Monday, May 16, 2011

In and Out of Trouble

In January of 2010 I took a new job as a records room file clerk, working as a service contractor inside a large insurance office. I'd done that sort of work as a temp plenty of times, so I knew exactly what to expect: a dull but survivable job - survivable as long as you have internet access, that is. It was on such a job that I started this blog, and looking back at my archives, I'd estimate that 70-80% was written from the confines of a cube or file room somewhere. It is the sort of job that, if you keep up as work comes in, you will be rewarded with many, many hours of free time. If you keep up.

But it is also the kind of job where you can do almost nothing for an entire year and no one will be the wiser. Not many people understand Corporate Records and Retention- and why should they? It is dreadfully boring stuff after all. If you wanted to, you could spend all day on FaceBook and just hide your backlog in whatever nooks and recesses are available.  I have seen instances  (not at this job, thank Godzilla) where disgruntled clerks were simply throwing files away instead of archiving them.

Lately, I've been traveling to D.C. on a regular basis to help sort out a huge mess that was left behind by a clerk who had been  feeding critical documents to a pet goat, throwing them into a wormhole to another dimension or  using some other  multi-platform and untraceable filing technique. It has been a long and difficult project and last week I had a meeting with the highest-ranking Client IT Management there is. They agreed with my assessment of the situation.

I dutifully and thoughtfully prepared a meeting summary, along with a point-by-point identification of all the problem areas and a proposed solution  for each, and sent it to my contractor boss. I also copied his boss,the two members of the Client Team who had led the meeting and my local boss.

At this point, it is important to note that my contractor bosses have almost no idea what my job is or how to do it and that they have been questioning some of my dire assessments and predictions. How do I know that?, they like to getting external validation -and kudos- from  Client Global IT was huge for me.  I knew I was right all along- and now I had support from on high. It was a proud moment and one that I was sure was going to be recognized with a much-needed real promotion.

But this morning my contractor boss said that I was in hot water with Big Boss because I copied the Client on my report- the same report that was based on a meeting with the Clients I copied. There was nothing in my report that wasn't openly discussed in the meeting, yet my boss wanted me to exclude the Client - and our Boss- from any further emails. He said that Boss was upset because "now that [I] had called attention to these problems, we will have to fix them".

Seriously, he said that.

That is my fucking job, to find and fix problems. We are service contractors. We get paid to do that kind of stuff and I just happen to be good enough at it to have worked my way out of my dead-end cube and into some high-level planning. Before the recent Client meeting, I did not have enough info to draft a plan- the Client Globals gave me valuable insight and suggestions that made it possible to do so- but I wasn't supposed to point out the problems? They know already!

As we uncovered more and more problems, we laughed together in the 'this or cry' way that people forced into working together on a horrible job do.

Instead, I was supposed to simply say that we would have a solution in place within 30 days. Which isn't possible and I'm not going to tell the client that it is OK when it is not. I said as much to my boss. This has heated the water that I'm steeping in just a bit more, a touch warmer now.

Between my contractor Bosses and the Client Bosses, I get a lot of conflicting info, but I keep my observations absolutely consistent no matter who I may be speaking with. I am not going to tell one Boss one thing and another Boss another thing and hope they never compare notes and find out the lie...I refused to do that. I didn't get fired over it, though, and a good thing, that.

I do not know why, but since Friday, our records clerks have been quitting all over the country mostly leaving no replacements in place and years of untouched work to be sorted. No one at many of these offices has any software training and I happen to be the system admin for that today my Inbox is full of requests for me to travel to some cool places- Atlanta, D.C, Chicago...and some less thrilling ones like Milwaukee and New Jersey. Maybe Hawaii...long shot.

Big Boss Fwd: me a lot of 'help requests' he'd gotten from new and untrained staffers- can I help them, he asked. No mention of my report or my act of insubordination, which is a shame. I put my damn name on that report because I stand behind it and if my Boss thinks that is a problem , he needs to tell me directly- instead he has funny way of showing it- by asking me to fix yet more file room catastrophes.

So I'll be busy for awhile, traveling,  I hope.

My company has some good things too- they will pay for my MS IT Certification if I take it, for instance- and for now no one is giving me any flak for 'over-stepping' bounds. There is too much work to be done for them to risk it by pissing me off and they know it.

I almost hate admitting it, but that feels good.


Judy Bracher Carmichael said...

TOTALLY relate.

billy pilgrim said...

welcome to life in a cracker factory! it's like ronald reagan wrote the manuals.

we people in operations are not to speak to our clients in the company under any circumstances. we have to go through operations integration and let them speak to our clients. now that i'm older and ready to retire i call up the clients once a week just to say hi.



ah, great feeling having them by the short hairs ain't it?..

Allan said...

J- Bummer, isn't it?

BP- TOTALLY relate. Our corporate propaganda uses catch-words like 'communication' and 'integrity' without even knowing what they mean.

JS- Yeah, but it won't last. They are sinking and I won't have a job after that.

Craig D said...

I keep forgetting how jaw-dropping "corporate reality" is.

I had a very informal telephone interview and after much hemming and hawing,the interviewer basically showed his hand.

"What would you do if you knew how to solve a problem, but the higher-ups wouldn't listen and insisted you do it 'their way' instead?"

I told him I would employ the "maliciouscompliance" method. That is, I'd very cordially agree to "do it their way" and we'd keep close watch on whether or not things were moving in the right direction. If things work out they way they think it will - great! If not, then we'll have objective evidence to facilitate "buy in" for taking a different approach.

Yeesh! Guys, can we just forget the power games and GET THE JOB DONE?

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