Work Life Balance

June 13, 2011

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Work – Home Life balance is a buzz phase in today’s business world. What does it actually mean? For a company, it is the idea that employees need away time to be more productive. That idea is preached and repeated at every major corporation. The problem is that to stand out as an achiever, the employee still has to sacrifice family time to perform those extra tasks that cannot fit into a normal work week. This truth has a very negative effect on one specific class of workers, those who are raising children.

Early in the average career, before long term relationships and children, the only competition for time is entertainment. Entertainment includes the various mating rituals of young people as they try to pair up, for a night or a lifetime. Late in a career, after children have moved on to their own lives, most couples are actually looking for activities apart from each other. I am not suggesting that children hold all relationships together, it is just that by the time the kids are gone, most couples have matured enough that time apart is not detrimental.

Those people who are early in their relationships, especially when children are involved, are under so many more stresses; the stress of developing the relationship, the stress of child rearing, the stress of financial insecurity. Most people believe they are giving the most in a relationship, much more than their partner. Any other distraction only magnifies that perceived disparity of effort. When those stresses or life choice and events result in a single parent situation, the stresses are only worse. There is no support and yet the employer still expects the effort that will make you stand out among your peers.

Most corporations truly believe that they are helping in the work – home life balance. They have training, support seminars, even policies in place. The reality is that the final decisions cannot be based on how well you family is doing, but on the individual contributions to the corporation. Many people believe that corporations have a civic duty to take care of their employees. The best way for a corporation to fulfill that duty is to remain a viable company. That goal may actually be detrimental to individuals, but overall is beneficial to most of the workers.

I personally am in the category of children moving on. I have the capability of travelling whenever the need arises. I can work weekends or evening without causing a scheduling catastrophe at home. As a result of this freedom, I am being given opportunities at work that were never available before. I am also trying to help the younger people I work with understand that patience and dedication are the best ways to move up in a company. So many of the young people entering the work force today have an entitlement attitude. As a result, they believe that any single exceptional effort should be instantly rewarded and considered for all future compensation. Although instant compensation is available at most companies, these perks seldom add to the base compensation. Consistent excellence is what is rewarded in the long run. Patience is the trait, along with focus, that creates the best path to success.

Coming back to the work – home life balance, when an employee is in those stressful years of relationship building and child rearing, the aim is to do both. Work on your skills and you home life. Expect to grow, but do not expect to be the youngest Vice President. The consistency that you develop both in your career and in you home life will make you the most valuable employee that you company has when you hit your stride.

Is Dilbert Based on Real Life?

April 23, 2011

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I was mildly amused at Dilbert when it came out and started to get popular back in the early 90’s. I was just finishing high school and starting college, and I couldn’t really fathom how such scenarios could possibly exist in a professional IT environment. Despite my having a degree in music, the vast bulk of my adult life has been spent with me having a job in IT, the result of me and student teaching not really getting along. Many, many times over has Dilbert proven that yes, such ridiculous scenarios and characters do have a basis in real life.

You say Dilbert’s iconic “pointy-haired” boss couldn’t possibly exist in real life, right? Well, I’ve had just about every kind of boss – amazing ones, highly technical ones, ones with no technical skill, and horrible ones. Yes, I’ve even had a boss with minimal technical skill and almost no concept of managing people in a professional environment. As I’ve been told (but was always too apprehensive to ask him directly) he was a clerk in the US Army and then got a degree in library science. You’d think this would lead him to have good organizational skills, something like Radar from M.A.S.H. Not even close.

On my first day of work with this boss, I was busy customizing my PC – you know, adding useful utilities and widgets that systems admin types like me find handy. New boss – we’ll call him “Boss G” – comes over and sets 2 pieces of printed paper on my desk, stapled neatly in the upper left hand corner. Thinking that it’s more paperwork for me to sign or work policy that I need to review I looked up at him and asked, “what’s this?”

“That’s a Magic ticket,” he replied, referring to Support Magic, our helpdesk incident management tracking system. I had used that exact system at my previous job for over 4 years and had not once seen a printout of it – it runs off an SQL database that meticulously tracks all aspects of incidents/tickets and has a nice web interface so that any level of support staff could enter in work details, asset tracking, work flow, etc.

He must have seen the bewildered look on my face as I glanced over the two stapled pieces of paper, because he then gave me rudimentary instructions on what to do: “Finish the work, then write your solution down on the back page and bring it back to me.”

I was completely dumbfounded. The whole purpose of a $50,000 plus software package like Support Magic or Remedy was to allow all level of tech staff to access and share information as they perform work. Printing the tickets and then giving them to your tech staff so they can hand write the steps they took in troubleshooting/solving an issue is like buying a really nice new car so you and your friends can push it around the block. I said to him, “I’ve used Support Magic extensively, I helped test and implement it at my last job. I’m used to accessing the system directly and managing any tickets assigned to me.” I didn’t even add this was at my job at a Wall Street firm where I worked for 5 years, where every last thing needs to be completed 10 minutes ago and seconds can literally translate into thousands of dollars lost.

Boss G’s normally stoic expression was marred by just a slight twitch of his mouth, and following a pause of 4 or 5 seconds he replied sternly, “I’m the only one in the group who accesses it here and that’s how we do things.” Immediately after the last word left his mouth he had turned and walked away from me.

I could hear snickering in the cubical behind me, and a co-worker stepped out and said, “Dude, you just got your first dose of Boss G.” I wanted to say something, but was so befuddled at this complete new level of inefficiency that my mouth just hung there, slightly open. My co-worker continued, “The real kicker is after you write everything out on that paper and bring it back to him, he reads it and tosses it in recycling. He doesn’t even enter anything you wrote in the Support Magic database.”

If confused exasperation were explosive force, my head would have burst at a megaton level. Over the next 8 and 1/2 years I would learn that barely scratched the surface of the dysfunctionality of where I worked. My torment is your gain, dear readers, I hope writing about it is as cathartic for me as it is amusing for you.