Friday, November 17, 2017

The tables have turned and thank God for that

I've been writing about harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace for many years now. I've experienced both personally as have any number of other women I know. This is not just an American phenomenon, I can attest to that. Norwegian academia has its share of bullies and sexual predators who have run roughshod over the younger women and men who work for them. Some of us just got sick and tired of sweeping the bad behavior under the rug, as so often happens here. In the name of what--preserving the Scandinavian belief that those types of behaviors don't happen here--in purportedly gender-equal countries? They do, and I am here to attest to that fact.

Academia has traditionally been a conservative, male-dominated white collar profession. And there are many good men in academia who have behaved respectfully toward the women and men they lead. I know a lot of them and I am glad to know them. They better the lives of the people who work for them, because those people get the chance to grow professionally without having to succumb to the brutality and/or lust of their employers. But now is the time in society to shed light on the darker sides of life, and harassment and sexual harassment are the darker sides. If you have experienced them, you know this to be true. It taints so much of what should have been a good experience--having a career and growing professionally. The bullies and pigs can make you sick, physically and psychologically. It's easy (and wrong) to tell victims not to take it personally. How else can they take it? The bullying and/or disgusting behavior are aimed at them personally. I am so glad that the tables are turning now in society and that the sexual predators and bullies are being called out, named and shamed. It's their turn to suffer. They deserve it.

Society has dealt too much in victim-shaming. The days when I would let that happen are long-gone for me. They were gone a long time ago, the first time one of the pigs opened his mouth to say something disgusting or off-color to me. Or the first time a domineering and bullying man at work opened his mouth to tell me to shut mine. I told him to shut his. I also told him that he was the rudest man I knew, and he is. He's an old man now, and you could wonder why he's never learned how to behave properly. But he hasn't and he never will. Dealing with him is like dealing with a tantrum-prone child--boring, dissatisfying, and ultimately pointless. You deal with them simply by putting them in their place. And if you are labeled a bitch for doing so, well, then you are a bitch in some people's eyes, but they are not the eyes I care about.

I am re-posting today a piece I wrote back in October 2016 about sexual harassment in the workplace. The only thing that's changed is that more of this disgusting behavior is coming to light. And that makes me happy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Check out the book What Employees Want

I am promoting this new book--What Employees Want and Why Employers Should Make Sure They Get It--because I believe strongly in its message. My hope for modern workplaces is that they begin to foster a culture of respect for all employees, and that workplaces will no longer be tainted by harassment, bullying, disrespect and lack of concern for employees. There is an expression that I like a lot--'Happy wife, happy life'. Well, the same can apply to the workplace--'Happy employee, happy workplace', or 'Respected employee, productive workplace'. Any way you slice it, it comes down to this--if you have people working for you and you want them to be productive and successful, you've got to treat them well and with the respect they deserve. It's a no-brainer in my book, but you wouldn't believe the stubbornness and stupidity that abounds in modern workplaces concerning this issue. Many employers still think that the domineering hard-handed approach works well when trying to motivate employees. In 2017, if you think that, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and time will pass you by.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Obfuscation as a bureaucratic tactic

My current goal is to simplify my life; it’s really a continuation of a process that started five or six years ago when my workplace decided to make the lives of its employees difficult by making the workplace a more complicated place to be. Simplification, simplification, simplification. Employees are best served by understanding the infrastructure and systems around them, because in so doing, they can do their work efficiently without much fuss and bother. In other words, those systems and infrastructure should be understandable to most. Bureaucracies are best served when employees do not understand the infrastructure and systems around them. Bureaucracies ensure their own existence in this way. They also ensure that employees hit a wall at every turn; the bureaucrats must thus step in to help the employees cope with their new and complicated workplaces. Why are they complicated? Because as sure as tomorrow comes, most modern workplaces have been through one or several reorganizations or mergers that have wreaked havoc on the lives of the employees involved. Bureaucrats to the rescue! They can guide us through the difficult processes by coming up with new and innovative routines and measuring systems, new business philosophies and trends, and increased expectations of employee productivity. Because such expectations always accompany major reorganizations and mergers.  

Obfuscation has become a large part of what drives bureaucracies forward and of what makes them larger. To obfuscate is to confuse; to make obscure or unclear. It is my contention that obfuscation is a strategic tactic to increase the number of administrators such that the ratio of administrators to other types of employees grows ever greater. I don’t have a problem with the existence of bureaucracies; I realize they are there to help us and they do in fact help us. However, I have a problem with them when they become too big. When they lumber forward without any concern for the employees they serve. My goal at work now is to seek out those administrators whom I know will help me (translated—explain things to me in an understandable way), and I have found at least two that take the time to do that, and they are worth their weight in gold to me. Otherwise, we find ourselves at the mercy of a system that does not and will not bother to explain to us why external funds that we have brought in via our grant applications are suddenly no longer ours to use—they go into a ‘big departmental pot’ that exists for general use. We are not told why accounting systems will not permit the transfer of usable funds to the next year if we have not managed to use up the funds we have at our disposal this year (in other words, we are not allowed to determine for ourselves when we want to spend the little money we are granted). We are not told why deficits suddenly appear as surpluses in some monthly accounting reports. There is no sensible (in my book) explanation for why income that is generated this year cannot be included as income in the month of December. The language that is used in some information letters to employees is deliberately vague or confusing. Even some middle-level leaders I know have a hard time understanding the mandates that are handed down to them from high-level bureaucrats/managers. Worse still, the number of forms we have to fill out to get help to fix small problems that could be solved via a telephone call, to order lab consumables, to update on the progress of PhD students, and to update on the progress of a particular project to a funding agency has become overwhelming. Work life is dictated by an endless stream of forms and reports that someone writes, others fill out, and others file away unread. These forms are necessary in the sense that a bureaucrat decided that they were necessary, and as long as they are filled out, the bureaucrat's job is done. It doesn’t matter that we use an inordinate amount of time on such things that are forced upon us. And no matter what type of event occurs at work (with the exception of a Christmas lunch or dinner), we are asked to fill out evaluation reports that are worded in such a way that you are often forced to agree to a way of thinking with which you do not agree.

But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that everything in modern workplaces, at least in the public sector, has become complicated and difficult. Just the idea of applying for research funding from the European Union would stop you dead in your tracks. You need one or two people on your staff who can work full-time on this, something most small research groups do not have. The paper trail is enormous, ditto the amount of time spent on submitting a proposal and writing an application that is likely to be denied funding on the basis of some minute mistake somewhere in the application. It can take several years to apply and to receive a response. In short, it is not worth sending an application because if you are a small research group, you will spend your valuable time on minutiae and not on much else. Real work goes out the window. If you are smart, you avoid these things. But they are examples of systems that are obscure, difficult, confusing and ultimately unclear. The goal becomes unclear. Why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time? Why don’t I understand? And finally, why does my workplace not want me to understand how it’s run and what is going on? The answer? Knowledge is power. The less employees know about how their workplaces run, the better. Those in power can keep their power and can pretty much do as they like. They can order others about with impunity because no one understands the system enough to know how to fight back. A strange new world, one I do not like and one I do not feel comfortable in. If that makes me a negative employee, then so be it. I want a return to ‘small is beautiful’. I think small is best now because small is understandable, small is transparent, small is clear. I would prefer to work in a small workplace now. It won’t happen, but it is definitely my preference.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November garden and the first frost

What a difference a week makes.......I made a trip to my garden on Saturday, November 4th and took a few photos of the garden with its green lawn and some flowers that were still blooming. I was there again this past Sunday, and the green lawn was covered in frost. A lovely sight, but such a difference from the last time I visited. The birds were still chirping happily in the trees, most of which have lost their leaves. I guess the birds are still managing to find food because the ground is not yet completely frozen. But in another week or so, it will be.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Gray Wolf by Jussi Twoseven

I think this recent street art by Jussi Twoseven is pretty incredible. I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, but when I walked past the same building yesterday, it had been painted over. Personally, I would have kept it there, since it is beautiful painting of a gray wolf.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Falling in love with the old films

I remember my mother talking about the film Laura (from 1944) with Gene Tierney when I was a child. It was one of her favorite films as I recall. I believe I saw the film when I was a teenager, but I don’t remember the impression it made on me. My mother also talked about the films From Here to Eternity (1953) and The Children’s Hour (1961), both of which were off limits to us as children due to their adult themes. I have not seen either of them, but recently ordered them both films from Amazon UK. They will join the ever-growing DVD collection I have of old films; by old, I mean from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, when I was a child. Once the 1970s came, I was often at the movies because by then I was a teenager. Going to the movies was something we did a lot of then.

Many of the old films starred actors and actresses such as Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney, James Stewart, Kim Novak, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, William Holden, Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Humphrey Bogart. There are of course many others that I have not listed here.

I recently purchased the film Bell, Book & Candle (from 1958) with Kim Novak and James Stewart, and enjoyed it a lot. Kim Novak is Gil, a witch who places a spell on her neighbor Shep (James Stewart) to make him fall in love with her as a way of getting revenge on a disagreeable woman she went to college with who is now engaged to Shep. I recommend it as a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. And last night I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (from 1947) with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. It was a wonderful film that could only have one ending, but even though I knew what was coming, I was unprepared for the effect it had on me. It is a sad but lovely ending to a love story between the deceased sea captain Daniel Gregg who haunts the house he lived in and the woman Lucy Muir who ends up living there with her young daughter Anna and their housemaid Martha. The last scene made me cry, and it is rare these days that a film has that effect on me. It is a testament to the wonderful acting but also to the emotional impact of the story of the love between the captain and Lucy throughout most of her adult life—a love that could never be realized in life. So that is what makes the ending that much more poignant.

I look forward to seeing The Children’s Hour and From Here to Eternity. Many of the old films used to show up on TCM, but for some reason this channel changed its format and stopped showing the old films, focusing rather on showing films from the 1980s and later, most of them rather obscure Asian gangster films. It then went off the air here in Scandinavia, most likely because it lost its appeal to viewers like me who preferred the old films. I wish it had kept the original format, because it is the old films that I want to see now, the films that are a part of the golden age of Hollywood, an age that is long over and not likely to return.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Send Christmas cards to Jacob Thompson

This little boy's story affected me deeply and I am hoping as many people as possible will send him a Christmas card. It's his last wish, as he will not make it to Christmas due to his terminal cancer. You can read about his story here: 

If you're interested in sending a card, it can be addressed to:

Jacob Thompson
C/O Maine Medical Center
22 Bramhall St
Portland, ME 04102

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The legacy of bullying and rudeness

I am often reminded of childhood’s mixed bag of blessings and curses when I stumble upon a faded photo from that time or someone posts a photo of when we were twelve years old on Facebook. It brings back some sad and strange memories. Some of my memories of grammar school are of students who bullied other students, or of several teachers who bullied students. The students who bullied other students were often the popular girls who picked on the weakest girl (or boy) in the class. I cannot remember that the boys behaved similarly, except for one boy who could never say anything nice. I never understood their bullying behavior then, and less so now, because on Facebook, all appears to be forgiven. The bullies and the bullied are friends, and talk about grammar school in their posts as though it was one of life’s all-time greatest experiences (it wasn’t, and neither was high school). I am friends with them all too on Facebook, but sometimes I question the wisdom of it. Perhaps some things should be left in the past, because as far as I’m concerned, seeing photos from that time merely rips open the wounds from that time. I escaped being the target of the bullies because I was the smartest in the class and they did not know how to deal with me, so they left me alone. Others were not so lucky, and were bullied for being dumb (the word at that time for kids who were not book-smart), often because the teachers also bullied the same children and set a poor example (e.g. making them go sit in a corner on a stool because they were not good students). Sometimes children were bullied for not being good-looking, because their families didn't have money, or because they had strict parents and were not allowed to attend the parties that the bullies could attend. It was a time in life when you could not count on support from teachers to stand up to the bullies, because some of the teachers were too busying bullying a few students of their own—for being 'dumb' as already mentioned, or too thin, for being sickly, for having to use the bathroom a lot, for being high-strung or overly-sensitive. The list goes on. I know of parents who tried to talk to the principal of the school about the bullying and who were rebuffed for the most part. I did not take part in the bullying of others; in fact in several instances I fought against it but there was little an eleven year old girl could do against mean teachers or a gang of mean girls. Ignore them, don’t get involved with them, and don’t hang out with them. All those things worked and got me through grammar school. I guess I told my parents about one unfortunate girl who got bullied, and I know they found it appalling, even more so if it went on while the teachers looked the other way. But it was a different era and there was less focus on such things; the weak and the bullied were kicked aside and had to fend for themselves. Most of them did and have had adult lives that are successful and probably happy, likewise for the bullies--many of them have grown up to be decent people. But if I become sad just remembering the bullying of others that went on, what must the bullied persons feel when they remember back to that time? And how do the bullies remember their childhood?

Bullies are like sharks; they smell blood and come running. They smell weakness and exploit that for their own gains, which looking back, were short-lived. They were popular for a while at the expense of others, and then they weren’t anymore. I know one woman who has apologized for her bullying behavior when she was a child. She has expressed remorse knowing she hurt others with her behavior. She comes from a wealthy background with everything she could desire growing up. So it’s hard to understand why bullies bully. Is it because they can, and get away with it? Adults tend to excuse the behavior of children with statements like ‘They’re only children’ or ‘He didn’t mean it’ or ‘She’s overly-sensitive to everything’ or ‘He’ll grow out of it’ or ‘Let them solve it themselves’. It doesn’t matter sometimes if children have nearly killed another child; they have to find excuses for their children and for why their children aren’t bad children. Maybe bullies had bullies for parents. It could be one logical explanation. I don’t subscribe to the view that people (including children) are inherently good; children are only as good as their parents, meaning that the role of parents is so important that perhaps not all people should have children if they know they cannot take on that role. You must be a good role model for your children; if you want them to be good people, you must be a good person yourself. Our Catholic faith teaches about the concept of original sin, i.e., that we are born with original sin (a propensity to sin given our free will?) but that our baptism introduces us to the saving grace of Christ who came to save sinners and frees us from original sin. In other words, we are given spiritual help from Christ via our church, our parents and our godparents who renounce the devil for us because we cannot as babies. We don’t know what is good or bad when we are babies and toddlers—that is the job of our parents and teachers to teach us. I feel sure that children who exhibit bullying behavior who are rarely reprimanded by their parents grow up to be bullies. Or that those who were bullied, if not given the help they needed from the adults in their lives, can also grow up to be bullies. Regardless, the fault lies with the adults who close their eyes to the bullying and bad behavior they see in their children and other children—the adults who never want to get involved.

When I got to high school, it could be the opposite, that a few students bullied one or two teachers. If I hadn’t seen the fallout from those occurrences I would never have believed it could happen. As it was, two teachers, a man and a woman--both in their early thirties, were helpless against a gang of five or six teenage women who targeted them for destruction. Both lost their jobs because they had no control over their classrooms; their students lost respect for them even though many sympathized with their plight. Perhaps it is no wonder that the teachers who survived were the ones who took no shit from anyone and stated that right up front. Being a teacher is not a popularity test; it is not an exercise in finding out how popular you are among your students. You’re there for a purpose, and that is to teach them, not be their friend. If friendships with students develop, that’s great, but you can never forget your position and your role, and the reason you are there.

Which brings me to rudeness; rudeness often accompanies bullying. They go hand in hand. Bullies are rude to those they bully but also to society generally. The word ‘rude’ has so many definitions; some are as follows--offensively impolite or bad-mannered, discourteous, impertinent, insolent, impudent, cheeky, audacious, presumptuous, uncivil, disrespectful, unmannerly, ill-bred, churlish, crass, curt, brusque, blunt, ungracious, graceless, brash, unpleasant, disagreeable, offhand, short, sharp. Notice the three words I have highlighted; they merely emphasize my point—that parents must step up to the plate and do their job as parents—they must raise respectful, mannerly and well-bred children for the good of society. That is their job. If they do not want that job, then they should not have children.

I bring this up in today’s post because of the memories that were triggered by a photo from childhood, but also because the USA has a president who is both rude and a bully. His father didn’t sound like an empathetic parental figure. But his mother sounded like a decent person. So how did Trump get to be the way he is? Because along the way people permitted his behavior or even admired it, because people dismissed his behavior in a joking way (‘He doesn’t mean it’ (sound familiar?), because he was wealthy and many people exempt the wealthy from the rules, or because he made others wealthy. If you do not stand up against this kind of behavior, you are complicit in creating a society that worships these types of people at the expense of respectful, mannerly and well-bred individuals. You cannot bemoan that situation ten years down the line when you yourself were complicit in creating it by not standing up for what is decent and ethically right at present.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A good song--Cantaloop by US3

I'd never heard this song before until recently; it's from 1993. Twenty-four years later, and still cool.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

My post about sexual harassment from October 2016

I wrote a post called Defining sexual harassment in October 2016, and am re-posting it today. It is worth re-reading, if only to remind myself of what sexual harassment is, what some workplaces have done about it, and how nice the world would be for both genders if it simply disappeared. But of course bad behavior never just 'disappears'. It has to be fought tooth and nail before change comes about. I believe that time has come.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Weighing in on sexual harassment in the workplace

I came to Norway in October 1989, and began working as a senior research technician in January 1990. I remember many things about that time, but one thing that stands out is the behavior of the research institute leader at that time (now deceased). While he was friendly to me, he was also someone I felt uncomfortable around. I found his jokes to be rather stupid, e.g. wondering if I or my family were in the Mafia because I had ancestors who were born in Italy. The first week I was at work and he met me in the hallway, he said hello and went on his way. An hour or so later, he returned with an oversized lab coat for me to wear, so that my mini-skirt would be ‘covered’, as he put it. I guess he found me too tempting for the men who worked there--a young woman working among them who wore her skirts above the knee together with high-heeled boots. I found his behavior odd, but thought no more about it. As the months went on, I was told that he and his wife were religious people and had served as missionaries in Africa for a period. I am not sure why that mattered, as I found him to be a man whose spiritual qualities were quite rusty, whereas his physical (read—sexual) needs seemed to matter more. He was already in his sixties when I started to work there. I’ve written about him before, but the stories concerning him bear repeating, because he was a man who behaved in a sexually-harassing way. No one would have called it that then, but they would now. If I commented on his behavior to the others I worked together with, they would tell me that’s just the way he was, to ignore him, he was harmless, etc. But still I never felt comfortable around him, and I am not so sure he was as harmless as they wanted me to think. I was together with him in an elevator one day, just us two, and he cornered me and began to ask me if I knew the difference between the Norwegian words fytte and fitte. The former is usually used as part of an expression to denote irritation, e.g. fytte fan (similar to ‘goddamn it’), whereas the latter is the slang word for pussy. Of course I didn’t since I was just starting to learn Norwegian, so he of course had to explain the difference to me, and I know he enjoyed doing so. He enjoyed having that power over me, enjoyed that I felt uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to get off the elevator. Perhaps he enjoyed testing to me to see how I would react. After all, I came from New York City, sin city in his eyes for all I knew. I’m sure that’s how he felt about it. His wife was a pleasant older woman who was probably sick to death of his flirting with younger women. Because for all his religious leanings, he really was a dirty old man. I have seen him dance with younger women and grab their breasts, and I know that he grabbed the rear end of a female Brazilian scientist who promptly told him where to go. That story was relayed to me along with several others that cemented his reputation as a dirty old man, at least to me. He was also not interested in giving credit to those who actually did the work on research projects; he planned who were to be the authors on a research article before the work for it had even started. His view was that the only people who could be included as co-authors on an eventual article were those with PhDs and MDs. At that time, I had a Master's degree and was considering starting PhD work. One of my colleagues, a male MD, protested that this was unfair, as I did, to people like me who would actually do the work. I am forever grateful that he did that, but it didn't change this leader's mind. I can tell you that my interest in helping this leader was null. The project never got started because there was no one to do the work. He was a sexist pig who hid his proclivities under the cloak of religion.

Through the years there have been other men who have behaved similarly, commenting on ‘the view’ if you happen to bend over, or telling jokes about ‘a bush’. Or drunk male scientists at research conferences who danced with the younger women there, and who were all over them which resulted in their having to be forcibly removed from the dance floor by some good men because they would not let go of the women. I’ve witnessed all of these things.

Why do I bring up these behaviors today? Because these types of behavior do not belong in the workplace. After this past week’s revelations of how Harvey Weinstein treated many of the actresses who were working in the films his company was producing, I see the importance of calling a spade a spade. Weinstein’s behavior borders on/is criminal, especially if he did indeed rape some of the women who have called him out on his behavior. Sexual harassment in the workplace really is a terrible thing. There is already enough harassment and bullying in the workplace (including academic workplaces where the balance of power lies firmly with male mentors and leaders) against women by powerful men, and if you add in the sexual component, it becomes a nightmare for many women to have to go to work each day. When you are young, you don’t always know what to say when someone treats you like this. You may blame yourself first. The smart thing of course is not to do that, but I don’t know too many women who have managed to blame the men first, to fight back or to challenge their harassers. It's very easy for those who have never experienced harassment to say that they wouldn't stand for it, that they would fight back, etc. The harassers have the power and control, and most women do not. If women complain or stand up for themselves, they are labeled as difficult and out-of-control. Consequently, they are not considered for leadership positions and are otherwise frozen out of the old-boys club. And that’s the problem. When I was younger, the old-boys club thought they could get away with treating women as sex objects and making them feel inferior, and not much has changed now that I’m older. Power-hungry men still run the show, and some of the perquisites include being able to have women at their beck and call. And there will always be women who undermine other women in order to curry favor with the old-boys club. These are the women who will tell you to ignore their behavior, or he didn’t mean it, or it’s worse at other workplaces, or he’s really a nice guy, or he's never done that to them. There are some men who say the same things. These are the women and men who wake up years down the road (perhaps when their own daughters become victims of sexual harassment), when it’s too late to do anything about it except to regret that they feigned ignorance or deliberately ignored abuse when they could have spoken up and supported those who needed their help. They have to live with their guilty consciences. Frankly, I don’t care about them or what happens to them. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our annual autumn drive

We took our annual autumn drive today, a beautiful sunny day, perfect for the occasion. We drove through Jevnaker and Hønefoss, and stopped at a farm in the Hønefoss area where you could pick your own corn. So we stopped and bought some corn, drank some coffee, and went to say hello to one of the sweet horses that was in one of the pens near the corn stands. On the way home we drove along Tyrifjorden, which I think is one of the loveliest in Norway. I took some photos of our afternoon trip that I wanted to share in this post.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rays of sunshine on a gray autumn day

Why I bother to write about modern workplaces

I doubt that my workplace and my reactions to it will change much before I leave it behind for good. I wish I could just let it all go--the stupidity, rude behavior, narcissism, ego trips, lack of common sense--just put all of these things behind me. Just do it. Be the better person. Take the higher road. But if I do that all the time, what then? When is enough enough? When is it ok to stand up for yourself so that you don't get stepped on all the time by the 'system'? When do you need to stand up for yourself? When it means that if you don't, others, including yourself, get hurt? I see the word 'system' used so many times when people complain about things in their workplace. We employees are a part of the system, ergo, we must stand up and be counted, otherwise we are just stupid sheep who have no right to complain that things are not as they should be. 

I so enjoy the intellectual aspects of my work; unfortunately the reality of my workplace is something other than enjoyable since it does its best to destroy that joy coupled to the accomplishment of real work. The bureaucracy does not understand that it exists to serve the employees, not the other way around. Additionally, everything boils down to money. Daily work life is an endless conversation about money to do research or to pay the salaries of hard-working people--the desperate hunt for it, the lack of it and the stress (bordering on desperation) of not having it, the envy of others who have it, the lack of 'smarts' about how to use it when one gets it--and so on ad nauseam. I never thought I'd say this, but I actually miss the 1990s because there was less emphasis on money, budgets and bureaucracy, and more on actually getting some good research done, whether or not you were a small research group or whether or not you had a lot of grant money. You did the best you could with what  you had, and you were no less a good researcher if you didn't manage to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Now you're simply no good if you don't. It was understood in the 1990s that some few (as is always the case) would be the best (at getting grants and international acclaim), but there was room for the others--the next best. There was room for 'good enough'. Not anymore.

There are and always will be conflicts about who gets what, whose ranking is higher than others, who 'deserves' this or that, etc. But it's out of control now. I realize about myself that I really am not a person who is good at tackling conflicts. But sometimes it's necessary to take on the system when it is defined by conflicts, especially if they border on stupid. As I've gotten older, I see that I am simply not interested in being talked down to, treated like a child, controlled/measured/evaluated at all turns, treated rudely by arrogant people, etc. I don't treat others this way, so I don't want to be treated this way. Leaders have simply not learned how to treat their employees with respect. Each day that passes is a new exercise in being treated like a child. When I say this is in my workplace, my words fall on deaf ears. That is my workplace's way of dealing with things it doesn't want to hear. It ignores emails, direct confrontations, attempts at compromise, etc. When they want things their way, that's law, and employees must just accede.  

The contradictions are many:
  1. You are asked why you don't take on responsibility for this or that task, but when you do, you are not given the authority to change anything, to spend any money, or to ask for help from others. You are not given control over the task you have assumed responsibility for. You are like a child told to wash the dishes. You are not to question any aspect of what you have been told to do. It's fine for a child, but not for an adult. 
  2. Alternatively, you find out that the reason they asked you to do 1) was that the bureaucrats could 'check off' that point on their list. She said yes to doing this or that, great. It doesn't actually really matter that it's just responsibility on paper. In other words, they don't care whether you do a good job or not. 
  3. You are forced to listen to the endless rhetoric about how 'we are going to be the best', when being the best entails allowing employees to function as adults in their workplace--letting competent employees decide the best way to do this or that, especially if they have the expertise and you as a leader do not. Leave competent people alone to do their jobs. But the bureaucrats/leaders don't understand this or don't want to in 2017.
  4. Leaders in our research system say that everyone can be 'the best', but what they don't acknowledge is that if everyone becomes the best, then no one is best anymore. It is circular stupid logic.

You may wonder why I bother writing about this at all anymore. For those of you who have read this blog from its start, you know that I am quite critical of modern workplaces that let themselves be run by bureaucrats (most of the public sector workplaces) who enjoy incorporating the trendy business philosophies of the moment into their workplaces. It doesn't matter that they don't fit there (think LEAN in a research environment. We are not a factory). My public sector workplace has spent a decade or more trying to perfect New Public Management, and now they've moved on to LEAN. Why, we'll never know. Private sector workplaces do not permit this idiocy. I don't know if they are any better in the long run. But I prefer to think and hope that they are. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What’s wrong with this picture? v3

I promise this will be the last post with this title. But the past week or so has been nothing but scenarios of this type at work—inefficiency, stupidity, misinformation, poor communication, laziness and just plain indifference. I'm so tired of it all, of having to deal with customer service reps at scientific supply companies who don’t want to deal with customers, of talking to salespeople who haven’t the faintest notion of when their products will be delivered but who lie anyway and give you a delivery date so that you spend several hours running around trying to find out to whom it was delivered. I’m tired of leadership that doesn’t have the faintest idea what employees want or if they do know, how to give it to them. I’m tired of hearing ‘we’re going to be the best in the world’ when the IT infrastructure is crumbling around us. You don’t get to the top with an IT infrastructure that is from the Stone Age. I’m tired of hearing the same conversations about the same problems that we’ve been talking about for years. There were no solutions to them four years ago and there are no solutions to them now. There are no solutions because there is no money, or if there is money, it has been misappropriated and used on things that were not necessary. We need an IT budget to revamp the IT infrastructure. We need to be discussing the future of IT in our department, how to arrange it, how to pay for it, etc. We don’t need to be discussing Christmas parties, overnight seminars or other social events for which we have no budget.

I’m tired of so many thing in the workplace. I cannot wait to retire, so that I can do other things that get me outdoors, away from the four walls of a sterile office, away from the claustrophobic interiors and indoor climates of modern buildings where you can hardly open a window. I want to breathe fresh air, be surrounded by trees, plants, greenery. I want to let go of all that is unhealthy—the stress of useless discussions and problems that will never be solved. I want to be free of arrogant leaders, leaders whose egos are like black holes that destroy everyone in their vicinity. I’m tired of leaders who permit convicted criminals to remain in their jobs. I want to be free of the rhetoric, the bullshit, and the lies when it comes to ‘being great’. I’ll settle for being good enough. I don’t want any more competition for funding, for promotions, or for publishing. I don’t care about impact factors, H-factors, titles, prestige or anything related to inflated egos. I am so tired of academia and academics. I never thought I’d say it, but it’s the truth. I can’t wait to retire to my garden. That’s where you’ll find me.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

What's wrong with this picture? v2

And then there’s my bank. Another exercise in stupidity and misinformation. Really, you couldn’t write these scenarios if you tried. Truth is really stranger than fiction.

I received my new MasterCard in the mail from my bank at the end of August. I’ve had a MasterCard account with them for over twenty years now, and there’s never been a problem with my name being misspelled, etc. This year, for the first time, they had spelled my last name wrong. So I called the bank and spoke to a customer service rep who assured me that the problem would be taken care and that he would correct the misspelling and send out a new card. He spent all of about a minute telling me that, and the next few minutes trying to convince me to invest my money in one of the bank’s stock market accounts. When he realized I wasn’t going to bite, he switched over to trying to get me to buy insurance. I politely told him that I was considering many options concerning how to invest my money, but that the only reason I had called was to get a new MasterCard. He backed off. I received my new card about a week later, and the new card had the same misspelled last name as the first card. So I called again, and another customer service rep registered my complaint and the problem, and assured me that the mistake would be corrected and a new card (#3) would be sent out to me. He said he had even tested the computer system and that it ‘took’ my last name with no problems. A week later I received the new card, and wouldn’t you know, my last name was misspelled exactly as on the first two cards. So I called the bank again, and this time I spoke to a female customer service rep who informed me that the correct last name was registered in the system, but that there was a computer error in the system such that they could not send out a new card. She also suggested that I just use the cards with my misspelled last name. When I informed her that this was not right and that I would not be allowed to use these cards by any of the companies I buy from online, she backed off. I asked why the other two reps had not been aware of the problem that had existed for a least a few weeks already according to her. Her reply was that they might not have been aware of it. But how was that possible? This is just one bank with many customer service reps. Don’t the employees communicate among themselves? Don’t the leaders inform their employees of a major glitch in a computer system? Am I the only person to whom they've sent a new MasterCard? Surely the IT department had informed the customer service reps of this problem so that they in turn could inform the bank’s customers of the same? But no. Apparently with all the means of communication available to them, they had not communicated to the service reps that this was a problem. Folks, this is 2017. What is the problem with these IT departments? Don’t they know how to communicate?

The end result of all my phone calls was that I now have three MasterCards with a misspelled last name that are completely unusable. I have no idea when I will receive a new card with a correctly-spelled last name because the female rep I spoke to had no idea when the problem would be solved. At least she was honest; I’ll give her that. But I did lodge a complaint, and it was this—that the bank could have informed its customers that the computer program responsible for creating new MasterCards was not functioning properly and that issuance of new cards would be delayed. What is so difficult about doing this? With all the means of communication at our disposal, there is no communication at all. Either people don’t care anymore, or they are too wrapped up in their smartphone apps to realize that customer service and real communication have gone down the drain. I don’t want to invest in any of this bank’s stock accounts, nor do I want to purchase any kind of insurance. I want my new MasterCard, and that is all. 

What's wrong with this picture?

I thought I was pretty much finished with writing posts about the stupidity that goes on generally in the workplace and more specifically in my workplace. I was wrong. I doubt I’ll ever be finished, because my workplace continually gives me something to write about.

Believe it or not, the researcher network that is available to scientists (non-MDs) at my hospital is so outdated that it is still using Windows XP to run the computers that were provided to us well over eight or nine years ago. Ditto for the screen, but at least it provides good resolution for the most part. Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft for starters; this is the message that Microsoft has posted on their website: “After 12 years, support for Windows XP ended April 8, 2014. Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for the Windows XP operating system. It is very important that customers and partners migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 10”.

It’s got to be at least three years ago that the IT department at my hospital informed us that hospital network users (mostly MDs and a few researchers, myself included) would be getting new computers with the Windows 7 operating system. When I asked at that time what the IT department was planning to do concerning the researcher network that is used by research staff (mostly non-MDs) employed by external grant organizations and not the hospital, the answer was that they were working on a solution but were not there yet. They’re still not there. Most hospital network users received their new computers three years ago; I was not one of them. This past spring, I finally got a hospital computer, but I can understand why most researchers do not want one. The restrictions on what programs can be used/downloaded are major, even if one is only going to use PubMed to search for medical research articles. Permission from the IT department is needed for any software that they have not pre-approved for download. This makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to install any kind of demo software or to upgrade instrument software via the internet (the latter is an annual occurrence for most laboratory instruments). This means that each time we need upgraded software, an applications specialist has to come from whatever company sold us the instrumentation, and that person will charge for the time to travel as well as the time spent in our laboratory to install and test the upgrade. Is this saving the hospital money? The hospital IT department does not want the hospital network users to access the internet in ways that the department cannot control. While I can understand this approach to some degree, it makes it impossible to do extensive literature searches or to download upgrades to existing instrument software, etc.

Sadly, the researcher network hobbles along, but there will come a day (very soon) when it will all come crashing down around us. I am still running the CS2 version of Adobe Acrobat software (it reached version C6 and then Adobe moved to another platform). The CS2 version still works, but my hospital’s researcher network has ceased to provide the latest upgrades/licenses for Adobe software and other software packages highly-discounted/free to its employees as it did ten years ago. So those of us without research funding don’t have the possibility to upgrade any software. The researcher network was a good idea while it lasted; it provided the most useful software free to researchers, or sometimes for a nominal fee. I hardly remember those days; they’re gone forever. What we could count on were the network printers; they functioned well for the most part. Today we were informed that the network printers that most of our Windows XP computers use were moved to a new server. That meant that we lost the printer connections on the old server, where at least the connections worked (we were able to print articles, etc.). The move to the new server has crippled the researcher network since most of the computers are still running Windows XP and cannot seem to ‘see’ the connections to the new server. Translated that means that we cannot print articles, our manuscripts, work plans, etc. I ask you—why are we at work? At home, I have a relatively cheap Acer laptop that is running Windows 10 and all new Microsoft Office programs. It functions very well. I have a printer at home that I can connect to my laptop if I need to print anything. In short, I have a well-functioning home office. Is it any wonder that I prefer working at home?

What irritates me is the following: we hear all the time that the department/hospital doesn’t have the money to do this or that or that the priority is to save money at all costs. In my book, providing a well-functioning infrastructure to your employees is a no-brainer. It should be priority number one on the priority list. In 2017, computers and printers should work, not hang or freeze, and operating systems/software should be up-to-date. If the hospital doesn’t want to support the researcher network anymore, they should just say so and be done with it. This gradual wasting away/starvation project isn’t fooling anyone. But meanwhile, the leaders are still meeting at cushy hotels for two-day meetings/seminars that drain the existing meager budget even further. Apparently these meetings are very important, important enough that the leaders have to travel quite a distance in order to meet up. Bus transportation, hotel room costs, three-course dinners, etc.—my, my, there’s always money for those kinds of things. My question is: why can’t these meetings be held at the hospital for a total of one to two hours, where pressing issues are discussed and dealt with. Save the money it costs to house and feed a group of leaders for more important events such as increasing the salaries of the research staff or bettering the IT infrastructure of the research staff. Drop the annual department seminar for the same reason, and use the money to improve the IT infrastructure in the department. This is an obvious solution but it never seems to be chosen by the department leaders. I have to ask, why not?