Thursday, April 12, 2012

Measuring up (or not)

My work week had been running fairly smoothly until half-twelve today. My boss wanted to see me after lunch. What for? What have I done wrong? I went through all the possibilities over lunch: the silent-but-deadly fart I let off the week before last; blowing my nose like a trumpet every now and then; the day I was ten minutes late when everyone was snowed under with work due to the system failure. Of course I tried to rationalise: there was probably a 70% chance that I'd done nothing wrong at all.

I got back after lunch; my boss kept me in suspense till half-two. I had done something wrong. "Is everything OK? Your performance has dipped today and I just wanted to see that nothing was wrong." Oh. That was strange; I was sure it had improved. "We've had two other people doing the same task this morning to try and help clear the backlog caused by the system crash. They've both done twice as much as you." Aah, so you're comparing me against them, not against my previous performances. "Yes, you see we've got all kinds of charts and graphs, but this was the first time I could really gauge your performance. But no need to get stressed about it. It's best you're making sure you're doing it right."

And that was the end of our very short meeting. What he said was a bit like saying "you smell really bad but there's no need to worry about it." Bugger the system crash. Bugger those two Energizer bunnies, both aged twenty-not-much, whom I was suddenly in competition with. Bugger my depression. And bugger generally, because what can I do to become twice as fast? Even on a really good day, I spend a good portion of it trying to remember what I clicked on last, re-opening envelopes to make sure all the correct forms are enclosed, and re-printing letters or forms that I'd put on the wrong letterhead. I catch a lot of my own mistakes (and probably miss a few too). I put about as much paper in the recycling bins as in the customers' envelopes.

All kinds of charts and graphs. You're telling me. There are large monitors mounted on the walls of the office showing how many calls are waiting, for how long, and a service score that goes up and down accordingly. The scores are broken down person-by-person; I also see colours that keep changing but I don't know what they mean. I hear the Quality team talk about black lists, grey lists and red lists. My boss sometimes brings up a screen showing a large pie chart. On my screen a little red square appears next to some of my tasks to indicate poor performance. I asked about this - apparently it wasn't my fault and I didn't need to worry about it. Sometimes the square is yellow. Once or twice I might even have seen a green square. While we don't clock on and clock off in the old-fashioned way, all our entry and exit times are recorded on our swipe cards and secretly stored somewhere.

Is there anything else you'd like to measure while you're at it? Does all this measuring and target-setting really achieve anything? All targets tend to do is incentivise people to cut corners in order to meet the target. You want me to send 100 letters a day instead of 50? Sure thing. But when Mr So-and-so gets asked for his smear test results, don't blame me. One example of this is the National government's target of 65% of students achieving Level 2 NCEA English. It's currently around 50%. That's an easy (and totally meaningless) target to reach. Just lower the pass mark until 65% pass, and voilĂ ! How about a target of "teach our kids to read and write"?

Last night I attended a depression group which I found on Four blokes turned up, including me, at a totally unswanky Asian eatery on Cuba St. We mainly just talked about our difficulties in meeting people in Wellington ("it's cliquey" being one problem mentioned), then one of the guys whipped out a pack of cards and we played Last Card. There must be as many variations of that as there are cards in the deck. One of the blokes (six foot five and with the sort of long hair I wish could have) plays online poker so we had something in common straight away.

On Saturday I'll be making an early start for my second tramp - the Akatarawa Surprise (in other words I've got no idea what I'm letting myself in for). Danielle will be coming - haven't seen her for ages. Let's hope my health and the weather play ball.

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