one of those days at work

I wrote this post last night after I had sorted some photos and was still feeling a little sad about work. Not sad in myself, just sad about some of what I see. The kind of sad you feel when you remember how it felt to worry about having enough for the rent or a big bill, constantly pushing money from your next payment around in your head. Sometimes when I am starting to feel all whiny, this job jabs me in the side and reminds me how lucky I am. Despite having had the security and backup of extended family, I can see just how easy it can be to fall from having a home and a life into something entirely different. And some people, because of the circumstances they were born into, or whatever happens later, well, they seem to never have a chance. Leading to lives of struggle and constant interaction with the the government and its agencies.  And I remember very well from my time on the other side of the counter how it felt to deal with heartless, thoughtless or just plain incompetent bureaucrats (but maybe that's another whole post).

So now I am one of those bureaucrats and it does my head in sometimes. Last night I ended up publishing some thoughts (after issues with typepad and windows - they do not like each other at all) and then became all self conscious and pulled the post. Thinking, I really shouldn't write about work. But today I remembered that it is OK. Sigh. Yesterday was one of those days when I just seemed to be seeing sadness and despair all around me. And different kinds of kind of broken-ness too. If people can be described that way.  I had more than one interview where the tissues were out as the queue backed up. Sometimes it isn't right to move someone along, just not right at all.  Luckily the people I work with all understand this (not everyone does, I have met some people with very disturbing attitudes - at other offices) and others stepped in. Later after one customer had gone and I gone out to the tea room to compose myself, I reflected that perhaps one of the biggest challenges a big service delivery agency faces is how to be efficient and personal at the same time. As customers and workers we all want things to be quick, easy and streamlined. Yet there are times when we need someone to be the opposite, to take some time, to listen, to consider our particular and unique circumstances. Not an easy task for either the customer, who doesn't want to be the one holding everything up, or the worker, under pressure and feeling that we all need to be rushing through the work, meeting all those KPIs.

I'm seeing some shifts in the way we do things at work. A softening around the edges perhaps. There has always been a genuine desire to do better by people, especially those that are most vulnerable, but there seems to be a higher expectation that we will. It's hard to put into words, but I feel surer these days that what right minded people in customer service have been instinctively trying to to do for a long time is better supported now. Perhaps it has to do with the change in government as it's been coming a while. I just hope that the good things will not be so bound up in complication that there isn't still a degree of flexibility. And that "help" isn't foisted on people when it's not appropriate. A comment I've heard quite a few times from customers is that the government has spent far too much money on programs or courses that have been of no practical help to them.  And that the only ones to benefit are the providers themselves. It is horrible to think that there is an industry out there that is dependent on poverty and hardship. That said, I hear the opposite too, that there are some really good programs and courses out there.

Today at work, a whole lot of things changed. Australian social security legislation and policy recognised same sex relationships for the first time. There were bins and bins of old forms out in the store room awaiting destruction today. We have new questions to ask people who share accommodation and I asked the questions for the first time today. I was nervous, but I explained the change and that I'd never asked this set of questions before. The customer took it in his stride and gave me some good feedback on how to put things. A new batch of employment service providers have come on line, there are changes to activity test requirements and to what's known as the compliance framework (ie what happens when you don't do what you're supposed to). And everything has a new name and a new acronym. Of course. And while the computer system didn't crash, it was pretty slow at times. Lots of white screen (non) action. And we were light on for staff.  Of course. But tomorrow, my weekend, or home time begins. And  suddenly we are at the beginning of a new financial year and the year is sliding by rather quickly. Before you know it, it'll be Christmas.


Sooz said...

I noticed you'd pulled a post glad to hear nothing sinister is going. I think you do really hard work - most people do as much as they can to insulate themselves from the broken-ness and the knowledge of just how terrifying the slippery slope of vulnerability is. I think I would really struggle to look it in the face everyday. But glad to hear that kev maybe having an impact however subtle. Thanks for the post and the reminder.

Pennie said...

Thanks you for posting and reminding us that there are those who care, who desire to do and be more and whose hands are often tied. I am reminded how truly blessed i am even though at times life can issue us with curve balls.

Laura said...

Its important that you can post, however discreetly about the days that YOU are having at work, even if they are about interacting with people in confidential circumstances.
I'm pleased that your agency continues to have thoughtful, intelligent people such as you engaging with people. A family member retired last year from the same agency and she too struggled with some of the same things you describe.
Big hugs, enjoy your weekend.

M said...

You really deal at the pointy end of struggle-street. I wonder how hard it is to feel positive about our society when you see such broken-ness.
Being back in paid work after five years I've come back in contact with the working poor. That is a difficult statement because I had lost contact with what that was. Recently I had to stick to an unfair policy asking an employee to pay up excess on an insurance policy to a wealthy company when I knew there was no way he could afford it. It broke my heart.
The KPI/accounting focus in lieu of a people focus makes me sad. I'm glad to hear that a people focus is winning out in some quarters in your agency.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

You're a friendly face in the middle of a tangle of rules and general scariness for a lot of people . Must sometimes seem overwhelming . But you and fellow thinkers have already made a difference in how it's all handled . Well done !

mary said...

I wish that both the agency and the people you help knew just how much you care.
How much thought you put into what you do.
And it is Friday night and I wish you a relaxing weekend when you can put such cares and thoughts aside.

Elizabeth said...

I'm one of those on the other side of the counter, and while I don't think I'm broken I am breakable. A kind word and a smile from the "bureaucrat" goes a long way to making unemployment somewhat bearable - some days it's hard not to feel like just a number. Your thoughtfulness in dealing with those of us forced onto struggle street makes a difference, I'm sure. Thank you.

fiveandtwo said...

Those photos have made my day - they're so beautiful.
A really good post too. I really enjoy reading your posts.

Alby Mangroves said...

Love your work Janet, keep it up. *hugs*