Appearances matter more than reality

I feel the need to occasionally mention that I like my current job.  When I talk about work issues it’s usually to rant angrily about bad things – partly because I think they are important issues that are worth brining up and partly because it’s fun.  The experiences seem to be fairly universal as well, so everybody gets some catharsis out of it.  The point is, these stories are nearly always from past jobs.  My current roles is one of the best I’ve had, a year after starting a 3 month contract I’m still here, still enjoying it and still being treated well.
If there’s one weakness here it’s that, because it’s a government department, people aren’t paid that well.  As a contractor it seems on paper that I get about twice as much pay as everyone else (I’ve explained at length in previous posts why this isn’t accurate but that’s how it looks on paper.)  This manifests itself occasionally when the broader team I work with has any sort of group meeting that isn’t directly related to what I’m working on.  A decision was made that I shouldn’t attend things that aren’t directly related to my work because of the associated cost of me attending – they don’t want to pay me for things that aren’t my main job.
This is fine with me, fewer meetings are good and I’m always included in any social events.  But I found out the other day that not all departments work the same and not all contractors are as happy as me.  I think it’s universal in Australian government departments that the IT help desk is outsourced – it’s never staffed by permanent staff.  It’s certainly the case here and recently one of the help desk contractors came past my area when I was the only one there as everyone else was in a team meeting.  She asked where everyone was and I explained they were in a team meeting.
This touched a nerve with her and she started going on about how “this place” treats contractors as outsiders.  I decided to act empathetic and not point out that I was happier not being in the meeting.  Then she told me a story that I found truly disturbing.  The consultancy that operates the help desk used to run regular meeting where they provided free cake for attendees.  Someone in management decided this was a bad look because it gave the impression they were paying too much for the help desk services because the consultancy could afford to squander money on cake.
So the word comes down, the consultancy is not to provide cake any more.  The individual contractors decide “dumb attitude, but what the hell.”  They still want cake so they decide to put some of their own money together to buy cakes and bring them in for everybody.  This goes on for a while until somebody from management notices and says you’re not meant to be providing cake.  The contractors explain the situation and the manager says it doesn’t matter what is happening, it’s the appearance of what’s happening that’s important.
This is one attitude I really can’t stand and unfortunately it’s fairly widespread.  I don’t feel like I get it here but in previous workplaces I’ve had it crop up in truly bizarre ways.  In one case I was admonished for being away from my desk a lot.  Bearing in mind my job involves interacting with people in different areas of the business which by definition means I have to spend time away from my desk.  Some deskbound knucklehead couldn’t fit my behaviour into their narrow, fucked-up world view and so it was suggested I reduce my effectiveness simply to appease a moron.
On another occasion, a divisional manger happened to wander by my area when a few of us had the audacity to be talking and laughing.  This did not conform to his worldview and so he gave our manager a dressing down (apparently enjoying yourself at work is the same as stealing from the company).  Our manager in turn told us that we had to stop mucking about – it made us look bad.  I asked a few pertinent questions:
“Is there any issue with the quality of our work?”
“Is anything behind schedule?”
“Is anyone failing to make their performance targets?”
In short nothing was wrong.  Senior management would just prefer it if we never enjoyed ourselves while at work and our manager was too spineless to point out the idiocy inherent in this.  To be honest, this department was not a laugh a minute.  For this divisional manager to wander by at one of the rare moments people were actually engaged in animated conversation was really against the odds.  That actually made it worse – being punished for one of the rare light moments.  The idea that someone could actually want their staff to be unhappy is so stupid that I have difficulty processing it.  I can live with management who don’t want to make any effort to increase staff happiness but actively crushing positivity?
This pervasive attitude is why I can’t ever fully shake the feeling that something bad is about to happen, no matter how well things have been going up to that point.  Generating and maintaining happiness takes time and effort.  Crushing people’s spirit only requires a short sighted moron and can be done in a second.



Filed under Work

5 responses to “Appearances matter more than reality

  1. Sounds like something out of Orwell’s 1984, while also being quite superficial. You’d think they’d be more concerned with the work you’re being paid to do, rather than whether or not you were having fun.

  2. Welcome to the public circus!!! From what I’ve seen, it appears to be standard behaviour, whatever department you are in. You should think yourself lucky, though. You could work for Defense, A.T.O. or the Child Support Agency. From what I hear, they are extremely regimented and are populated by first class fuckwit type control freaks.

  3. Jason: yeah it’s truly horrible – a combination of the diabolocal and the banal

    gruntski: you may be right – I did a bit of time in the disability services division of Human Services, that was a bit freaky.

  4. Salamaat,
    i like your posts about work, because they are truly universal. I find myself nodding and laughing at the jokes; although i know (and have experienced) the incredible frustration of working with people who are just not on the same wave length (I could say dumf*ckwits but i am trying to be nice, so i didn’t 🙂 )

    anywho, great post as usual.

  5. You’re always nice Maliha 🙂

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