Thursday, 29 June 2017

Work-life imbalance

I'm actually so tired and fed-up I almost don't have the energy to rant. So this isn't going to be a carefully crafted post, in which I labour over the perfect phrasing of every paragraph (which obviously I do on every other post, can't you tell?) No, this time, the words are simply going to spill out, as my hands rattle across the keyboard, trying to allow my thoughts to form coherence of their own accord as they materialise. It's perhaps not the best strategy, but it's the only one I've got.

I admit, I have a pretty good arrangement with my employers. They are understanding and flexible; they have accommodated maternity leave and a part-time return to work without caviling. I know I'm lucky. But that doesn't actually mean that every aspect of my working life is golden.

Take the current situation, for example.

For the last eighteen months, we've been short-handed. There appears to be no drive to change this situation. We've only just managed to replace the Problem Employee (who was himself a replacement for the Departed Employee). So for 18 months I've had an assistant/employee who was either new and/or useless. The current New Person is turning out to be awesome, but he's still new, and still needs a lot of training, and that takes time, and effort. And it means there are a lot of jobs that I'm still doing, 18 months after Departed Employee departed, on top of all my own jobs. And some of those jobs are going considerably slower than normal as I'm training New Person to do them. In the long run this will be a Good Thing. Just now, it's an extra loading on my time, and mental energy.

Meanwhile, over the previous umpty-tump years, we've generally built half a dozen large, bespoke scientific instruments per year. This gives us time to design, build, test, commission, document and ship each one. It also gives us time to find mistakes in the designs and modify them so that next time we build one, it's better than last time. But all that has changed in the last 18 months as well. Our entire business model has changed, and we are currently, simultaneously building thirteen instruments of three different designs (6 of one, 5 of another and 2 of another). And we have simply not adjusted, individually or as an organisation to doing this.

We don't have the man-power to build this much stuff in one go.

We don't have the space to assemble this much stuff in one go.

We don't have the brain capacity to remember every detail of every instrument as we go.

We don't have the systems in place to avoid screwing everything up horribly when we build multiple large instruments in one go.

The set of five identical instruments is my baby. I've nurtured this project, and its predecessors, for the past decade. I've sweated blood and wept bitter tears over this design. The first of these five instruments was due to be sent to the customer in December, with the subsequent four following on at monthly intervals. Not only have I missed the first deadline, I've missed the following four deadlines as well. I have five eviscerated, non-functioning scientific instruments scattered around my lab, and I cannot manage to engage the interest of anybody else in the company in helping complete them. Their attention is elsewhere - on the next thing, the next problem, the next customer, the next crisis. In fact, the only person who seems to care is the Finance Director, who comes and hovers beside me once a week to ask why I haven't finished yet. Which helps.

When I attempt to gain the attention of my Managing Director, he tells me that the next two projects are now more important. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we're already most of the way through building both six giant instruments, and their two smaller brothers (sisters?) I haven't actually finished my part of the design. So, when I'm not beating my head against the brick wall of five non-functioning machines, I'm fighting a desperate rear-guard action, and trying to design electronic control systems more than three days ahead of when our electronics team will build them. Today I ran downstairs to tell them to stop building the set of ten circuit boards they were working on, as I'd realised I'd missed a vital component off.

On top of all this, I'm also (still) trying to deal with a man with a turnip who won't place an order with us, but wants me to promise that his turnip will do what he wants.

Have I mentioned I technically only work 22.5 hours per week?

Have I mentioned that my current workload is enough to fill that time more than twice over?

Have I mentioned that I've worked here for nearly 19 years, and I have an over-developed sense of responsibility?

Which is how I've found myself working until 10pm four evenings this week.

Which is how I found myself driving home from Homebase and Dunelm Mill and other Exciting Places this afternoon on the verge of tears, for no reason other than utter exhaustion. And frustration. And loss of morale. And a growing sense of being hung out to dry professionally. And feeling undervalued and unappreciated. And having no end in sight. So not exactly "no reason".

So, while I might be completely aware of the positives of where I work, there are days when I'm not entirely sure they compensate for the negatives.

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