A shoulder shrug

As I indicated in the last post, my current paid work is in direct service delivery. I am at the very bottom of the pecking (and pay) order in my program. At work, I am always doing things ‘wrong’. I do not set out to make mistakes, but I have started just shrugging my shoulders at the sound of being summoned to be told off by those in higher paid positions. This is probably more helpful than the smug-superiority I expressed the other week.

The higher paid workers seem so anxious. For the first few weeks, I thought it was because I had not worked out what I was supposed to do and I was making their work-life unpredictable. I set out to pin down what ‘should’ happen and where things ‘should’ be. Direct service delivery is always going to be unpredictable, but I thought I could contribute to more being known so less would have to be thought about.

However, I came to realise that different people (and the same person at different moments) had contradicting ideas as to how things ‘should’ happen and what I ‘should’ do. My superiors want things to happen seamlessly and in their preferred style. Particularly strange seems to be their yearning for everything to be negotiated face-to-face: “I did not want to write it down, I wanted to tell you when I got a chance. No, do not write it down for the next person. You tell her.” Furthermore, the most strong opinions were often expressed on issues that seemed to be of least significance to their work role. Maybe I am not good at gauging what is important?

Here is an example. The frustration expressed at my failure to do the ‘right’ thing in this situation actually makes more sense to me than many other moments.

One worker asked me to make a sign and, so it would stand out, put some red around it. I made a red border for the sign. I was emailed, with my line manager CCed, and told that I had not done what was asked of me. I tried again, but with less text and a red border around the actual words. I sent a photograph through to this worker (and my line manager) to find out if any further changes were required, as they usually work in a different building. When I was next at work, the worker took down the sign and sighed that she may as well do it herself as it would be faster. On the sign being reattached to the door I realised out that she did not want red AROUND the letters, but rather for the red texta to be traced over the black printed letters.

“I am only here for the clients.” seems to be a common self-talk mantra the workers use to get through exhausting weeks. When they say this, I used to feel a swell of frustration that I could not background all the non-client stuff to get on with things.

Now I understand absorbing the crush is my job. All the workers have something of an impossible job; the plans of clients, the aims of the program as understood by the workers, and the resources available nearly never match up. Letting off some steam by sending an email saying one of the lower-level workers had not done their job is probably not an ideal coping mechanism. However, believing that one day the lower-level workers will magically make everything work smoothly is possibly part of hoping for a future where higher-level workers will not be distracted from ‘being there for the clients’.

This post has been a very wordy road, but there is a link with my still-unfinished dissertation. While I can shrug my shoulders at work, the same does not seem to be possible with the project of writing.

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