Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A weight swapped

My rash optimism yesterday that being liberated from Problem Employee would be a weight lifted from my mind was just that. Rash optimism. Unlike my colleagues, who tell me that they slept well and easily for the first time in months, I did not. I lay awake for a couple of hours after going to bed, and then woke early this morning. I feel unrested, unrelaxed and unrelieved.


Partly I feel terribly guilty. I have been instrumental in a man losing his job. Admittedly, he was ill-suited to the job, not fulfilling the requirements and making life very trying for everyone around him, but nonetheless, he's a man with a life and hopes and responsibilities who no longer has a job. What's more, I was one of the people who interviewed him for the post, and recommended that we appoint him. So I feel responsible for the fact that we chose poorly when recruiting.

Partly I feel like I have failed, that it is me that is not good enough. In the past 6 years, we've employed three new people to perform some of my job functions. Each time I've been involved in the recruiting. The first didn't last beyond his six month's probation. Despite a PhD in Physics from Cambridge University, part of which spent undertaking research at CERN, he quite frankly wasn't up to much. He didn't learn what we tried to teach him, he was arrogant, and he was unhelpful. So he left. The third (most recent) didn't last beyond his first year. Despite many years experience in electronics and engineering, he didn't learn what we tried to teach him, was arrogant and was unhelpful. Only the second was any use, and he's now moved on to a better job. (Hey M! Any chance you want to come back?)

Having read that, you're probably wondering why I feel as though I've failed. We've had two people who weren't good enough, or weren't what we wanted, and one who was just right. What's that got to do with me? Well, the common theme is that I was the one responsible for training and attempting to manage employees number 1 and 3. Employee number 2 was initially my maternity cover, so by definition his first year with us was spent in my absence.

So, what if it's me? What if it's that I'm simply totally crap at teaching people how to do what we need them to do? M did a great job when it wasn't me teaching him or managing him. The two men I was in charge of failed singularly. To fail to teach and manage one qualified candidate may be regarded as a misfortune; to fail to teach both looks like carelessness.

With these thoughts swirling in my mind, I lay awake last night, running over how exactly I do explain things. Testing my own understanding of the basics of ion optics and vacuum physics in pretend conversations. Teaching an invisible, imaginary person all about what I do. And I still don't know if I can do it. Maybe I'm like the teacher in Peanuts, and all my students hear is "Wah wah wah wah". And even if I do mange to convey the odd pearl of wisdom, I certainly know less than the square root of bugger all about managing people*.

And now, I have to start all over again, advertising, filtering, interviewing, employing and training employee number 4. And I might just go through the whole process again and find another promising candidate who doesn't learn, won't listen and makes life difficult. And it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that it really is me at that point. That recalcitrance, obtuseness, stupidity and arrogance is all in the eye of the beholder, and that I am busy beholding traits that are not inherent in my poor, hapless employees, but are reactions to my failings. Perhaps I am the nightmare manager from hell from whom employees retreat. The one they go home and rant and weep about. The one who is unfair, and unjust and unreasonable.

Perhaps that is me.

And clearly, the only way to know if that is me that others experience is to lie awake at night worrying. Because a lack of sleep always makes things look better in the morning.

* This doesn't actually set me aside from many members of my company. Unlike them, I actually care about this deficiency though.  

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