Tales of the Office: Earn and Burn

§  We are about to begin another holiday season, where love, compassion and generosity of spirit should reign supreme. Well, just call me Ebeneezer!  §

I am an unsympathetic person, and terribly judgmental.  I’ve heard people tell me, quite without irony, that I am caring and kind and empathetic.  I shake my head in wonder.  They obviously don’t know me even half as well as I know myself!

As a perfect example of my lack of empathy, I recall the ungenerous, hypercritical attitude I held toward certain coworkers during my years working at an office.  These were the people who, the very minute they accumulated their monthly stipend of sick, vacation or personal time, were nowhere to be found, having taken a day off using the leave they’d just accrued.  Several of my coworkers demonstrated this behavior, but one in particular was the unrivalled Queen of what we termed “Earn and Burn”.  Each time she earned a day’s leave she bailed, leaving the work on her desk to be covered by her more responsible coworkers.

Oddly enough, had she been (as some of the Earn and Burners were forced to do) using her earned leave time so quickly for desperate need–her own or loved ones’ chronic illnesses; the needs of small children; other ordinary life crises, such as waiting on dilatory repairmen–well, had that been the case, my minimal amount of available empathy would have been decidedly engaged.  But it was not.  The Queen took each of her days for idle recreation.   Watching her coworkers struggle to deal with the problems caused by her constant absences, I fumed. There was nothing I could do about the situation so long as those in authority allowed her to get by with the behavior.  We all suspected that she must have known where some bodies were buried, for her supervisors, wimps to a man and a woman, turned a blind eye to her behavior. It appeared there were no consequences to her irresponsibility, for the Queen was never disciplined…at least not by the office.

The Universe, though—the Universe apparently had other ideas.

The Queen got sick.  Major, real, big time sick: weeks of hospitalization and further weeks of recovery.  And she had no leave time available to use.  She’d burned through all of it.

Oh, she was eligible for short-term disability leave, and it was granted.  But that essentially meant only that she would have a job waiting, if and when she recovered.  Since she had no leave time, her days off were all unpaid.

Our office, as it always did, pulled together to send get-well cards and a bouquet of flowers; some of the staff visited her at the hospital.  The work on her desk was divvied up among the other employees in her unit so she would not return to an avalanche of paperwork.  A cadre of staff members, perhaps hoping to be heard by those in authority,  complained loudly because our employer did not allow those with excess accumulated leave time to donate it to a coworker in need. 

Unsympathetic jerk that I am, I said not a word.  In point of fact, I had so much accumulated leave time that I could have taken off a good two months without losing a single cent of my salary.  But even if a donation policy had been in place, I wouldn’t have offered up so much as one lousy little hour to mitigate our coworker’s situation.  Her lack of available leave time was no one’s fault but her own, and I wouldn’t have tossed her a rope, let alone bent down to offer a hand helping her out of the hole she’d dug herself into. I am not so evil that I gloated over her troubles, but I certainly didn’t shed a tear over them, either.

Eventually, I was approached by several coworkers who felt we should take up a collection to assist the Queen financially during her time of desperate need.  As the Administrative Assistant for the office, this was my function; would I arrange it?  I smiled through very unsympathetic gritted teeth and agreed.

The staff came through marvelously, anteing up several hundred dollars.  I created a spreadsheet to track the contributions, sent bulletins out to the staff as the total increased, and finally arranged for two employees to deliver the cash in a card signed by everyone.

But my own contribution was decidedly ungenerous, unlike the large amounts happily tossed into the till by my coworkers.

I am, as I said, both lacking in empathy and terribly judgmental. Looking back through the lens of time to that office situation, I believe that, occasionally, that’s okay.  There are times when compassion, empathy and walking a mile in another’s moccasins are genuinely the order of the day.  But there are other times when one just has to put on the Tough Love mask and say, “Hey, you did this to yourself.” 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Tales of the Office: Under the Weather”, which can be found in the Archives from July 15, 2020.

I Am a Retired…Me

§  I read an article claiming the importance of outside work, employment, to each individual’s self-concept.  I don’t agree!  §

Not long ago I read an article stating how important outside work, employment,  is to each person’s self-concept. People never, the essay claimed, say merely, “I am retired”.  No, the author asserted, these individuals state “I am a retired (whatever).” Architect, programmer, office support staff, police officer, pilot, teacher, activist, politician….

That’s not true! I thought to myself, putting down the magazine and never finishing the article. (Well, actually, what I thought was, “What a crock!”)

When asked, I tell people, “I am retired.” If they request more details, I reply that I worked for the State of Indiana for 37 years, and briefly for a few other companies prior to my career with the state. In response to those who are nosy enough to ask, “What did you do there?” (What business is it of yours? If  I’d wanted to say, I would have told you!) I tend to get a bit touchy and, yes, perhaps just a wee bit snotty. (Okay, a lot snotty.) Although I have been heard to snap just, “I worked!”, I sometimes reply, “Well, I was a file clerk, a clerk typist, a low level secretary, a high level secretary, an office-group Working Leader, a low level Administrative Assistant, a high level Administrative Assistant, and finally, an Office Manager.”

This usually shuts them down and me up!

The truth is, all those titles, all that employment, really had nothing to do with “me”. They were just jobs that I held to support myself and later my daughter—to put a roof over our heads, food on our table, clothes on our backs; to buy our cars and insurance and occasionally even a meal out or a movie, while still paying taxes and purchasing necessities and settling medical bills. Sticking it out in unpalatable jobs, working for often-unreasonable, difficult and sometimes downright obnoxious supervisors (and, in all honesty, a few really great managers, too), was the way I functioned as a responsible adult. My work was never a career, and, other than drawing upon my strong organizational skills and caretaking core personality, it had little to do with who I was, or am. Perhaps had I been able to follow through on my youthful desire to become an English teacher and a free-lance writer, I might have considered my employment a career. (Then again, knowing how schools and teaching have changed in the years since I was a child–then again, perhaps not.)

These days, this blog suffices as an outlet for the writing that I never found time to do while raising my daughter and working in situations that were sometimes humiliating and occasionally even soul-destroying.   The book reviews that I now write so continually also fill in that gap, too; I sometimes consider myself an unpaid literary critic (and probably am as much hated, and with as much justification, as most such critics are). I strive continually to educate myself, compensating for the higher education of which I was deprived, reminding myself that education is not something one gets, but a gift which one gives to the self.

But the simple truth behind all these occupations remains: I have not, will never, retire from the true work of my lifetime. My greatest life’s work was and still is to be a mother (and anyone who denies that being a parent is the most difficult and most rewarding job they’ve ever done, well, that person is simply not a very good parent). Over the years, though, my work has also been to be a wife for the time I was able to do so, before my spouse’s affairs and drug addiction put an end to our relationship. My job was to be a “working mother” (show me the mother who doesn’t work, whether she holds an outside job or not!) a good homemaker who also held an outside job to support my family. My work has been and still is to grow emotionally, to continually mature, and to become more truly spiritual. My work has been to constantly question all that I have been taught, all that I believe, and from that questioning, derive my own, firmer, beliefs; my morals, ethics and complete value system.

I am genuinely a work in progress—and from that, I hope, I will never retire, not in this lifetime, nor the next.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check the archives for
“The Retirement Guilt Monster”, from 01/12/2018, or
“Retirement Is…” , posted on 03/13/2019