wednesday night debrief

It's been a long, long three days. Three days in a row is much more intense than three days over four. It's better having the lovely long weekend with lots of home, family and even a fair bit of me time, but man, those three work days are intense. By the end of it I'm wiped. Tonight is no exception. I don't know how the full timers do it.

Now everyone who reads here most likely knows where I work. Taking forms from a long line of people staring at me and my colleagues (especially when we scuttle away from our desks to take a turn for tea or lunch break). I process, stamp and initial these forms, then make sure that the payment goes through (otherwise I don't sleep at night). It seems that I generate and stamp a ridiculous amount of paper. Indeed in my head I refer to my job as stampy-stampy. Every now and then I might make a difference, but mostly I settle for making it as pleasant and human as possible for me and the customer sitting in front of me. Someone commented last week that I did help it feel less like a walk of shame. That's a feeling that's creeping in all around as the global financial crisis (or maybe I should just bite the bullet and call it a recession?) means more people lose their jobs. I'm starting to have to explain over and over how the system works and why a person may have to do things that sometimes seem pointless or even counter productive to them in terms of getting more work. 

On my good days I can get to a point with most people where I say, "let me explain how it all works and then you will have some choices about how you deal with it". And most reasonably bright people will accept that and as we go on will grasp that there are things that I can't say outright, but will catch my drift. Not so the very well educated lady I saw yesterday, who had not completed her form properly or in any way that I could consider acceptable (I'm a softie, I look for ways for people to be right) and would not stop arguing about the unfairness of it all for long enough for me to explain anything. I felt my ire rising and rising. I tried to explain again, fumbling in my efforts, confusing the fact that everyone has to comply with the same legislation with the other fact that everyone's circumstances are different. Inside I was agreeing with many of the points she raised. And then I felt like the petty bureaucrat. Then my anger rose inside again as I remembered my times on the dole and how I would just fill out the bloody paperwork and do what I needed to do keep getting the money to pay my rent.  In the end, I asked her to stop speaking until I had explained what she needed to do. It wasn't a happy interaction.  And then I felt angry because there are so many people who have been doing this for so long that they don't question the system, they know it as well as I do. And others might look down on those people, thinking but I'm not like that. And for some reason that really sticks in my craw. We're all different and unique, but all people, no matter what our circumstances. How times are a changing. Again.

Now I guess I had such a crap day at work yesterday because I didn't sleep that much on Monday because that was crappy too. My office has a system of seeing people based on when they come in and there was someone who had been waiting an hour to lodge a claim. That's not acceptable but we work as hard and as fast as we can with what we have and when a busy patch hits a small office, well it's like a small restaurant being slammed with orders and the kitchen getting backed up. Anyway I swapped from my other job to help out and when I went to greet her in the waiting room, she nearly bit my head off. She'd been waiting, she didn't have time for this and basically she wanted it done five minutes ago. I told her it would take about ten minutes and there was more snapping. Normally people vent, then settle, but this woman kept on and on. She was so nasty that I had to say that unless she could stop being so hostile, I would not be able to take her claim and she'd have to see someone else. I'm usually pretty tough at work but this time I was shaking at the photocopier. The worst thing was she had a child with her, and every time the poor kid moved or spoke there were harsh words. Despite the fact that kids run all about our waiting room and that everyone understands that kids will be kids and despite the fact that this kid was behaving far better than I would expect any kid her age who'd just waited for an hour in a boring government office with nothing to do. Now I can be pretty strict with Grace, but I so don't want to be that mother. Let it out and Breathe.

And today. Well, today was just long and tiring. With a headache that warranted two sets of panadol fairly close together. But towards the end I saw a lovely customer and she asked, how are you? To which I replied, tired. ..That's an honest answer, she said and there's not enough of that in this world. She was tired too and we laughed. Real laughter. Just one of those small moments. It was a good way to end the day.

I'm going shoe and opshopping tomorrow. Yay.

ps, that's not a picture of where I work but some snaps I took of the Coburg library one day when I was out shopping.
pps I feel like I shouldn't really write about work, but I sure needed the therapy. It's really a pretty good place to work overall.


Kel said...

i wish you were the person i got when i went to one of those places for help when I was retrenched at xmas time
i was an emotional wreck and needed someone like yourself to be kind and gentle while i struggled to cope with losing my job in an economic climate and rural area where it will take me a long time to get another one
unfortunately, the lady i got was so rude it was all i could do not to burst into tears in that office
i guess the key here is that there are human beings on both sides of the counter - and it's nice to hear a story behind an experience from the other side
i can only imagine the stress you face as you deal with people in these challenging times - and i will be holding space for you in my thoughts and prayers
may you find the strength to continue treating people with as much respect and kindness as possible

Laura said...

Write away Janet. It must be an immensely stressful place to work sometimes, and people like Hostile Woman just make it all much harder.
And Honest Answer women help to smooth the frazzles out.
I have difficulty too with work writing. I hope I don't break any confidentiality, and I am much more discreet and careful about the back story than I used to be, but the events I describe happen to ME as part of the interactive dyad, and I feel i am allowed to describe MY DAY.
SO, write, Janet. You're entitled to vent.

kris said...

There's a lot in this post I wanted to say 'oh yes' to, but in particular the snappy mother got me. I find this particularly distressing as I wonder what damage it does to a child to have every movement policed and criticised. One couldn't grow up feeling at all comfortable with oneself.
And of course, the social embarrassment for others comes from the parent's behaviour rather than that of the child.
Sometimes I wonder if the snappishness shows a lack of comfort and confidence in that particular space.
Sometimes I think people can just be horrible.

victoria said...

I imagine it would be mega stressful at your work at the moment, and more so in the next year or so or however long all this is going to go on. I like reading how you explain it all, and whenever I've had to go to _______ in the past I always found the staff to be AMAZING - seriously, it was always the most helpful and compssionate group of people behind those counters, they were like particularly good social workers, and I always got the feeling that each person was working hard to get me as much as possible out of whatever situation! Hope the opshopping and shoe shopping goes really well and gives you a bit of cheer and respite!

M said...

I guess you must have longer queues than normal at work at the moment. I suspect your educated young lady was unnacustomed to being in that place and was feeling a little like a cog. I'm glad you are trying to humanise the experience.

suse said...

Yay for shoe shopping and op shopping.
You deserve it :)

Stomper Girl said...

You haven't said anything indiscreet. You are brave to work at the frontline, and it sounds like you do your job with kindness and empathy, given half a chance.

h&b said...

I wonder if you ever worked with my mum ?
I can't remember which offices she worked, but there were a few of them and they were mostly Northside.
I reckon she would have liked you.

Kate said...

When I was in uni (working almost full time, on centrelink, parents paid my rent and I STILL don't know how i made ends meet) I figured it was pretty much another job. Someone is going to give me money. All I have to do is fill the dmaned forms out and stand in line. If I don't like that I can not take the money, or I can change it. But that line is not the right place to change it. The line to change it is EVEN LONGER and starts waaaaaay back. If you're not patient enough to stand in line for a half an hour to lodge a form, I'm pretty sure you don't have the patience for that other line, either.
Those were long long lines, but I always felt worse for the people behind the counters. Once I got my bit done, I was off and out, but they had to stay there looking at teh snaky lines going on and on and on. And those little pedastal desks? It seemed unfair. I always tried to be polite and nice, since they were just as much caught up int he system as I was - more, probably...
I still have very clear memories of one or two lovely lovely workers who helped me out a couple times when the rules got tricky. The last time I went in the woman who served me saw that I was nearly in tears, obviously assessed that I'd done my best on teh form, and very gently helped me around the red tape. That was almost four years ago (thank the lord, please don't let me need that any time soon) and I still remember what she looks like and think warm thoughts about her.
Don't underestimate the brightness you can bring to someone's day, week, month, year.