Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The six week job review, coming out about the chronic health condition and other things...

Well, I was reminded the other day that this week at work was apparently the sixth week I have been in my new job. I think officially they are about a week early on that, but perhaps this Monday was the only day that my line-manager could squeeze in a one-one meeting with me.

The meeting involved chatting about how I felt things were going, how he felt things were going, and finally having a glance at a sheet of paper that had blocks of areas to fill in that covered plans, targets and actions, that sort of thing. This was where the conversation was less fixed, as he has been so incredibly busy over the last five weeks, he has been pretty much unavailable to work with me on establishing plans and how to work through them. There is a larger vision in place at the moment, but with all of the smaller tasks I have had to get through on a three day a week part-time schedule, I haven't exactly had lots of time blocked out for creative planning of sorts. The one thing I've been trying to emphasise with him is that because I am part-time, it will just take me longer to get through the list and that's all there is to it. This can be frustrating for someone like me who is accustomed to charging on forward and working too much in an effort to get things done quickly. For the most part, the biggest challenge, I think for this part-time job, is how I manage my own self-surveillance. It would be so easy to work over my contracted hours on a regular basis. In fact, as this job does involve participating in some of the social activities that are organised for students outside of the working day, I have already experienced busy times when I have still not taken up the 'time in lieu' option where I take off hours in the following week. I seem to be writing myself little reminders frequently - don't forget to schedule time in lieu this week, but there never seems to be a chance to take it because more and more 'stuff' gets piled on to my working week.

Overall, I reported that things are going well. I tried in the most diplomatic way to mention that there have been times when I felt that it would have been nice to know how some of the systems worked before it was too late or close to urgent crisis-mode, as there have been a few cases where I felt thrown in the deep end without warning. This diplomatic offering was actually prompted by my line manager himself when he made apologies for not being available for important communications and instructions about these things. So, the will is there for sure. But being the newbie in an office setting where quick and efficient turnaround for important events/tasks is crucial can feel a bit daunting when you're unsure about the details. I'm trying hard now to spot some of the potential crises before they happen. A challenge for sure.

This review meeting was also the time that I decided to bring up my Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. As some readers may remember, when I was applying for the job back in July, I wrote about my anxiety around disclosing my MS on the application in the section where the employer asks about health conditions and disabilities - all carefully worded, sounding something like this: 'According the disability act, do you consider yourself disabled...' My scan across some of the MS Society website in the employment section also found that they advised you must answer the question honestly when it is presented this way. So in my honesty, I disclosed my condition and added that it is very well managed and that it has been years since I had a clinically defined 'episode'. No point in adding extra details like the experience of fatigue, numbness/tingling, spasms, etc. In fact, most of the time all is fine, overall, especially if I manage to get enough sleep and time to recover from busy days. So part-time hours help a lot.

So I introduced the topic and wasn't surprised when my line manager responded positively and asked if there was anything they could do in the office to address any needs I may have. He reminded me about the potential to work at home when needed - as it is an open office it is busy and sometimes noisy, so this option will be useful when needed. So far so good.

This was his opportunity to say how he felt about my work and he was very positive. The last month has been completely full on, with me having to finalise pieces for an important postgrad student social event that happened at the start of term at a venue in the city. It was important that I was the face and voice of this large event, as my new role is focused on engaging with postgrad and enhancing the postgrad experience. So, after fumbling around sorting out people and details around this event, it all seemed to go well and a huge amount of students turned up and looked like they had a great time. All staff were totally positive and saying well done, well done, oh you're so amazing, you're a great public speaker and so on. This praise carried on into the following week, after the Friday event - it felt nice to be recognised this way, I must say, and at the same time, it felt very odd too. I had never had such open outward praise as a contract lecturer or researcher. I may have experienced a pat on the back here and there but this response was different. I guess that might be related to the timing of the praise and the buzz of the social event. We had a drink at the pub after and the buzz just extended there. The following Monday was kind of a recap time and the praise continued. I have since noticed that people in the office goo out of their way to praise and recognise eachother. Of course, this seems like it would help management in terms of people skills and getting the most out of people. But peer co-workers are also in this habit so the feeling is generated throughout the various departments. So, all of this seems a good thing, yes. There is a tiny sceptical side of me, perhaps the academic side, that thinks it's all too over the top and unreal. Surely, my performance can't be that amazing! Was just doing what I was told to do, earning the crust. When I shared this with my husband he said, well, you are very good, maybe exceptional, and they've noticed that in a way that the academic world doesn't because it's overly critical of everything, nothing's ever good enough. While there may be some truth to this, I guess I'm thinking that with time, there will probably be less outwardly praise as I just get on with the everydayness of the job. That's fine too, but I'll admit, the outwardly, over-the-top praise is kind of nice. There's one more thing though that has just come to mind; perhaps I am just better at doing a job like this than an academic teaching/research job. Hmm, yes this is important to realise and also important to remind myself that if this is the case, that's actually okay.

The everydayness of this job overall is fine, as far as my current career expectations go (yes, this is the first moment in this post where I have used the term 'career'). It will surely have it's lower, less exciting, less intellectually challenging moments, like the hours that get taken up with email correspondences and meetings (as is also the case in the world of academia). I can also see the spaces that feel very challenging for me, where I need to get my head around and take on something completely new;  there is some real anxiety there and a questioning of my ability to do it well. There's a lot of that feeling lurking in the background. And this is where that side of me wants to say, hey, you'd better hold back on your praise because there's no guarantee that I'm going to do a great job this time! It's this sceptical side of my self surveillance that can hold me back if I'm not careful. I'm certainly going to make some mistakes in this work, but I should probably cut myself some slack. My line manager made a good point of noting in our meeting that this was a place where mistakes could be made and that was acceptable and seen as part of a longer working process. I need to remind myself of this when the anxiety and vulnerability begins to set in. A bit of anxiety is okay and normal but it shouldn't take over. Some good lessons are to be learned here.


  1. Delighted to hear about the praise, Jet: thoroughly deserved, I am absolutely certain. xxx

  2. Thanks. I like some of the fast pace most of the time as it just makes the days fly by, but it also feels like there's never enough time to get everything done! A welcome to this new working world...

  3. Congrats, Jet!!

    And by the way, I agree with your husband. The outside world recognizes and rewards (or at least acknowledges) success and good work in a way that academia almost never does. I think he's spot-on.

  4. Yes, I think you are right JC. It's the cheery acknowledgement of something well done that academia doesn't seem to get right. Is this because academics are either so stressed out with their own agendas that they can't fit it into their head space? Or, in other cases, are the successful ones just too caught up in themselves and their own career that they don't actually notice others' achievements? In any case, I'm happy I'm out now (well, I'm in the fringes in the 'alt-aca' sphere which doesn't seem as bad).

  5. “A bit of anxiety is okay and normal but it shouldn't take over. Some good lessons are to be learned here.” You’re right. One should know and understand that not everything would be in its right place. There can be times that things will stress you, but what’s important is you know how to handle and deal with them.

    Rupert  Echard

  6. Congrats on the praise from colleagues. Just saw this article today that might help explain why we don't experience the same thing in academia:

  7. Fantastic news. I'm so pleased for you. :-)

    Yes, Hydro Blogger I saw that article too.

    I think that academics can't comment on their colleagues' achievements since they (a) fear it detracts from their own since they're in reality insecure and they feel inferior (b) they're jealous and fearful that it means that the little amount of funding there is in the university world will/could be diverted to their colleagues' research/job instead of their own.

  8. Apologies Anthea - I didn't see that your comment was awaiting moderation until today! Spot on - yes, perhaps the fear of what they have been taken away is too much.