And now I am gone

My last few weeks as a public servant were really weird.  I was facing a slow down of work as I passed my tasks to my colleagues and a slow down of meetings from a few to none.  The team didn’t even think I needed to attend our weekly meetings, so left me to my own devices when I did not show up.  In truth, I simply didn’t know when they were meeting, so I quietly sat at my desk and pondered my usefulness for the rest of my time with them.

I hate being idle.  It is OK sometimes, especially after an especially busy period but to sit and do nothing day-in and day-out is tiring.  More so than when I am busy.  So I let everyone know I was available to help them and then looked for work to keep me occupied.  The first thing was to ensure all my personal information was forwarded to my home email account.  Then I had to delete them from my office computer.  I also kept busy by cleaning up the folders I used on the office shared drive and forwarded any emails my colleagues would need as they took over those files.  I suspect they will go mostly unread as they are busy enough with the here and now.  No real-time to read up on past history.  It is too bad as I was responsible for a number of files for a few years.  I knew all the ins and outs, past requests – such as the need for yet one more communication plan – and future plans.  Still, I did my best to share this information with my manager and colleagues.  I very much suspect they will go through the same woes I did.  It isn’t something I wish on them but one learns as one does.

I finally had time to write some stories for our departmental newsletter.  I searched other federal web sites to get some ideas and received a request from another office too.  I heard one of our branch employees became an overnight celebrity, getting to sing with The Wiggles at Scotia Place.  Not being the parent of a little boy or girl, I had never heard of The Wiggles.  Seems they are the next best thing to peanut butter in a young child’s life, especially in this friend’s child’s life.  So a story was written, photos edited and approvals received.  Hopefully it has hit the press.  My other stories included the joy of genealogy and shopping on-line at other federal web sites.  Cool things can be had for friends, family or simply oneself.

As my last week crept up, I was riding an emotional roller-coaster.  At times I was sad and others overjoyed.  I knew I would miss my office mates and friends I made since joining HRSDC.  And I do, I miss them a lot.  I miss the team meetings and our lunch hour chats, seeing what nice outfits they wore and guessing how many sweaters Lori would wear.  We had our ups and downs as any team would but I am glad this was the last team I worked with, as it was one of the best.

I am happy, of course, to be off work.  Currently on vacation to be followed by my full retirement.  Going to bed later than ten o’clock is nice.  Getting up after six a.m. is nice too.   Time to sit and read and plan a leisurely day and to follow-up on my travel plans for my “dream of a lifetime” trip.  Although this is my dream trip, my husband is also keen on going.  We have such similar interests, he knows he will enjoy what ever I plan.  Still, he will have a dream trip and we will make that happen too.

“What are you going to do?” people would ask.  And I had to think about it.  I knew what I planned to do in the next few months, I knew what I wanted to do in the next year but do they want to know to satisfy their curiosity?  No one seems satisfied if I say “live life to the fullest” or “stay up late and sleep in.”  They want details but quick ones.  “I will write a best seller, I will go back to school and get my masters in journalism, I will master new skills and help the less fortunate!”  It is liking asking someone new to their job what they plan to do for the next 30 years.  It is not the same, of course, as I am no longer in my twenties but I am a healthy individual.   And I do love life and I plan to live it to the fullest.

I plan to stay in touch with my friends at work, either by visiting them on site or meeting them now and then.  I have kept in touch with friends I made through my government jobs from more than twenty years ago.  When I meet my friends from our near past and distant past, it is like time stands still.  The chaos of the world stops swirling around us.  We get to step off  the roller-coaster for a few hours to enjoy the simple pleasures we have shared and will continue to share in the years to come.


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Job Be Gone

After 35 years, I am finally finished with the government. Some people say it went by quickly but it hasn’t really. I went from job to job, location to location, always looking for a place I can call my own. And I did eventually get into a line of work I really enjoyed. Communications – who would have known. It wasn’t until I did some work with a “real” communications officer that I realized there was a job out there that I could really like.  And fortunately I had a manager who also thought that would be the perfect job for me. She opened the door and I stepped in.

But on Friday (September 12) I stepped out. I finally got to leave. With a full pension too. With my health and all the support my family and friends could give me. My colleagues were sad to see me go just as I was sad to say goodbye to them.

So I am on my next great adventure – a world away from full-time work. Oh, I may dabble in some contract work or get involved in some charitable organization but in reality, I see myself just doing all the things I have wanted to do. It is wonderful. I wish this for everyone. If you can leave work, do so. Learn to fill your days with something better than dockets, deadlines and office lunches.

Of course people who are retired know of what I speak.  I am the last of my siblings to retire and my best buddy has been retired for a few years now.  I can make appointments during the week instead of a crowded Saturday afternoon.  I can pursue all those arts and craft projects I have been meaning to tackle.  And I can send out Christmas cards again.  And I can update my blogs more often.

Now that the job is gone and can step into a whole new realm of imaginings. Let the adventure begin.

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The Building Commissionaire

All the government complexes I’ve ever worked in were guarded by a commissionaire.  Commissionaires seem to have the monopoly on these jobs.  They usually sit behind a large desk, wearing a dark blue or black uniform with a white shirt and some sort of strange hat.  They are usually old and not in great shape.  Certainly not in any shape to prevent someone from getting past them to say – me.

If there isn’t an electrical device to block people from entering the building or places where the workers are, they are supposed to ask to see your identification card.  In a flash of the card, they take in all that is necessary before letting people pass through. 

Before we had electronic devised and ID cards, the commissionaires would simply nod and let you in.  I guess they were there to help visitors find their way.  In one building I worked in, the commissionaire would send all the visitors to me.  I worked at the reception desk for my office, so meeting and greeting visitors wasn’t new to me but I did start to wonder why so many were asking for directions to people or offices I did not know.  Some people would complain to me, saying I was incompetent or useless since I could not help them.  When I asked who sent them to me, I discovered it was our commissionaire.  The person who should have been helping them.  I put an end to that after speaking to my manager and his supervisor. 

I must admit, the commissionaires for that building had a lot to cover.  There were a number of entrances as it was built like a big X.  A lot of the employees came and went by the back or side doors or even the loading docks, avoiding the commissionaire all together.  Many doord were locked from the outside but they were often propped open for easy access for the lunch hour crowd and smokers.  The commissionaires were only seated at the main front door and the main back door.  Sufficient enough, thought Public Works, until the computers and all other portable devices were stolen from the building one fine weekend. 

The thieves weren’t stupid.  They knew these devices would be quickly replaced.  Since the windows and doors were now locked and checked on a regular basis, the thieves simply walked in during the day to remove the new equipment.  What with all the suppliers coming a going, I am sure the commissionaire had no idea who was who.  No ID, no signing in – just a nod and the occasional hello.  Who knows, they may even have held the door open for our wily thieves.  One will never know.

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Commuting to Work

You go where the jobs are. That is what I’ve heard. So it doesn’t matter if the government moves you from one location to another, you go along or find another job.

For most of my working life, I worked at Tunney’s Pasture. It was a long haul from the east end of Ottawa but I managed to get there either by bus or by car. When I lived with my parents, I took the bus or buses. A transfer was usually necessary at some point down town and it took about an hour each way. When I was first married, I lived in the west end of Ottawa. My husband also worked at Tunney’s Pasture, so we would commute together. At times we would either take the car, the bus or ride our bikes. He didn’t like taking his bike, although he was a bicycle enthusiast, where as I liked it as it was a cheap form of exercise.  Although we didn’t qualify to get a parking spot, he worked in the same office as Millie-the-parking-queen, so he always knew where there were free parking spaces or when the parking police were not working. Eventually we did qualify for parking and would take the car.

When we broke up, I moved back to the east end of Ottawa and at times, either drove or took the bus. At one point, my office moved all the way out to the west end of Ottawa. The bus service was just stupid but fortunately the parking was free, so I took my car.

When I took a job with a different department, I ended up working across the river, in not only a different city but a different province too. The parking fees and availability were just crazy, so I had no choice, I had to take the bus once more.

Bus commuters and car commuters are quite different. Having done both, I’ve witnessed it and experienced it.

I think car commuters feel superior to bus commuters. They may have to share the road with other vehicles but that is outside of their safe cocoon-like environment. They don’t have to share bus space, either on the bus or at the bus stop, or make concessions for anyone else unless they car-pool, and even then it is pretty limited.

Car people seem to think it is OK to come in late or leave early if there is bad weather. They wouldn’t consider leaving earlier than normal as that would interfere with their routine and they would never consider taking the bus on a bad weather day, as that would be too weird. No, they come in late complaining about the traffic and leave early to avoid it while the bus people come and go, on time. As the snow fell softly outside, the car people started twitching to get out. Got to brush the car off and scrape the windows. Must leave now! They may as well go as no work got done once they had it in their head that they had to get out.  When the weather was truly frightful, friends and I would go to a local restaurant and then go home later, once all the car people were gone and the buses could get through.

Car people don’t seem to like to socialize with bus people either.  I saw many a colleague who lived in walking distance of my house, zoom by me as I stood at the bus stop.  Under normal circumstances, that was fine but if we got out early from work or the bus schedules were wonky for some reason or other, I think it would have been nice to be offered a ride.  At one point, we were leaving early – before the express busses started up and I asked my director general to give me a lift to the east end, since he was going straight home.  He was quite reluctant – didn’t quite come out and say no but I had the feeling he was not thrilled with the idea.  Let me tell you, he sure was relieved to learn I found a ride with someone else.  Image the shame he would have experienced if he was seen with a bus-person in his car!

Bus people on the other hand have a pack mentality.  We look out for each other, commiserate together about the bus service, the weather and car-people or laugh at the situations we found ourselves in.  Regular bus people know which bus runs to avoid, who got on when, ensuring the priority seats were available for the right people and woke people up at their stops so they don’t end up in a strange part of town, lost and late.

I’ve lulled myself into a sense of acceptance that both modes of transportation are fine.  Driving is great because it is usually faster, you can do errands on the way to or from work, you always get a seat and can listen to the music you want to but you also have to deal with some crazy drivers and can end up at the office truly stressed out before your day begins.  Car people are counted on to transport their colleagues to restaurants or out of office meetings and are often the ones asked to bring in the larger items for the office potluck. 

Taking the bus to work is less stressful but takes longer.  I am fortunate, I can read on the bus so I get my quiet time before starting my work day or returning home.  I’ve learnt what routes to take so I can get a seat in the morning and evening and have met and chatted with my neighbours.  Some people nap, others listen to their favourite tunes or chat with the other passengers. 

I’ve learnt to not even try to venture outside when we have freezing rain – by car or by bus and save up some leave for days when it is too cold to take a chance on the buses.  You need only stand out in -20 degree temperature for 15 minutes, to know what your limitations are.  Cold weather usually means a late bus at one end or the other.  Take the car or stay home but if you take the car, do offer a bus-friend a ride.  They will certainly appreciate it.

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Blackberrys and Raspberries

I have a Blackberry. Well, I have an office Blackberry. It is an older model but it is still a Blackberry. When I first joined this office, one of the senior advisors told me she and the other senior advisor informed the manager that they did not want a Blackberry. They did not want to be at the beck and call of their manager, director or even their DG. They simply had no intentions of having one. So when I joined, none was offered. This was OK at first but after a year on the job, I thought it would be good to have one, so I asked our director to put in an order for me. No order necessary, I was told. They had a spare one. Someone in the directorate upgraded and left this one behind, so they gave it to me.  The first advisor who refused having a BB was quite surprised to see that I had one but the other fellow too. I think she felt betrayed but when I told her it was her desire not to have one, not ours, she was OK.

I found it was very handy as I always forgot where meetings were being held and at what time. The BB kept track of all that. And I was able to keep up with the demands of the office, as I was often out of telephone and email reach.

When I first got it, I would keep tabs on my emails at all times, even when I was on the bus on the way home or at home when I was on sick leave. I thought it was best to help answer questions immediately rather than wait until I was back at work but eventually I realize this was not a good idea. People expected more and more from me and gave me little or no time to respond. Now when I am away from the office, I look in to see what is happening but forward the messages onto my manager or leave them be. Yes, I thought, the world can survive without me and found that it did just that.

Now when I open the BB I do so to give it the raspberry. I see all the messages back and forth between the people seeking my assistance and the people replacing me and just chuckle. So nice not to be doing that work, even if it is just for a week or so.

The BB also makes for a great time piece and I can keep up with current affairs by checking the news on CBC and in a pinch, I can play a stupid game or use it as a cell phone – as long as no one calls me. I still haven’t mastered the art of retrieving telephone messages or answering the phone in time to talk to anyone. That is why I don’t give out the telephone number. Best save myself the trouble and embarrassment of not being able to respond.

Since it is an old, discontinued model, I wonder if they will let me keep it after I retire. It sure would come in handy, especially if they let me keep my email account. I could ignore all those requests just as I do the phone calls. Now that would be fun.

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The Weather Inside is Frightful

Have you ever noticed that the temperature inside your office has no reflection on what is going on outside? In the summer we freeze inside and in the winter we melt. And if you complain you get standard lines like – we cannot please everyone; it takes 3 days for the temperature inside to re-adjust to the temperature outside.

If you are lucky enough to have a window seat, you can bet your booty you have to close the blinds so you can see your computer screen and block the rays of the sun from blinding you. And large glass windows, when the blinds are left open, let in a lot of heat (when the sun shines). It is pretty bad when you look forward to overcast skies so you can leave the blinds open.

Currently, I am on the ground floor of the building I am working in. Great for emergency exists or quick dashes to other buildings but the view sucks. All I get to see are the smokers, huddled up against the window, talking out loud and littering the ground around them. We can still see them when the blinds are down but they can’t see us. I have been tempted to shoot the blinds up as they stare at their reflection in the glass. “Boo!” One more civil servant, clutching at his chest.

My colleagues and I have talked about taking pictures of their backsides (the smokers, not us) and posting them in the windows with a sign “Is this your bum?”

For the longest time I had an inflated Happy Face beach ball in the window but even it got depressed by seeing all the smokers. It pulled its own plug and now sits all deflated and sad by my desk.

Once, when I first moved into this building, the building management decided that the best time to replace one of the large windows would be around 8 a.m. on a crisp February morning one day (yes, a work day). We didn’t really catch on that they were doing this until the snow came flying in. When you work in a government building, you get used to seeing people wearing their winter coats in the morning but the hats and mitts were a bit much.   I must admit, the people replacing the windows were quite quick about it but it may have had something to do with all the dirty looks they were getting from us.

And you never complain to anyone in the other buildings about the heat or cold you have to endure in the office because they will always be able to best you on their own miserable locations.  It is a truly universal experience.  We are such a miserable lot.

If your workstation is nowhere near a window, you feel like you live in a cave because you have no idea what is going on with the weather or anything else that is going on outside.  There could be a nuclear war and you would just keep working away because someone forgot to mention it to you.  I’ve looked out of one office window from the 12th floor of a building and commented on all the two trucks dragging the cars away.  Seems there was a blitz that day on illegal parking and many a car went missing that afternoon.

I always took great pleasure at seeing the dramas that unfolded outside of government buildings.  I love slapstick so the minute I see someone slipping and sliding on the icy surface below, I start to giggle.  Can’t giggle too loud or the people around me would get upset.  “You are sick!” they would say.  Get a smile where you can, that is what I say.  I’ve slipped and fallen and don’t mind if people laugh.  As long as they help me up.  I remember once lying on a pathway, like a turtle on its back, waiting for someone to come and help me up but no help came.  So I struggled, dragged myself to a snow bank and eventually righted myself.  And if anyone saw me and was laughing, good on them.  Glad to give a bit a humour in this world.

Having a work station high up in the sky is great because the view is usually good.  Except one place I worked, the view was just the gravel tops of other buildings.  Still, the clouds sometimes drifted by, or a workman.  That would through me off – that and the window washers.  They come creeping up the side of the building.  Always a surprise because normally there aren’t a lot of people hanging around the window, especially when you are on the 16th floor.   I always thought one of them should wear a King Kong mask.   And wouldn’t it be cool if they started dripping red coloured water down below.  So many missed opportunities.

As I put away my shawls and blankets after an especially chilly summer (chilly in the office, hot as hades outside), I pull out a small fan to run during the winter months.  It keep me from passing out from the dry heat that gets blasted on us.  We are already filling the freezer at work with popsicle and ice cubes to keep us cool.

Yes, I know – don’t complain.  I am lucky to have a window seat, on the ground floor, with a vent and a blind to block out the sun (but not the smokers).   It is pretty good compared to some places I’ve worked and at least the fire drills are easy on the knees.

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Managers – the good, the bad and yes, the ugly.

Being a manager is a pretty thankless job, so I have a great deal of respect for those who take it on and are good at it.  I have had many a good manager and have even had to manage an office or two myself, so I know from where I speak.  And in all honesty, I remember having more good managers than bad ones.

The good managers have made all the difference in the world for me.  They have recognized my abilities, nurtured them, encouraged me and gave me opportunities that have helped me in my career.  These managers have guided and helped me when I behaved badly and made mistakes and were always there when I needed help.

I had one manager who started off good, became bad and unfortunately, was always ugly.  Some one even recommended she try wearing a bit of make-up to look better.  She took it all in stride but I could see she was a bit hurt by that.  No one deserves that type of advise.  Her good points were her enthusiasm and strong belief that what our team was doing, was truly helping Canadians.  And she was right, the team was doing a lot of excellent work but they also took advantage of her good nature.  One person would go off on her own, travelling as she wished and taking on projects with out so much as discussing it with the manager, let alone getting her approval. Contracts were poorly created and even the contractor would receive far more than they would normally get.  Coming from a financial background, I cringed at the way things were managed.  I knew it would be an auditor’s dream to go through all those records.

At one point our Director’s administration officer sent us an email asking each of us to send her our passwords (something we would never do now).  My manager did a “reply all” sending her password to everyone in our directorate.  I pointed this out to her (mistake #1) and told her she will have to change all her passwords (mistake #2) but she bluntly refused.  I was never impressed with her managing style and was happy to see the  back of her head when I left.  When my term was up I was asked to help out at another division rather than return to my home base.

The manager of that division wasn’t that great either, at least from my point of view.  Her advice to me when I started was to avoid one gentleman, as he was bitter and grumpy, and to do everything the senior project officers asked of me (except for the grumpy guy).  As you can imagine, I ignored her advice and befriended the grumpy guy and clashed with the senior project officers.  The senior project officers used me as their gopher.  I would have to type up their hand written memos, although they all had computers; deliver packages to other buildings; and organized their resources of old journal clippings and reports.  I was miserable.  They laughed at my mistakes, pretending it was all in good fun.  When I brought this to the manager’s attention, she simply told me I was mistaken.  She defended the senior project officers and assured me that the team thought highly of me but the only person who was nice was the grumpy guy, who by the way, was never grumpy with me.

As luck would have it, I won a competition for a higher position (3 levels higher) in another branch.  It was only a one year assignment but at least it was an escape from my miserable job.  Since I had only worked for this division for a few months (felt like years) the manager and her wicked team decided not to have any sort of going away activity for me, like a lunch, or tea and coffee.   One of the secretaries mentioned it to me, so I knew not to expect anything.  I simply stopped working there one Friday and started elsewhere the following Monday.

The one year assignment was in an office where I had first started, so I was familiar with the type of work they did.  I must admit, when I originally left that office I vowed never to return as I thought they were all crazy but since they were offering me a higher position with more responsibilities, I went back.  Instead of being the office clerk, I was now the executive assistant in the director general.  I  was to run the office and manage the support staff.   

I thought I had learned from the good and bad managers how to work with employees but nothing could have prepared me for this bunch.  It was truly a trial by fire with back stabbing women who were determined to take me down.  I would go home in tears every night wondering why this was happening.  When I went on vacation I realized I had to take control for the betterment of the office and for me.  I just refused to give up without a fight.  I was determined to make this right.

The first thing I did was meet one of my former managers.  She had experience working with a difficult employee.  She gave me solid advice and a strategy on how to handle the situation.  I recruited support from my manager and the senior officers.  The employees didn’t know what hit them.  All they kept saying was “you’ve changed.”  By the time our new DG arrived, the office was running smoothly, so much so that they created a new position for me so I could stay on after my assignment was over.

Ever since I had that job, I avoided applying for managerial positions.  I did have to manager another team but they were all excellent employees who worked together at solving problems.  I really had a dream team. 

The people make all the difference.  How they behave, interact with others and do their work.  If you have a good manager, treat him or her right and be the type of employee you wish you were managing.

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