The bleatings of a middle manager
The past week has seen absenteeism due to depression, panic attacks, holiday, viruses and simply forgetting. A colleague states that he can’t work certain days and hours of his contract because he has other things to do. Well, I reason, should you have signed the bloody contract wherein you committed yourself to working those hours? The HR advisor meets with me and leave me more confused than before we sat down together. Apparently, I need to understand that my colleague needs to leave work early so that he can get across town to his other job, a DJ. I ask if I too can leave work early to get to my other job, a parent. Apparently not.
Our workplace suffers from a lack of decisiveness, I decide. When people come along with absurd demands, it is only enough for them to voice these demands in a forceful manner and the institution begins to look for ways that it can adapt itself to meet their needs. And managers who have no investment in the matter instruct managers who do have an investment to accommodate the whims of their staff. There is no doubt that my failure to comply leads to suspicions that I must be waging a personal vendetta of some sort against individuals on my team. There’s nothing like the sensation of being trusted to behave in a professional and rational manner. Nothing like it. Look at this conversation with the HR advisor:
HR: You need to understand that he has to leave early to get across town.
HR: That’s it. Nothing else. I just thought you should know.
TSD: But why are you telling me this?
HR: I just thought you should know.
TSD: But now I know, what? What am I supposed to do?
HR: Well, don’t you care about it?
TSD: Care?! Not really.
HR: So. You don’t care for your staff? Isn’t a manager supposed to care for their staff?
TSD: No. I don’t care that they want to leave work early so that they can travel across town to work as a DJ when they are supposed to be working here.
HR: Oh. Right. I just thought that a manager would care for their staff.
TSD: I care about the colleague who is struggling with an abusive husband or the one who is going through a harsh grieving process or the one who is stressed out with fertility treatment or the one who is suffering from stress from trying to balance work with raising a child. I don’t care about somebody having to catch a bus. Should I?
HR: Well…managers usually do…
Really? I catch myself wondering whether or not the position has destroyed my capacity to empathise. Perhaps I appear as some sort of heartless drone? But I really don’t give a damn that somebody has to get across town on a bus in order to get to a different place of work within our normal teaching timetable. Just as I don’t particularly think that it’s OK to miss a meeting because you need to go home and walk the dog. On the other hand, if you are late in for work because your child has had a bad asthma attack, I think you have every right to expect sympathy and accommodation. Or if you have a burst main or a panic attack or your dog has died. How evil am I?
The way I try to run the shop is to allow everyone as much autonomy as I can within certain constraints. Those constraints are essentially that as long as I timetable you within the working day, you have to be prepared to accept those hours. If you want to do anything else that might compromise your ability to fulfil your contract, you need to check first if that’s OK. After that, the final constraint is that you have to do your job. And your job is not solely to teach. It is to help build, maintain and enhance the team. You should do something for the team that makes it better, year upon year. In return, you get over a month and a half of holidays and enough money to keep you out of prison.
Oh, how I long to be able to speak like this to others. They certainly don’t hold back when talking to me. Whenever certain people are asked to provide cover, they angrily refuse and accuse me of singling them out for special measures (ignoring the fact that others have been providing cover over the last few weeks). Whenever I put forward a draft of a timetable, someone will kick off because it means that they now have to work until SIX O’CLOCK. IN THE EVENING. WHICH MEANS THAT THEY WON’T GET HOME UNTIL AFTER SEVEN!!! I plan this term to ask them to look around them when they get to the train station. Do you see all those other people who are milling around? They are pretty much in the same situation as you…although I am willing to wager that many of them weren’t told by their boss that they didn’t need to actually show up for work until 1pm.
For now, I hold my tongue and keep my counsel. If you are a humble teacher who is reading this in the hope that it will provide an insight into the black box that is your manager’s mind, may I just say that we are not paid so well as to act as a company whipping child. We are operating under considerable constraints and are just trying to do as fair a job as we can. Yes – sometimes we need to ask for a little bit more than the contract allows us, but there are many of us who try to compensate by giving you a lot more in return. Look at the bigger picture; rise up and look down. In the greater scheme of things, are you really that hard done by? If you don’t get exactly what you want, might that not just be because your wants and needs are being serviced by the same resources that service the wants and needs of others? If this is the case, then forgive me if I point out the obvious: it is your responsibility to make an irrefutable case for special treatment. It isn’t my responsibility to seek to accommodate your every fancy. Go and talk to your colleagues. Ask them if they object to working later so that you can finish earlier. Talk to your students: ask them if they mind having more than two teachers working with them throughout the week. Talk to your manager to propose how you can deliver your teaching hours even if you do finish work earlier than everyone else. It isn’t a sense of megalomania that makes us say no; it’s invariably a sense of fairness to others that is behind our decision. Nothing else.