Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Handwriting on the Wall (or, in this case …on the Post-It)

Back in the late ‘80s, when I was employed by the Ford Foundation, I had a co-worker friend who amused me one day by sharing something she had found in her boss’ outbox. It was a one-page letter onto which he had placed a post-it.

The post-it said, “Toss.”

Lest you think that Ford had a shortage of wastebaskets, don’t even go there. Said boss could easily have saved himself a few offline keystrokes by simply doing the “Toss” maneuver all by himself. But nooooo… He had to delegate!

I don’t write this with any desire to condemn the Ford Foundation. To this day, I greatly admire the work they do. Nonprofits across the world need their philanthropy, and because of their grantmaking, positive things happen and lives are saved.

That being said, I also am happy to have learned that, in the wake of recent economic upsets, the Foundation reduced its staff by about a third.

Good for them.

When I was there, and when I was working as a Grants Administrator, I could easily have done my Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 job in about 10 hours a week. But I was on staff, and so… I showed up every day. At least, I did as much until I reached that two-year mark, when I knew that, even if I quit, I could walk away with two-months’ salary.

And that’s also what I did.

Yup, it was with that “grant” from the Ford Foundation that I moved to California to pursue a television writing career. And while that free money didn’t lead to the Hollywood gigs I had envisioned, it nevertheless did open the door to a new chapter. It put me on the other side of the country, where I’ve been establishing my turf ever since.

I realize that the Ford Foundation (what with its fairyland perks) is one end of the spectrum, and mom-and-pop joints are another. I get it, too, that a lot of hard-working people are experiencing some serious suffering right now. But there’s also been a lot of spoiled, wasted time outside mom-and-pop world, and frankly, I’m glad that many of the big cheeses are having to revisit their staffing plans. Getting rid of the dead weight is long overdue, and the existence of those superfluous bodies is hardly unique to Ford.

By the late ‘90’s, I had been exposed to enough government workers to know that a lot of them are way too comfortable. It’s been said (and I didn’t say it first) that it’s nearly impossible to get fired from a government job.

While that statement may no longer hold true, I consider Linda Tripp its ultimate poster girl.

Remember her?

She’s the one who had nothing better to do with her day than to track her “friend” Monica’s comings-and-goings, particularly in relation to a certain stained dress and a different spelling of the word “coming.”

Our tax dollars at work. Gotta love it.

As for the present? I’m aware of what’s happening in California, and I’m guessing it’s also happening in states and municipalities across the country: layoffs, government furloughs, and general restructuring. As our elected officials make their decisions, I hope they are taking a good, hard look not just at the boxes on the org charts but also at the people they have working for them. Get rid of the Lindas if only to protect, ultimately, the moms-and-pops.

It’s high time our economy revolved around real work, not idle gossip.

And we certainly don’t need to support bosses who delegate the disposal of their trash.


criticalcrass said...

there's a lot of good in this post. those last two sentiments are great. :]

glad you liked the pictures.

cj Schlottman said...

Hey, Katie,
I volunteer at a free medical clinic here in Macon. We are seeing more and more middle income patients, because the big companies for which they work (one notable example is the huge medical center here in town) are cutting their full time employees to 35 hours a week, so they don't have to offer them any employment benefits.
It's enough to make you puke. Thanks for bringing it to the fore.


Deb Shucka said...

Amen. I enjoyed learning a bit more of your story here, as well.

Green Monkey said...

ohhhhhhh my, OH MY!!! WELL SAID!

and I agree with Deb - love hearing background on you.

As a business owner I am always trying to trim "fat" and I have a bit of an attitude towards government employes. being guaranteed ANYTHING is not a good thing. we need to earn and yearn for what we want.

'Nough Said......monkey OUT (I'm high from today's spotlight)

Martha said...

Brava!!! Having spent 8 years as an editorial consultant to the federal government, I saw the waste of paying salaries to people who would never survive outside that "safe" environment. My favorite example - the government editor who replaced "frequently" with "more oftener."

Cheryl said...

Garbage in. Garbage out. You'd think it would work that way in the gov'ment too. Not noticeable here yet. Still too busy cutting funding for nonessentials like art.

dreamcatcher said...

Totally agree with you Katie! People are my profession and I'm always stunned when people keep people just to keep them. While it's tough to be let go, it can be a great thing for both the company and the person involved. I also hope it brings better awareness to employers in knowing that if you don't invest in the people you've got you'll be surpassed by competitors who do. Thanks again for great insight.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I can't comment on the US with any knowledge really, but thirty or so years ago I worked for the Civil Service here in the UK and it was the same story then - you knew who the inefficient, 'more than my job's worth' type were because they'd get what we called sideways promotion. That never meant 'out the door' they would just be removed to somewhere less 'bothersome' probably on higher salaries to boot!

I own a small company and we have had to downsize considerably over the last couple of years. No guaranteed salary for us directors and always irksome to hear those in government positions bemoaning their lot. Well said Katie!(Even if I am over here and you over there)

Anonymous said...

Ouch. I don't know whether to cry or to laugh to read how one has to toss something for one's boss. Sometimes I think they need to get rid of the big bosses that make millions and millions of dollars regardless on how their company perform.

Great insight!

Anonymous said...

I am all for people being employed and being paid a salary for work, but it is sad that in "most" workplaces, the efficiency rate is laughable. If we were to actually count the minutes we spent doing what activities are our job, it would probably be around 50%. Which is why I don't particularly like being employed by someone else. I'd rather be my own employer so I can choose when and how much, or how little I want to work!

Jayne Martin said...

So today I learned you'd been a waitress for seven years, came to California to be a television writer and worked in the non-profit sector -- plus you've written a book! What an interesting person you, Ms. Katie.

I keep hoping California will eliminate workers at the Franchise Tax Board, or just piss them off so much that one of the disgruntled spitefully stamps my unpaid tax bill "Paid."

Hey, a girl can dream.