04 January 2017

(literally, the worst job I’ve had)

Three weeks before I started, my new boss called and we discussed: hardware specs for video production, office working conditions, and my upcoming new hire orientation. During our talk I mentioned my use of a standing desk, something I adopted five years prior and wanted to continue in my new office. He balked at the expense, but I reassured him that a little ingenuity could turn any desk into a standing desk for next to nothing. My then current work space, a cubicle was reconfigured to raise two worktops—at no cost using a screwdriver—and in the past I used two wire shelves ($18 each, out of pocket) or copy paper boxes (free) to achieve OSHA standard levels of elevation. In a later email he stated the necessity for a doctor's note and I politely responded that as I am in good health have no upcoming appointments, it would be impossible to get one in the coming weeks. His email reply was that because of the red tape involved in getting a purchase order I needed to produce a note so that the organization could pay for a new desk:

One of my standing desks
“…Also, I am winking while I type this part. Your doctor has prescribed a standing desk for you right? If you could get your doctor to send a note explaining the importance of a standing desk. We can send this to our Administrative Operations Department that will be willing to change your desk situation out in your office. Remember, I'm winking this whole time, there is something in my eye. Please let me know your thoughts. Wink, Wink.”

This was the subtle way in which I could get an expensive piece of equipment…the only way. It made me uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of this subterfuge, so I dropped it. My plan was to create a safe workspace and bypass the—ballpark $300 expense—as I’d always done. My initial query was by no means meant to get myself a costly custom office.

In hindsight, this exchange presaged my experience at this new job.

There's a First Time for Everything

Never have I quit a job with no contingency plan. That career-long truth became fiction in March. Not only did I quit after a few months, I left the difficult job without having another lined up in its place. The prospect of blowing in the wind was simply more attractive than staying. :

By difficult, I don’t mean intellectually challenging, or a job so intricately complex that I needed further education to accomplish my duties, or even that intense physical labor was involved. Rather every task put to me was impossible to accomplish because of in-built bureaucracy, lack of equipment, and lack general support by my new manager. :

While nervous and uncertain about the future I regret nothing about quitting that job in state government. Guess what, neither do I regret taking it in the first place. It was a valuable learning experience. :

I Resigned on a Monday

That day followed a long weekend of introspection, forward-looking conversations with my supportive spouse—in order to decide whether to or not to quit. By that morning I was 90% sure I would resign, but 10% on the fence.

Upon entering the state office building at 7am, I opened my digital to-do list to organize the remainder of my week:

Things to do:
  • Item 1: Confirm that the software and hardware requested for me is on order…if not, place the order…if so, get an ETA date....

Ruminating on item 1 made it clear what item 2 should be...I had to resign. In nearly 90 days on the job, I had waited for confirmation of the order of hardware and software necessary for me to work. These same basic elements discussed three weeks before I started the job had not been addressed in months.

Instead of being productive in my office, in my department, with my team, I resorted to seeking out other individuals who I would eventually work with and assist them in their individual professional development needs.This I did in the guise of developing and testing my training materials for my actual job.

I closed the app and opened Microsoft Word 2007, wrote the full-page letter detailing my intention to quit and the top three reasons why (there were more, but any good communications student knows that over-writing dilutes the overall message).

disappointed camels
Looking at the situation like blades of straw—as in the first straw, compared to the last, compared to the one that broke the camel’s back.

The First Straw was, understandably, the dearth of technology. During my initial interview the panel gave one impression when the actual-factuals were completely different. Technically they didn’t lie about what tools were available to build online courses and instructional video. Instead they asked about my familiarity, comfort, and skill with a series of instructional design and multimedia development software. In my experience this interview question is meant to gauge an applicant’s abilities with said tools. You see, I jumped to the conclusion that Adobe Captivate, Creative Suite, Articulate Storyline, and even current versions of Microsoft Office suite were already on the premises. I jumped to the same conclusion about hardware, believing that I would be able to record audio scripts using a microphone then play back that audio and edit with the use of speakers on my computer. In each case I was wrong.

What was the job, you ask…

disappointment image by horrigans
To be clear, I applied and was hired to act as an instructional media developer for the training unit of a governmental organization. Secondarily, I’d also be the primary marketing manager for the group, and a professional development workshop facilitator; designing and conducting soft skills and technology training courses.

My role in the agency would touch or affect about 6500 state employees and social work graduate students as well.

Yet Another Straw

This actually made it to bullet-point number 2 of my official resignation. My initial reception to the agency was traumatic, but nothing compared to the advice that a couple professional peers gave me during that first week of my tenure. On day one I spent eight hours in orientation session led by my soon-to-be co-workers. Each individual or duo spoke for 30 minutes and handed out a folder with between 15 and 75 photocopied sheets of paper. They ‘explained’ X or Y policy and had we dozen (or so) orientees sign off that we received EACH PAGE. It was brutal. However, I got a brief phone call from my new manager and we discussed my first real workday. My unorthodox work schedule, 7am -3pm, was fine with him. He invited me to “come in and get situated,” on the following Monday.

On that day, day two, I entered the building early and waved my newly minted ID badge as I passed by the security desk on the way to the locked Human Resources annex, which housed my over-sized office. At exactly 7am my key card did not allow access to the locked darkened doorway. The security officers at the front door had neither key, code, nor password to allow me access. So, there I stood for fifteen minutes, in front of the dark double doors, waiting. A co-worker eventually let me in. Sitting in my office, I studied the full ream of papers that I got the previous week. Having no login password for the computer on the desk in front of me, this was the best thing I could do. There were literally 500 sheets!

The hours-long exercise made me fully aware of why this agency sought out someone with my abilities, undoubtedly a future project of mine would include developing online onboarding processes, with the help of those who facilitated the new hire orientation sessions. I made a mental note.

At 11 am, my boss called and asked how my morning was progressing, he said, “I emailed you a bunch of stuff to do to get started...have you seen it?” Again, having had zero human contact, exactly no internet access, and no idea even of my governmental email address, I did not get his message. AND he was utterly surprised that no one gave me the information I needed. This was four hours after I started my day.

I wondered who would be the person to give me that information after he hung up the phone. Perhaps, I thought, I should walk around and find out. In my self-guided tour of the 40-room office suite, I met three members of my new team—a funny, if loud, duo—the Human Resources director—a sweetly positive and personable middle-aged woman, and a few other skilled administrators who dealt with all Human Resources needs of our 6500 person constituency.

By days two and three I moved around the office in a show of initiative, and continued learning my policy packets. I also took a further move to introduce myself to other denizens of the 40+ offices in our high-ceilinged annex, noting the names and positions of my professional peers. I was curious to learn in which ways we overlap and how I—as the media developer—could help the assist them in achieving the mission of the agency. It felt great, this time of getting to know the folks.

Here’s the straw: Late on day four the IT guy came in and gave me a login to my computer AND my email address and login instructions. However, before that happened, I got an early-morning visit from a pair of concerned coworkers! Those two women issued me with either a warning or advice, even today I’m not sure which. The younger one began, “ ...you’re way too friendly…too visible.”

Her partner continued, “Since you’re on probation, you really should be careful not to be seen as socializing all the time with everyone.”

Apparently I needed to be in my office and working or at least give the appearance of working. In the brief exchange they made it clear that walking around and not looking busy was not an option for someone in this six-month probation. I remember at one point saying something like I’ve been hired to build online course and don’t even have access to this computer… the younger woman said I should tell my manager. I guess he did not mention to her that I already mentioned this to him.

So taken aback was I that I thanked them for the advice when they left. My stomach churned, I felt sick. After having a fairly open-door policy for all of my professional career, I pushed my office door closed and remained cloistered inside for the remainder of my tenure in the agency. Never before had I been chastised for or advised against being friendly to co-workers—made to feel bad about my attempts to build relationships at work. In fact at the job I left in favor of this government role, peers and managers routinely praised me for building relationships, building interdepartmental dialog, sharing knowledge within my own and in peripheral divisions.

disappointed girl

Day four might have been my last day—the last straw—had my sister not talked me down. At 11 am, I felt sick from the earlier exchange, and wondered what I was really doing there. Maybe my desire to grow professional development skills and help employees grow their skills was stupid. At the very least, it couldn’t be valued by these people. Behind my closed door, I wept while ruminating on the sad culture of this new place. Then I packed my bags, shut down the office computer, turned off the lights, and left. I called my sister, a federal government administrator, to tell her of the morning’s events. I shed a few tears as I walked toward my locked bike few blocks away and retold the morning’s exchange. She chuckled and told me to focus on the nature of the job, not the attitude of the workers, ‘if you really want to do this and you feel you can make a difference, try to stick it out…they may be trying to help or they might just be mean, jealous people…” as she spoke, my tears stopped, and I found myself walking—not toward my conveyance, but to a nearby market. There I hung up the phone, grabbed a bottled water, then made my way back to the workplace; where I shut my door and found a project on which to devote my time

The Final Straw 

disappointment defined
This was an email message sent to me by my manager—this was the second time that I was made to feel belittled via email by this guy—he responded to an intended innocent request to use his computer for two hours a week (since he was the only person in our annex who had access to the software that was still on order for me), saying that while it was a “creative” solution to the problem, I was being aggressive and he would not comply with the request. Aggressive!? I took that weekend following that un-responded-to note to decide whether I wanted to stick with a job that did not live up to its promise and then confront this man—again at a job that I now felt was a waste of my time—or just walk away

By the end of my first month, I had completed all of the tasks asked of me, and had created a series of (in-person) technology training courses for Microsoft Office Suite. I got the chance to practice these by volunteering to train individuals in other departments in the building. These were the one-on-one sessions that I used to test, tweak, and edit my course content. It was an incredibly instructive period. The feedback was valuable in helping me develop the three skill levels of training. I also developed my first 8-hour training workshop and was looking forward to conducting these in upcoming months. All I needed was approval or feedback from my boss. I got it eventually (by then it was too little, too late)

disappointing snack
Two and a half months in, the head of our agency decreed that all staff must learn to use the Learning Management System (LMS), and I was tasked with developing the 5-part online course and marketing it. The problem was that I still had no software to complete my job; zero software, zilch! The computer in my office was slow and unable to accommodate the technology needed to create and edit audio/video. Months earlier—before I started work in the agency, I took an hour to research and record the hardware and software specs, and then configure the exact computer system and send price quote requests to five government approved vendors. Allegedly, the software was en route but no one could tell me when it would be available. I was still waiting for and update as to whether anything was ordered.

There I was in month 2.5 with a concrete task, a mandate to proceed, and the ultimate roadblock to completion. I had no way to move forward.

My boss made it perfectly clear that, although I had the necessary software on my personal laptop I could not use it to create any media for my job. Nor could I use my spare headset microphone, or my own computer speakers.

Did I despair? I did not. Instead, I created a script, and storyboard, I created a style guide and sent all to the team of four involved in completing this huge project, for their approval. In a couple weeks all of these elements were approved, but then I had no way to proceed

Sitting in a giant office at work with nothing to do is not an option for me. It has never been. But with no software, feedback from my boss, no upcoming projects, and nothing to do, I had to remain onsite—in my office

Instead of choosing idleness or cat videos on YouTube, I reached out to the other departments that had been so helpful in assisting me to create my technology training courses. My pitch went something like ‘I know your team conducts regular trainings…have you thought about making a virtual training course available?’ Well, they had and they wanted my help.

Detail of a training module I created using free trial software and some of my own hardware.

I worked with my first client to make interactive versions of a couple mandatory policy trainings; converting static content into a script then storyboard, and then producing engaging, online interactive modules or videos. Eventually, I found a free 30-day download of Adobe Captivate, and snuck my headset microphone in to the office to record the approved courses for the clients. Yes, the program kept crashing, but saving often meant that the modules were eventually completed. These self-assigned projects came just around the time of my first day-long workshop, Effective Time Management; a course that was a raving success. Finally I was doing what I was hired for, if a bit ad hoc.

While these few projects were fulfilling, the lack of basic tools for the job, the bureaucracy roadblocks, and the lack of support by my team leader made it impossible to love the job; or even like it, really

On that March Monday morning, I resigned—giving my letter to the director and my manager. The following two weeks were productive, as I had a free copy of one necessary software application, and my contraband headset microphone.

Funny thing, I learned on my next-to-penultimate day of work that my manager had not even informed my team members of my leaving, nor had he forwarded my resignation letter to the appropriate person in Human Resources. It’s to be expected in a place like that.

(FYI: there were many more than 3 bullet points)
(disappointment images: StephenDepolo, JonathanNightingale ZBMA, horrigans, stefanos)