Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Chain of Command in an Open-Plan Environment

I've moaned about the open-plan office environment before. But today I want to moan about something completely different, within the context of the open-plan office.

The Chain of Command (or COC, as I call it) is the means by which the Civil Service communicates. All information is transmitted downwards from the head cheeses, through the various strata of the hierarchy, until it reaches the people who are actually affected by the information. Information is very rarely transmitted upwards. If it is, it doesn't get very far. The COC is incredibly formal and rigid.

The open-plan office messes up the COC a bit. In the Department, we minions of the open-plan areas are all allocated the same amount of space, be we management or clerical staff. We are all equal. There is no hierarchy determining who gets to sit near the windows. There is fuck all privacy.

So when my boss comes to me with a work plan and discusses it with me, with various information to be transmitted downwards to the clerical staff, all I have to do afterwards is wander over to their desks and say, "You heard all that?", and they invariably have. So my job is more or less done for me.

Hey, maybe it's not so bad after all!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Govstooge's Handy Guide to the Structure of the Irish Civil Service

Suggested by a non-civil servant friend, here is number two in my series of handy guides. And like the euphemistic Number Two, it is a pile of shit.


(Touch it to watch it grow large.)

Supervising the Union Man

I have a Union Man on my staff. Before I go any further I want to explain... I am in a union myself, but I'm only in it for the group schemes and the bland bi-monthly magazine with pictures of vacuous executive grade civil servants on the front. I am not motivated by any left-wing ideology (I am a lefty, but far too lazy to be an activist). The Union Man is different. He attends meetings/ conferences and distributes ballot papers. He also adopts aspects of the "Union Man" stance towards management - i.e. never gives us a straight answer on anything.

The guy should be a politician. He is wasted as a civil servant. For instance, when I ask him a question, he manages to - albeit politely - not answer it at all. I can almost hear the tiny cogs in his brain whirring and clunking as he tries to remember the official union "line" on the exact matter I am asking him about, no matter how mundane and trivial - and we get a lot of mundane and trivial in the Civil Service, mark my words. I could ask something completely boring like, "How is that new filing system working out for you? Is it easier to find things now?" and get the response, "Eeeeeeh, weeeell, ummmm, sometimes it is, and, ahmmmmmmm, sometimes it isn't." On these occasions, I have to turn around very quickly to hide the broad grin that begins to spread across my face like the acne on his.

Specifics are not his forte and, once I get my face straight, I don't approach him for further details as I believe he is just trying to be awkward and piss me off. If he knew that I was actually crossing my legs to avoid pissing myself laughing, I might earn a representation on his behalf from a very irate shop steward.

A minor annoyance, which I can exploit anonymously for the purpose of comedy. The faint smell of cheese and the fact that there should be a "BIOHAZARD" sign on his desk are also funny, but I have other plans for this material.

Sometimes I think it's a shame that my boss and I belong to the same union.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Feck it!

Back at work today, looking forward to a nice easy time for the rest of the summer.

No such fecking luck.

After yet another meeting with my superiors, I've got a long list of lovely fun things to do.

Dammit, I had the travel Scrabble all ready to go tomorrow.

It's just not fair.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Virtual Work

I'm not at work today. I'm recovering from the five weeks' work I had to do. Oh lordy, it was hard going.

So I'm just sitting up in bed with my laptop looking up property porn.

This should ease me back into the normal scheme of things when I return to work later this week.

I'm going to get up soon for a virtual tea break and sit at the table in the kitchen drinking coffee and shouting random shite at the wall, in the absence of co-workers.

As a consequence I don't have anything silly to say.

Oh, wait.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Performance rating in the Civil Service and why it's a big pile of shite

I hate the whole process of performance rating.

I don't disagree with it on principle, I think it's a good thing in theory, especially when you have the right to tell your manager about any problems you have with them, and they have to listen (a process called upward feedback), but the practice is very different.

Why I hate it:
Reviews etc tend to have impossible deadlines set by senior management, usually around peak work times in my area. And I supervise quite a few clerical staff, and must meet individually with all of them, amidst doing our other work.

A quiet, private space to discuss things is a must. Not having your own office is a serious disadvantage, and the number of meeting rooms is rapidly declining to make more large offices for senior management. Grrr. So if someone else has booked the meeting rooms that are left, you have to wander the corridors like a besuited hobo for a vacant AP's office to use.

Managers don't always listen to the upward feedback you give them. Mine didn't listen to the complaint I made about "pestering me with stuff that isn't even relevant to my area, particularly when I'm busy, makes me want to scream." I listened to my staff's upward feedback. It wasn't a critique of me, they were expressing their dissatisfaction with the HEO and the AP's management styles through me - the "proper" chain of command. I'm not sure what I can do about it, but I wrote the comments down and filed them for future reference. And I will use them. I'm still idealistic enough to think that I can help to change how things are done in my area.

Alternatively, I could just sit back and do nothing. I would still get paid. But I would lose the respect and adulation my clerical officers hold me in. They would stop buying me coffees laced with alcohol and giving me shoulder massages while I labour over complicated documents. Also to go would be the CO standing behind me with a giant fan on hot days. And the one keeping the toilet seat in my favourite stall warm on cold winter mornings.

It's a hard life.

Govstooge's Handy Guide to Performance Rating in the Irish Civil Service

You may have come across the term "PMDS" in previous posts, and wondered, what does it all mean?

Well, wonder no more, for here it is, at last.

PMDS (Performance Management and Development System) is a mechanism by which all civil servants receive performance appraisals. It was introduced long before I became a civil servant, and only recently has it been linked to our pay awards.

It is an annual cycle, comprising three stages, all of which involve filling out forms and discussing them with your supervisor. It gives your supervisor something to do, apart from looking up porn or the latest deals on lastminute.com.

The stages are:
1. Role Profile Form - fancy name for job description for the year ahead. Gives a list of measurable objectives and critical success factors (ie, stuff to fall back on if you need to cover your arse). Training needs also identified (my request for piano lessons was, sadly, turned down last January).
2. Interim Review - Usually around June, just to discuss progress so far.
3. Annual Performance and Development Review (APDR) - This is the big one, usually around Christmas. Your supervisor will assign you a rating on a scale of one to five based on your performance in the past year. If you disagree with this, you can refer it up to the reviewer, usually your supervisor's supervisor.

Here is my cut out and keep guide to the ratings system (click to enlarge, if you really want to):

Oh go on. Click it, it likes to be touched.

And if you're wondering, I got a "3" in my last APDR. WooHoo!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Today was a good day...

Yes, it was.

Despite drinking several cups of civil-service-standard-issue ditchwater coffee and a few bottles of you-don't-know-where-it's-been-but-you-can-guess water from the water cooler, at no time did I feel the urge to urinate while in the Department today.

So therefore I did not have to endure the stink of the festering contents of other people's colons.

One of the clerical officers confesses to never visiting the workplace toilets. They are always in a good mood. Now I know why.

What a wonderful day.

But maybe I should see my Doctor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Typical Civil Service Day - Part 1

This is my attempt to convey what a typical day is like for me (Actual contents may vary from description on packet).

I arrive at the Department, park my car in some far-flung recess of the car park, because I haven't bothered to come in before 9.30 and all the best spaces have been taken by my large-bottomed colleagues. It takes me five minutes to get from the car park to the double automatic doors, which groan lugubriously as they admit me. I have my daily fight with the time clock, where it refuses to register my identity card and bleeps loudly, attracting the attention of at least ten of the twenty or so civil servants who are propping up the walls in the immediate vicinity. Maybe the reason the evil machine fails to recognise it is because the picture on my identity card no longer looks like me - although it is only a little over a year old, it looks about five years younger. The Department is a parallel universe in which people age more rapidly than normal.

I go to the toilet, cursing myself for not arriving earlier, before the assault on my olfactory nerves caused by the arseholes of fifty women who have used the toilets since the Department opened at 8 this morning. Fucking rank.

Some gagging, some stairs and about fifteen sets of moaning and groaning double doors later, I arrive in the part of the building where I work. The sight that greets me is not pleasant. Before I even enter my section, I see my HEO leaving the AP's office. "Fucking great", I think, "they are talking about me already". The HEO is leaving the AP's office by walking backwards. It is like watching a film about royalty, in which the subjects of the monarch are not permitted to show their backs to the royal personage. This toadying makes me gag some more.

Suddenly, the HEO backs into the path of... wait for it... a Senior Manager! Much confusion ensues. Paper is flying everywhere. HEO looks panic-stricken. The ultimate outrage has been committed. A middle manager has been the cause of a senior manager dropping the printout of his Joke of the Day emails. Also, the HEO's back has been presented to the senior manager. This is a serious breach of HEO protocol.

Before anyone can say anything, though, and as I watch, dumbfounded, stopped in my tracks by the exciting events unfolding before my very eyes, the top of the HEO's head flips open, and a very small brain jumps out. Evidently the breach of protocol was too much for it. The brain bounces down the corridor for about ten feet, stops and then returns to the now motionless body which previously housed it. The brain manages to extract the HEO's identity card from his belt loop, and having secured it, it bounces merrily back towards the exit, on its way to God knows where, but making sure to swipe out properly first. The consummate bureaucratic cerebrum.

What happened to the body?

It got a promotion, of course!

In Part 2: I have to fill out some forms, and I go for tea.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw...

Management. A wonderful career, the aspiration of those lured by the extra few quid, the power, the sex (Ok, maybe not, bleargh!) and best of all, getting paid for telling other people to do your work for you. What could be better?

Maybe in the private sector, it's like that, but in the civil service the place is full of fucking managers. They can't all be having that much fun, it's statistically improbable. Take me for instance. I belong to the lowest stratum of management in the civil service. I make fuck all money compared to HEOs and APs (assistant principals).

The EO is the second-hardest working grade of civil servant (which isn't saying much), second only to the clerical officer. Notice a trend here, anybody? Yes, the higher up you go, the less you have to do.

The most interesting grade is HEO, those people trapped in a middle management limbo. The ones who flap and squirt verbal diarrhoea on EOs. The ones who suck up to senior management with an obsequiousness second only to that of medieval courtiers and those about to commit hari-kari for the Japanese Emperor.

My HEO really pissed me off today. Last week I (briefly) put aside one deadline (let's call it D1 for shortness sake) in order to attend to Deadline 2 (D2). D2 was approaching sooner than D1 and the HEO reminded me not once, but twice in the same day (!) that D2 had to be met. So D1, due a week later, suffered a minor set back - but it is still on target.

Today, HEO informs me that the AP was "disappointed" that D1 wasn't progressing as well as expected. (You see, APs rarely communicate directly with EOs or COs. Information must pass through all layers of management until, ultimately, it reaches the clerical officers, by which time the meaning has been lost and no-one knows what the fuck they are supposed to be doing.)

I told my HEO that I had to give a lot of time to D2 and couldn't progress D1 at the same time. HEO then tells me that D2 "could have waited till this week!"

Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw. I sweated my arse off meeting D2 last week, and now, just because the AP is pissed off, the HEO does a complete U-turn and makes me look like shit.

Thanks very much, boss. You fucking asshole.

Back to the real job

I have been working my fucking arse off for the past five weeks. I've been coming in early and staying back late in order to meet all the targets and deadlines that have been pressing down on me. Thankfully, once this week is over, the pressure will be more or less off. And I can go back to playing Arse Race and Solitaire for a living again.