Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On being a manager, or what to do when a staff member is doing her laundry at work

When I became head of the English department, the largest department in the high school where I taught, I was also put in charge of the smallest: Family Studies. These two women -- one in charge of fashion and parenting, the other in charge of food studies -- made up the most problematic, divisive, ridiculous excuse for a team I have ever encountered.

Taking on a leadership position, I had assumed that my responsibilities would lie in developing curriculum and guiding teachers to work together to make courses more consistent, especially in the way students were evaluated. Primarily in the English department, of course. Family Studies was presented to me as a self-contained unit that would basically require me to manage the budget and order supplies as needed.

Instead, Family Studies became the bane of my existence. One teacher would lie in wait for me, like a spider, watching for me to walk up the hallway and then spring out at me from her office door, accosting me with demands for ingredients and ink cartridges and a new oven. The other would stand in her classroom and wring her hands with anxiety: the broken sewing machines, the students who were safety hazards she wanted out of classes, the fact that her colleague could easily break the other washing machine doing her personal laundry.

Oh, yes. I had to deal with a teacher who would bring her personal laundry to school, who had broken a washing machine in the process, and who was refusing to stop doing her laundry in the one remaining machine.

But even my bizarre, albeit brief experience in management is nothing compared to the stories I hear from my husband and sister in their dealings with personnel. The following are my favourite quotes from disgruntled or confused employees.

1) After being fired: "So what am I supposed to do, just come in on Monday?" (This was followed up by a phone call to her former employer asking why her cheques had stopped coming.)

2) When asked to use the computer only for work: "But I don't have the Internet at home. When I am supposed to check my Facebook?" (This was followed by a repeated request to provide the employee with a laptop, with the explanation that she could then check her Facebook at home.)

3) When confronted with a sudden decrease in the quality of her work: "Well, I haven't had a vacation since Christmas! I need a break!" (This meeting took place in early February.)

4) When asked not to use her cell phone at work: "But this is the number I give out to people. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? Like my mother? Or a doctor's office?" (This employee was working at the front desk in a doctor's office, and her ringtone was that song "Watcha Say.")

5) When questioned about the lack of focus on work-related tasks: "We get the feeling that you want us to come into work at 9 o'clock, just work all day with a half-hour lunch break, and then go home at five." (Um, yeah. Isn't that what's called a job?)

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