Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Executive Factor

Here's a shocker for you. I'm actually very good at my job. My managers, even the Hexecutive, know this and don't feel the need to micromanage me. I'm given a project to work on, plus a deadline by which to finish it, and they know they'll get it back in time. I'm seconded to internal project teams, training courses etc because I'll do well and it will benefit my work unit. 

My staff appraisals are all up to date. I'm listed on the Departmental organisational structure as a "specialist". I fucking rule.

But I'm also human. I get headaches, go to the toilet, need stimulants and sleep as much as any other person. Occasionally even my excellence slips. To err is human, right? (No? Ah, fuck off.)

Of course it is. Methuselah, an EO I work with, knows this. He fucks up on an almost daily basis. Close to retirement, his function is primarily to warm a seat in the canteen. Usually to a temperature high enough to roast a turkey, given the amount of time he spends in there. Occasionally his "skillset" will be called into usage, and in order to elicit any discernible output from this effort,  there is much effort on the HEOs' and APs' parts. It is like trying to reawaken the memories of an Alzheimer's patient. Typical conversations would go like this: 

"You remember Matilda-Hortense, don't you? You worked with her in the Land Registry. She was the HEO in charge of date stamps there in 1972. She was also known as 'Ulster' because her hands were permanently red from the ink." 

Methuselah does not like me. His lifer, tea slurping, newspaper in toilet, modus operandi is a sharp contrast to my efficiency, willingness to learn and my notions of modern public service delivery. OK, we are the same grade in the hierarchical food chain. We are both EOs. He earns more than I do thanks to five hundred years of service. (Did you know Sir Thomas More is the patron saint of civil servants as well as politicians? I think Methuselah sent the Canonisation form to the Curia back in the day).  

I'm still on the incremental ladder. (He, judging by how he smells on occasion, is also on the Excremental ladder). Methuselah likes to give a running commentary on his activities as he works through them "Putting the letter in the envelope, licking the envelope (this I do not look up at), putting it in the out tray" "going to the toilet, straining my sphincter, wiping my bottom" sort of thing. 

Last week, I had to send some "Grammatical and Typographical Offences" statistics to another department (not the Director of Public Prosecutions, although I think it should be) for review. Unwittingly, I sent these figures off to my contact AP without making sure that the figures were collated under the proper headings. So, the figures for "Apostrophe Abuse" were presented under the heading of "Overuse of Comic Sans" and vice-versa. The AP rang my work number to alert me to this, but I had already gone home for the evening. 

Methuselah, however, was still in situ.  He reached for the phone. With glee, he listened, in spite of the tufts of hair growing from his ears, to the errant statistics. He took a message for me. Except he didn't leave it for me. He left it on the Hexecutive's desk, for her to find the following morning. Which she did, and passed it to me. I read the note, which was on vellum and had an illuminated capital letter at the beginning, and sighed loudly. "I explained to the AP before that some of those figures are subject to revision." And I proceeded to dial the AP's number, silently rehearsing my patronising tone. 

It was the AP who was patronising though. He calmly pointed out the transposed columns, and I had to apologise profusely, promise to commit hari-kari if it happened again and amend the errors immediately. Thankfully, Methuselah wasn't within earshot. He was in the toilet,  and would be some time, as usual. The Union magazine had just been circulated and there was a crossword to be done. The Hexecutive looked up and asked me if everything was OK. I waved the sheet of vellum about. "There was no way I could have discerned what the issue was from this. I mean, most of it's in bloody cuneiform!" The Hexecutive raised her eyes to heaven in sympathy, and Methuselah walked back into the room, with an expression of both post-defecatory satisfaction and smugness on seeing the vellum on my desk. 

He then proceeded to fuck up the front page of a brief, with an incorrect date, prompting several "have civil servants built time machines now?" comments from correspondents. This time, the Hexecutive wasn't nodding. Methuselah's Complan ration for that day was withdrawn, and he had to work late to put things right and double check everything else he had done. 

He was still there when I bounded out the door. Schadenfreude works both ways.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Welcome to the Jungle

It is a little known fact that government offices provide optimum conditions for the cultivation of plant life.

Many of my colleagues have spider plants, aloe vera plants, birds' nest ferns (asplenium nidus - aren't binomials fun?) on their desks. I myself am the proud owner of a phalaeanopsis orchid. All of these horticultural delights are thriving, in a manner that would put the botanical gardens in Glasnevin to shame. (The other major landmark in Glasnevin, the cemetery, is also being put to shame by our far superior collection of walking corpses and our superlative stench of overwhelming decomposition.)

What is it, you ask, that creates such a hospitable environment? The answer is simple. Copious amounts of hot air, belching forth from the CPUs of ageing Dell PCs, helps  to emulate greenhouse conditions, as does that which emanates from the civil servants themselves. Indeed, the department's Boardroom is a lush garden of tropical plants, complete with vines which the senior managers amuse each other with by swinging off and doing Tarzan impressions. A troupe of orang-utans have set up home in a corner of the boardroom, and have been made honorary civil servants due to their being from Born-EO.

Another contributing factor to the environment, is the abundance of departmental directives, office circulars, information leaflets and forms which, when mulched, provide the closest approximation of manure to be found in a bureaucracy (outside of the toilets of course).

Once my Venus fly trap/ triffid hybrid experiment is complete, I will canvass our senior management team to make it an Auxiliary EO. If it is good enough for the orang-utans in the boardroom, it is good enough for my plant. I can see it becoming very useful when conducting PMDS performance appraisals with errant clerical officers.