Work – a few reflections on the first week back.

This is not a moaning post. I say that for my benefit. Setting out the rules. Trying to corral thoughts and shape meanings direction.

I am very tired. I underestimated the energy that returning would require. I started the week on a high – desperate to get back into the maelstrom. I whimpered to a bit of a stop yesterday with a sickness virus (which my Mother and Father and Baby now have). Today I am drained of energy.

Nothing at work has gone badly. It was good to see colleagues. I felt exhilaration that by Wednesday my contributions at the BIM (Big Important Meeting – the one upon which the future of the organisation appears to rest) were sharp and were adopted. I have begun to put together the changes which have occurred in my absence – I have begun to process the problems and to develop solutions. I look forward to more meetings and to doing.

So, what is different? Because something is. And I suspect that a post like this would not exist if there were not a “but” just lingering there in the background…

The “but”… Now… Ahh… I sense a bit of dissonance between pre-burnout me and new me. I sense a detachment that didn’t previously exist. And there is the tiredness. And a new sensitivity to previously unconsidered personal limits. A certain confusion as to what really matters to me.

And the truth is that what does matter to me now has shifted slightly. I never have been a one for status and formal position – though latterly I know that I was beginning to be seduced. I have decisions to make about how I position myself in the organisation. About whether (and this is shocking to me even now) I reduce my hours (shock horror though no big decisions are being made just yet).

I have also been a bit shocked that the organisation I left 13 weeks ago appears to have lurched a little further down. Two completely unconnected individuals ended up crying (yes, really crying, real tears) in response to my gentle how are you? People whom I previously assumed were robust and would survive regardless – are off sick. Principle IT folk will shortly finish their contracts and will be gone. An already depleted band (due to restructuring, redundancies and early retirements etc) will face reduction again. There are a few maternity leaves amongst the gaps – absolutely wonderful for them, though admittedly maybe not so wonderful for those left behind – particularly when the skill gap is one that will be difficult to fill.

And that is just the essential backroom folk – the ones who ensure the front-line are able to continue working and that the infrastructure which supports field staff (and which I am certain that field staff are not even aware of needing) remains robust enough to support them.

If you turn to look at the staff who remain in the field – well, the low morale, the stress, the heavy workloads and build up of backlogs, the confusion and the disgruntlement regarding organisational change, the anger over pay freezes, the lack of trust or confidence in management (at any level) – all suggests a bit of a powder keg waiting to blow – or worse, a series of major mistakes waiting to happen.

I have always maintained that workload is manageable even in this dark period – but that management of that workload must change. The difficulty? That change takes time and that resistance to changing the ways of an organisational lifetime runs deep.

Add to that the implacable denial and refusal to recognise that public sector cuts are here to stay – that there is no general political will to reverse them and that the Coalition Government agenda on the need for cuts has largely been accepted as a “given” – and you have a recipe for very ugly resentful and angry Public Sector workforce.


My own skills are largely the bizarre ability to pour oil on troubled waters. To comfort and reassure beleaguered employees. To find the third way – or previously un-thought of solution. To mope up interpersonal mess. In other words, I oft times practice the dark arts – spinning and schmoozing and manipulating. None of which sounds pretty or reflects well upon me – but I do try to stick to an honest line and to protect people as best I can. I have standards honest.

Given all that though, maybe it is obvious that I might be under a fair bit of pressure attempting to grease the wheels…

I started by saying that this wasn’t a moaning post. But I wasn’t entirely sure what type of post it actually was. Now I see it was a personal taking stock post.  Self-indulgent and boring for any reader – so apologies to those who’ve made it to the end…

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12 thoughts on “Work – a few reflections on the first week back.

  1. It is Fly.
    I know only too well that the Public Sector has many “worthy” causes to fight and that money is finite – political realities mean that there will be no miraculous pot of cash to ease burdens anywhere, regardless of how loudly the trader unions (and I am a trade unionist) squeal. I also accept that there have been “inefficiencies” and that new ways of working are required. But too often these “new ways” are a way of working around real lack of staff and result ultimately in a reduction in service which the Public has grown to expect and which employees has grown to expect they deliver. Or they result in private (and a too often inefficient) companies coming in to asset strip the profitable bits.
    The worry is not just for my sector – but for all public bodies at the moment. And especially for those bodies which deliver to the weakest and poorest in our society.

  2. Most of my working life was spent in the public sector and even then (I left 14 years ago) things were getting harder as departments were slimmed down and staff were winnowed out. From what you say I'm surprised the public sector is still able to function at all, let alone as well as it still manages to do in many areas.

    This “taking personal stock” post was worth writing and may be very useful to you in the future as you rethink your goals and priorities. Our 40 yr-old daughter is a solicitor for a commercial firm and after a lot of thought she has reduced her hours to four days a week, as she felt her previous workload was unfair on her family and left her constantly tired and irritable.

  3. No wonder you're tired. I think the first week is the worst and then you'll get used to it again and it won't take such a toll.

    Sounds a tricky period.

  4. How frustrating to be working for an organisation that has such a worthwhile goal but so little resources with which to accomplish it… No wonder morale is low and people's personal resources are being exhausted left, right and centre! All the more reason why you are wise to take note of that “dissonance between pre-burnout me and new me”. Detachment is good. Sensitivity to previously unconsidered personal limits is crucial. Considering what really matters to you is also vital. This is your life, after all. I sense you are really, really good at your job, and consequently have the potential to be pushed to the very limits of your physical and mental resources on a regular basis (and because you're a conscientious person, up until now you have pushed yourself, too). All power to you for taking a step back and hammering out your own terms for this new phase of your working life.

    GOOD LUCK.

  5. Thank you all…
    I have enjoyed my work in the past and tried to perform to the best of my ability – which is probably why the last 12 weeks have been such a revelation…
    I do think we all need to remind ourselves on a fairly regular basis just how low we can get when we forget to include a little balance in our lives…
    A conversation with my wonderful work colleague on Wed night also highlighted the need to pace ourselves. She referred to the hare and the tortoise…slow and steady instead of burn and crash…I need to learn not to do so much sprinting!!

  6. Ironically a post which you said would be boring for any reader actually held me riveted until the last word had been soaked up.

    There are no easy answers, of course. The world economy is in a mess. This creates problems for the poorest and disadvantaged in society and increases those categories and the numbers in them. Our economic growth has been predicated on unrealistic expectations and corrupt financial practices. So organisations such as yours have more pieces to pick up. If the organisation gets things wrong then the public will bay for blood. So more safeguards are put in place requiring more work. I could go on and on and on.

    One problem is that there is little sympathy for the public sector (apart from, perhaps, nurses and the like) amongst the rest of the population because it is seen as over-staffed by people on safeguarded salaries with safeguarded pensions. Each time the public sector cries out for sympathy with industrial action the sympathy amongst the non-public sector population diminishes.

    There are no easy answers. There may not be any workable answers. There may not eventually even be answers at all.

    Until, that is, something cataclysmic happens in society. Frighteningly I think we are nearer to that happening than we have ever been before during my lifetime.

    Cheery bugger am I not this (New Zealand) bright and sunny morning. Now I'm off to play croquet and forget the cares of the world!

  7. Definitely worth reading.

    You're event need for a break makes complete sense given the nature of role at work. It's hard to give your own issues the attention they deserve when that's what you do for a living…the painter's house is never painted.

    It's also interesting to me because I don't have any experiences in these types of organizations…public or private. I've never worked for a company that had more than 15 employees…and everybody's had their own slab to hustle.

    If smoothing things out is one of your duties it sounds like you've got a big hairy job. I'm certain you can handle it but, hopefully, you'll be able to balance it and your sanity (and your blogging…blogging, sanity, then work). I'm confident you can.

  8. It certainly is a mess, GB. And if it helps e.f., the large organisation is a complicated sclerotic beast. Each office having its own personality. like the beast has legs and arms which want to move on their own – the head planning but failing to control – the heart beating away trying to do good against all odds.
    Fact is – recessions increase my organisation*s “business” (you know that GB) – but recessions mean fewer resources with which to handle increasing “business”.
    There are changes that could be made – but significantly you need to convince employees that the changes are for the good of our clients. The changes are initially for the good of the health of staff – but without healthy resilient staff there will be no service to provide and clients will be failed. That is just a bit of the PR exercise which needs to be squared.
    And yes, the Public v Private debate sure has a way to go… because the Conservative Party and the Daily Mail and News International et al have sure managed to schew facts in relation to “gold-plated pensions” and the “deserving poor” etc. So much so that the public servant is made to feel guilty that they serve in such pitiful conditions, that they serve the people they do and that they draw any salary at all. My wage is much much poorer than any of my peers who decided to go into corporate or commercial law practices or banking or…I am not complaining, this was my choice. And the average Public Sector pension is approx £5000 per annum – certainly not a fortune. Why are people not turning to challenge private organisations which make astounding profits but do so on the backs of poverty wages? Poverty wages which the government supplement by paying welfare benefits (tax credits etc) to low earners? That is what makes me truly angry – the fact that we taxpayers supplement global companies, enabling them to get away with paying poverty money to their most vulnerable staff. Those same companies who are removing entitlement to membership of a final salary pension scheme from their employees – and covering their shame by turning the argument on its head – i.e. by encouraging their employees to feel nothing but fury and resentment that the Public Sector employee has something that they no longer have. It is truly hideous that people fall for this – that they would rather drag fellow workers down to the levels which their corrupt employers have dragged them, than to concentrate their attention upon those same employers who are responsible for their miserable conditions? Why are they not arguing themselves up?
    I've read and re-read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Why do I sound surprised I wonder.
    E.f. I am not stopping this blogging… you might be sorry you encouraged me!!

  9. Not boring at all extremely relevant.
    I have worked in both the private and public sector.
    I think there is a problem with organisations in that they take on a life of their own and are resistant to change – they wish to reproduce themselves endlessly because that is what you do.
    However why does “change” always have to mean downsizing. Why can't “change” mean greater democratisation, giving more people more creative work AND key point – less process.
    What drove me mad in my last few years at work was the obsession with process, with tick box procedures that had virtually no merit.
    Good luck with next week Yvonne and hang onto your good newfound detachment. x
    PS: like the new look

  10. I'm reading Alain de Botton's book on work – The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work http://www.alaindebotton.com/work/
    and it's absolutely fascinating.

    “The book amounts to a celebration and investigation of an activity as central to a good life as love – but which we often find remarkably hard to reflect on properly. As Alain points out, most of us are still working at jobs chosen for us by our sixteen-year-old selves. Here is the perfect guide to the vicious anxieties and enticing hopes thrown up by our journey through the working world.”

  11. I have just ordered the book Sarah. I have a lot of sympathy with de Botton's outpourings and the book does sound very relevant and very interesting. Thanks. (Today is one of my 'phased working days'…)

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