses. With rare exceptions they are ass sucking toadies who can think of nothing better in life than getting some people behind/below them to repeat the process.
    They grovel and kiss to get a little authority which they actually love. Then they repeat, and up the ladder of success they climb.
    As proof of this theory I ask you to consider the last time you actually found a boss who thought up a better way to do something and then implemented it.
    Improvements almost always come from the workers and are usually stifled by the bosses till it is obvious to everyone that there is an actual improvement to be had.
    Lastly, no one should care about a job enough to have it interfere in any way with their off duty time.
    It’s just a way to make money, not your life.

  5. Oh don’t get me started. I loathe bureaucracy-speak with the white-hot hatred of a thousand suns. Or something. And nowhere is it more evident than Town Hall or strategic planning meetings.

    Can management not talk in real live English? Instead of ‘stakeholders’ (which, to me, suggests a vampire hunter’s assistant), can they not say ‘clients’ or ‘interested parties’? Instead of ‘leverage the existing knowledge base’, could they not say, ‘use data we already have to do new things’? But the worst of my disdain is reserved for ‘core competencies’. To be competent, one must be adequate. I don’t know about you, but I’m skilled at what I do, not merely competent. Would you rather have your appendix removed by a competent doctor or a skilled one? I think we should be saying ‘skills’ or even ‘skill sets’ (although that’s also veering into manager speak) not ‘core competencies’.

    But I digress. A year or so ago, I was told that I would not be considered for the position of the manager of our little subsection when it became open for filling — this despite acting as manager on and off for about 18 months over four years. At first I was very disappointed, but now — now I see I dodged a bullet. I’m quite happy as a worker bee, much less stress.

  6. “You have to get in before them in the morning and stay until the last one is gone.”

    Yeah I have only witnessed a few bosses doing this. Most of the time they saunter in when the feel like it and take 1-2 hour liquid lunches.

    Being the boss is great because your hours are almost entirely up to you and you don’t have to ask 3 or 4 people if you can leave early.

  7. I guess I just lucked out.

    When I see the frustration of the guys on staff dealing with the day-to-day mickey mouse administrivia, I’m glad I left when I did.

    Both times I was foolish enough to put in for the manager job, I was thankful afterward that someone else got the job.

    The only time I was ever a “boss” of something, I had a great “staff.” Of course, it helped that they were all contractors with a very specific project to work on and little of the in-house mickey mouse administrivia to impede their work.

    And now I’m the contractor with a very specific project to work on and little of the in-house mickey mouse administrivia.

  8. Geewits – Well, thanks but you may be right. No one in their right mind would want to be a boss. And committees are definitely not the way to go either.

    Skye – It’s awful isn’t it? And then your paycheque, with the increased tax bracket ends up just being a few dollars more every week and it’s soooooo not worth the aggro.

    Justin – I think Town Halls meetings are organized precisely because nothing is being done and employees are starting to feel like their hands are tied at every juncture, so these big sessions are supposed to give us a glimmer of hope. I hope you never get cynical about your job.

    Jodes – He does have his moments, doesn’t he?

    Dave – In my fantasy world, work IS skippedy-do. A place where you enjoy going to challenge yourself, contribute to something of interest or importance, where people are on the same wavelength and while they apply themselves wholly to their tasks and do them to the best of their ability, also realize that their job isn’t the most important one in the world and don’t take themselves too seriously. A workplace where everyone is valued for their particular skill; where you’re excited to get to work every morning. Crazy, eh?

    Alison – Yes, you should thank your lucky stars. I wrote this post last night just before I read your post where you threaten to do someone harm or something if you ever heard the words “core competencies” again. I kept my fingers crossed that you would skip today’s post. Oh well. Too late.

    Pauline – True. Most bosses do this. I was just saying if you don’t want your staff to be even more disgruntled and complain about you, you’d be there all the time. And, no – being a boss sucks…why do you think they drink so much?

    Mike – Yes, it seems you’ve been lucky all around in your career from what you say here and from what you’ve said before on job-related stuff. It’s good to hear it’s not a mess everywhere.

  9. I once applied for a management job with the company I was working for, just four hours away.
    The only reason I applied for it is because I thought it was expected of me.
    About halfway through the four-hour drive for the interview, I decided that I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. But instead of turning around and going home, I went through with the interview.
    I was told it was between me and one other person for the job. The next day, the manager who interviewed me (and who I knew previously) called to say the other person had gotten it. But he mentioned that he thought I hadn’t given it my all, and I fessed up to my highway epiphany.
    From that day on, I never applied for anything because I thought it was expected. Even then, I was offered the job running my department on at least two separate occasions, and declined, being blunt with management that I didn’t want the hassles, and was quite happy being Worker Bee Bob.
    I still don’t regret it.

  10. 1. I had staff once and almost lost my leg.
    2. Outside the Box, is now the Box.
    3. It’s work, they have to pay us just to show up and at times, that is the best you can hope from people…to show up.

  11. I think you need some hobbies besides worrying about your teen. That is where people can arrive devoted to doing their best, looking forward to another day, Eager to work together for a common goal.
    Work equals being paid to do the shit someone else doesn’t want to do. End of definition.
    If you imbue it with any more value than what shows up on your pay check then you are falling fro the bosses line about loyalty, caring etc.
    Take the money and run to a place you can actually contribute in a meaningful way.

  12. My heart goes out to you, XUP, because you’re in the business world. However, in my line of work (social services/activism) those kinds of meetings are hilarious fun as we try to get work done but end up fooling around a lot. I think I’m blessed to have such amazing co-workers and not to mention the whole harm reduction network across Canada.

    So, you should just become a social worker and be happy :-).

  13. Bob – It’s a good realization to come to early on. Either that or you have to try being a boss for a little while to realize that you don’t want to do it. The job stays in its nice 9-5 cage.

    Cedar – You should really think about moonlighting as a stand up comic. So many one-liners, so few outlets.

    Dave – If my hobbies involved other people, I wouldn’t look forward to them.

    Junkie Monkey – (Have you seen Dr. Monkey, btw? He might be able to help. lol) Thanks for your concern and when I retire I could see myself working part-time in the social services type field. But I have a child to put through university and I like the idea of having a pension to see me through my old age. I don’t know if the trade-off of not being delighted to go to work every day is worth it, but it seems to be what I have to do right now.

  14. This is perfect. If you need some advice on how not to achieve further success, you should take my class, “how to do just enough to keep your job and get people to stop talking to you.” It’s a four part course. At the end you get a certificate and a voo doo doll for your desk. When people walk into my office, I pet mine and say, “do you feel that?” I haven’t been asked to do anything other than my job in years. If it weren’t for my paychecks, I wouldn’t even know if we were still in business.

  15. It’s OK XUP, I didn’t threaten to do anyone harm if I heard ‘core competencies’ again, I only said that I might need a puke bucket, or, as it might be termed at work, a ‘stomach contents containment paradigm’.

  16. I’d make a great dictator, but a poor boss. I’m in high tech, and managers have little influence – they get their direction from their boss, then have to try to sell it to their workers. If the ultimate decision maker is on the wrong track, they just get hassled from all sides – their workers know the idea is stupid so won’t do it effectively, and they’re not getting the magical desired results, so their boss is upset.

    Plus, I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from managers at 9 p.m. on a Saturday. I like having a life outside of work.

  17. Mayopie – Sign me up, rich, voodoo, inspirational dad! I strive to make the next few rungs of the corporate ladder completely inaccessible to me. (It’s kind of a mantra of mine even)

    Alison – Oh ya…puke bucket. I have one of those under my desk. They tell me it’s for recycling, but I know better.

    Lebowski – Shut up, you! That’s so not true. I would be a terrible leader. Terrible! I’m not even a team player. I have no strategic direction and my competencies are way off core.

    Glen – See you Monday morning, sir.

    Colette – Of course! There’s something I completely forgot to mention – the fact that no matter how managerial you get, you always have someone bigger and nastier to answer to. So you’re like in a vice with the shit piling on you from on top and threatening to drown you from below.

  18. @alison

    “I loathe bureaucracy-speak with the white-hot hatred of a thousand suns.”

    That’s about the most apt description I’ve ever read!

    @XUP

    I’m the same way. I’ve gotten about as far as I care to in my career at the Widget Factory.

    Any further advancement would require me to end up in Management…and I’d have to become one of ….THEM.

    Then I’ll have to start talking in acronyms. Or using bullshit words like “Action Orientation” and “Enterprise solutions”. And then honestly BELIEVING in that shit, and trying to get everyone to believe it with me too.

    No…a frontal lobotomy with a sharp pencil up the nose would be more fun.

    In fact, I’ve been offered positions like that. And I’ve turned them down. And I dont’ regret it one second.

  19. LOL! Great post XUP! And you have nailed the staff thing pretty accurately!
    I’m a manager with staff and by and large, we get along fine (although I’m still looking for one of those baby-cage-out-the-window thingies for a couple of them).
    It is important however, to distinguish between senior managers and middle managers (like me!). We in the EX minus 1 or 2 range still spend some time doing actual “work” and not always strategically blue-skying about paths forward in consultation with our stakeholders…
    @ Alison: “’stakeholders’ (which, to me, suggests a vampire hunter’s assistant)” – hilarious! I’m going to use that in a meeting sometime!

  20. I’m at about the same level as Trashy and am fighting tooth and nail to stay there. For the most part my “staff” are pretty good but if I had any more I’d be totally outnumbered, and wouldn’t be able to select them all personally. That’s when things go wrong.

    I’ve always wondered about the intelligence of people who climb the government ladder, since the reward for doing a good job seems to be getting saddled with a lot of administrative crap, and then the reward for doing that is more of the same.

  21. I’ve been a “boss” or supervisor a few times and actually enjoyed it – for about a week.
    The worst part was having my bosses breathing down my neck and interfering and making unreasonable demands. Now, I love having no other responsibility execpt my own job. I seem to be a much happier person for that.

  22. Friar – Alison DOES have a way with words, doesn’t she? I suspect though that the bosses don’t actually believe all that crap they spout either – otherwise they’d be more convincing. I think THEIR bosses just make them say it.

    Trashy – Middle managers have the worst job, I think. They’re trying to get their actual work done, but keep having to go to those blue-skying meetings and events and have to spend so much time sucking up the crap from above and dealing with the crap from below. That’s why middle managers can be seen at 7:00 am in the dark standing at bus stops checking their blackberries.

    Lester – You get to select your staff, personally? I guess you don’t work for government then? I can see how that would make a difference.

    Violetsky – Ya, it would be great being your own boss and your own staff all the time. Of course there are drawbacks to being self-employed, too, but still…

  23. Unfortunately, bosses are usually poster children for the Peter Principle: “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.”

  24. The correct term for you is “individual contributor.” Takes one to know one.

    I hated every minute of being a boss, especially when my reports would CRY. At work. To me.

    Now I only have one person who cries in my cubicle and I have just come to expect it of her. At least I don’t have to rate her performance.

    One good thing about bureaucrat speak: if you master it when writing your performance review documents, you sound really awesome and get bigger raises and faster promotions!

  25. I still have a job with a boss, I just managed to move myself back down the ladder to a lowly position and am in a place where I can ignore him and do my job with little interaction. Of course, I miss out on getting the inner gossip of stories of change and doom within the organization – but that not knowing makes me calmer, too.

  26. Jazz – I suspect a lot of people end up being bosses – especially in government – because nobody wanted to have them as employees. Spending your days trying to keep your head above water has to make you crazy. It’s the only explanation for the endless stream of nuts I’ve worked for.

    Amy – Oh, I can do the bureaucrat speak – no worries there. My performance reports, resumes and cover letters are things of beauty.

    Violetky – That’s what blogs are for – to keep up with some gossip somewhere. It’s like your virtual watercooler!