Saturday, July 25, 2015

How My Work Works

Pretty much everyone who read my last post expressed dismay at the hiring situation I described.  Since I have been sick ever since last week, and basically have not left the house or had any interesting experiences whatsoever, I will take this week's blog post to explain, how my work works, sort of.

(Don't be too worried.  I am gradually getting better.  It's kind of hard to tell, but my weak, pathetic sick-person croak of a voice has gotten a little stronger by the end of this week; I've stopped feeling feverish; and I can breathe a little easier with each passing day.  I did see a doctor, who examined me in around 0.5 seconds (ear, ear, throat, two deep breaths, done) and decreed that there is no need for antibiotics, now close your germ-hole and get the hell out of my office.  So I guess I'm just waiting for my immune system to fight the good fight in its own time.)

Right.  So, it's like this.  My workplace is a business that caters to professionals (I won't say what type, but picture lawyers, or dentists, or engineers maybe) who each have a private practice within the facility, and pay monthly overhead fees (a percentage of their earnings) for rent on their offices and support staff.  Therefore, they are our customers.  At the same time, their customers are our customers.  Technically I have no authority over the professionals.  Even my bosses, at the top level of the organization, have no authority over them.

It's a tricky dance to work under these circumstances.  The professionals have a governing organization that they're answerable to.  If they are misbehaving, we have the option of informing the governing body, but that has not had the greatest results in the past.  Firstly, the governing body, like all such organizations, is a mixed blessing.  It does some good and necessary work, and is also filled with busy-body bureaucrats who like to come around with their proverbial white gloves on, hoping to find problems, and sometimes making up problems if they can't find any.  If we invite them to pay attention to our organization, we might seriously regret opening that can of worms.  Exactly the same can be said of the Ministry of Labour, which governs all workplaces in Ontario.  We've learned the hard way that asking such organizations to police our professionals causes as many problems as it solves.

When it comes to policing them ourselves, that's also a losing game.  Asking for cooperation works to a point, but if they decide that they don't give a damn, what can we do?  There are plenty of other, similar businesses which they could move to, where the management is much less concerned with being fair, safe, and legal.  If we're not the best of the bunch, we're right up there, from what I've heard.

With regards to the particularly demanding, agist old fellow that I was working with last week, it's hard enough getting him to accept that he has to pay his assistant for statutory holidays, for example.  Or allow her to have regular breaks.  In fact, if I can find anyone who can put up with him, and who he will accept by his perfectionist standards, it's a dang miracle.  In the rest of the organization, I assure you that I have hired all ages, both genders, and many ethnicities.  On the balance, my workplace is as equal-opportunity as I can make it.  If this particular old grumpus demands a youthful face, then I'll find one for him.  I have to pick my battles with him.

The grumpus is one of the highest-grossing professionals in our company.  That means that his overheads subsidize the pay of more workers than just his own assistant, including at least two 60-year-olds I work with.  If we gave him an ultimatum and he went to work somewhere else, more than one person might lose their job besides his assistant.  I haven't seen the exact numbers, but this is what I've been told.

So, that's the big picture.  Now you know why we put up with him.  It's not just the money; he actually is extremely good at what he does.  And when it comes to his clients, he's super-nice and helpful.  He'll do more for them than some of his more outwardly charming colleagues.  He holds himself to the same crazy, workaholic, no-break standards as his assistants.  He's a bit of a nut, but if you met him you'd probably end up liking him, despite yourself.  I know I do, at least half of the time.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

In Which Spark Gets Knocked Onto Her Butt

Things at my work are hella crazy right now.  I fired two people in one week (this lady and someone else, the victim of cutbacks).  If you have never fired someone, trust me, it stinks.  It's not as bad as being fired, I'll give you that, but it was a heck of a week.

The following week, on Monday, my new hire started.  She seems pretty great so far, but you know how it is with training; everything takes twice as long, which is really four times as long when you count that it is two people (the trainer and the trainee) working at half the usual pace to incorporate all the relevant teaching moments.

At the very same time, another long-term employee has been overwhelmed by a combination of work stress and personal-life stress, and basically just stopped showing up for work.  And then went and got another job that starts in August.  And was not clear with us initially whether or not we could expect her back  at least until the end of the month, because she wasn't sure herself if she could manage it.  So, while she has my genuine sympathy and all, it is extremely inconvenient from a management perspective.

I am responsible for hiring a replacement for this overwhelmed employee.  Her boss (ex-boss now, I guess) gave me a list of qualities that he would like in the replacement.  They were along these lines:

  1. Must be young.
  2. Must have a command of written English equivalent to that of a New York Times copy-editor.
  3. Must be willing to work part-time, with no benefits, on a trial basis indefinitely, to be let go if she is displeasing with no severance pay or notice.
  4. Must be available anytime during the week to work whenever the boss needs her.  If she needs a second job to bring her 24-hour work week up to a 40-hour one, she will have to work on Saturday and Sunday so that she can maintain her unlimited weekday availability.
  5. Must be willing to do basically anything he needs done.  (His last assistant occasionally did laundry for him, and once brought a dead bug in an empty juice jar from his house to be identified by a City of Toronto office.  In case it was a bedbug.  It wasn't.)
I have let him know that #3 is not legal, but if he wants we can set up a 1-year probation period.  Anyone who can last a full year with him is probably either good enough to stay on indefinitely, or will shortly quit on their own steam.  

As you can imagine, the candidates who fit this profile are next to none.  This is Toronto, people!  We're one of the immigration capitals of the world!  Approximately 95% of all the applicants for this type of job have English as a second language, and the remaining 5%, being young (see #1, above) are mostly like "thank u for considering my resume when can i interview?"  *headdesk*  I am negotiating with him regarding the one applicant which I have some hope for, practically begging him to give her a chance so that I don't have to start the entire recruiting process over from scratch while my existing skeleton staff becomes ever more stressed trying to take care of his multitudinous needs.

Anyhoo, long story short, Spark got stressed out, and Spark got sick.  Spark is sitting at home, simmering in a low-grade fever, sneezing, coughing, and making sad-puppy faces.  

I got my department through the worst two weeks of chaos.  They may have to manage some of next week without me.  I will be here on the sofa with my Benylin and plenty of tissues.  They say a virus takes 7-10 days to get through one's system; that's not business days, right?  I get credit for this weekend?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I'm a Bad Bunny

Yesterday Ken and I went out for our first full roasting of the summer, so today we are staying in to compensate.  I don't know how it is in warmer climes, but when you live in Canada there's always a distinct turning point when your body has to switch over into summer mode, and it can come as a shock to the system.  It was 29 degrees Celsius yesterday (that's "plenty freaking hot" in Fahrenheit).  Certainly hot enough to give one that unmistakable "dripping sweat from head to toe" experience.

I suppose I could have taken some really great photos of the gorgeous gardens we passed on our Hot Walk, but I had the handle of my sun-brella in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, and I was too busy checking myself for signs of heat stroke to organize any good photo ops.

After the walk, we went to our friends' house for game night  and rehydration.  We played a new-to-us game called Bad Bunnies.  Having won two games in a row, I claimed the title "Worst Bunny".  It's a pretty straightforward card game, around equal parts luck and strategy, lots of fun in a large group.  This is my favourite card:

That is exactly how I feel every weekday morning.

In other exciting news of this week, I went to PaintLounge for the first time.  It's a studio space in a storefront where you can go, alone or with friends (I went with friends) to do some artsy acrylic painting.  I wasn't sure that it would be my thing.  I can't even remember the last time I picked up a paintbrush for anything other than slapping a new colour on a wall.  On the streetcar, on my way there, I even started to regret my decision to go.

However, once I got there and started squishing colours onto a palette, it wasn't so bad.  I got going with brushes, a sponge, and a toothbrush, and created my masterpiece.  Of course it turned out relatively crappy, but the process of applying paint and experimenting with colour mixing and other effects was fun.  The end product wasn't as terrible as it could have been, thanks to the happy coincidence that one of the women in the group is a professional art teacher!  She gave me some extremely helpful tips.

That being said, am I going to post a picture of the end result?  No way José! Another friend of mine, who appreciates enthusiastically executed "outsider art", made the mistake of claiming that he doesn't just like my painting, he LOVES it.  Therefore I will be holding on to it for a few months and giving it to him as a gag gift on his birthday.  I hope he puts it to good use by re-priming the canvas and painting over it.  

Would I go back to PaintLounge?  Sure!  Would I do it differently next time?  Absolutely!  I'm sure I would have been helped by pondering my inspiration before I actually had the brush in my hand, planning the layering of the paint, having at least one reference photo to work from; in short, there are many ways I could step up my game.  I mean, it's fun playing with paint, but next time I wouldn't mind ending up with something that I would actually want to hang on my wall.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Warped Mind of Ron

Sad news this week: my friend Ron passed away.  We had never met in person; in fact I never heard the sound of his voice, but after 8 years of reading and commenting on each others' blogs, occasionally exchanging e-mails, and being Facebook friends, I feel that I knew him pretty well.  I can say with authority that the world is a lesser place without him.

Ron was one of the many under-appreciated Good Guys of the world.  He was super-smart, funny, loyal, and considerate.  The one great sadness of his life was that he was never able to experience mutual true love.  He tried  online dating sites, but he didn't fit the profile that women were looking for.  It's a darn shame, because he could have been a fine husband and father.  I believe that if he had found someone to share his life with he may have been able to take care of his health better and live longer.  I no longer have sympathy for any single women in Columbus, Ohio.  You could have had Ron; it's too late; you missed your chance; I don't want to hear any whining about how you just can't find a good guy out there.  He was right here and you passed him up because he didn't look like he just jumped off the pages of GQ.  You only have yourselves to blame.

I'm not sure exactly how old Ron was... somewhere in his mid-forties.  He had some serious health problems, including his ticker.  I never found out specifically what got him in the end, but my best guess is a heart attack.  He didn't see it coming.  He had just signed up to take guitar lessons.  I was looking forward to hearing how they went.

His workplace is going to be in a pickle without Ron.  He was the only guy who understood their computer systems, and their computer systems were essential to running the machinery in the plant.  I don't know what they'll do without him.  Probably figure out his real value when they're forced to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading their systems, now that he's no longer around to nurse and cajole their aging, jury-rigged set-up into producing results.

But mostly he'll be missed by his many friends, and family.  There has been an outpouring on his Facebook page.  He will be missed for his sweet heart, and for his bizarro sense of humour, which often involved stories about squirrels plotting to take over the world.  I wish he could have stayed with us longer.

Bye, Ronnie.  I miss you! xoxo