Thursday, December 10, 2009

About Workload - Third Proverb

This ancient piece of wisdom sounds very familiar and oh so contemporary:

"The fundamental delusion of the client is that you are there to serve him."

It's as common as red tape on an office file: The notion that clients get that you are somehow there to serve them. How do they get that strange idea into their heads?

In fairness, some bureaucrats working for a government are called public servants. Thus, it might be understandable if members of the public might assume that these public servants are engaged in serving the public.

Such naivete is, if nothing else, charming. It bespeaks an innocence untested by the battles most of us have waged and lost against bureaucracies big and small. Anyone over the age of thirty must surely know that a public servant, or any bureaucrat for that matter, is not there to serve him.

In fact, the bureaucrat's job is to throw as many roadblocks in your way to ensure that only those exhibiting true diligence are entitled to whatever token is on offer. After all, we don't want just any joker holding a driver's license or a passport. If it was too easy to get these government gifts, it's possible anyone could get them and end up driving a car over a cliff or an airplane into a building.

The true goal of the dedicated bureaucrat is to help his supervisor avoid any troubles which in turn helps him make life easier for his manager who likewise wants to keep her boss out of hot water. If serving the public jives with this uber-aim then you might be lucky and actually get some service.

But don't count on it. What's good for the public is seldom good for the bureaucrat or his boss. So just remember that when you enter the fray with the intent of obtaining some service, good or document, don't look at the bureaucrat as your friend. He is your foe and he expects nothing but the best from you in what will surely be your ongoing battle to get what you supposedly deserve.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About Workload - Second Proverb

The chapter on workload continues with the following proverb:

"Do not fear the backlog for it is in reality a working inventory."

This proverb cleverly demonstrates that how one views a situation is entirely a matter of perspective. It is, no doubt, easy to view a mounting pile of files as a stressor waiting to make your life miserable. "The Zen of Bureaucracy", however, helps the harried bureaucrat to realize that a backlog is nothing more than an illusion born of negative thinking.

Once you see a backlog for what it really is, namely a working inventory, your stress will be reduced and your satisfaction increased. For what is a backlog really but a measure of your workplace importance and a guarantee of your job security?

Don't think of the work awaiting you as a never-ending burden (although it may well be that) but consider it as a security blanket. So long as the work piles up, you will remain employed (remember, you work in a bureaucracy) and you will continue to be paid.

This adage is representative of a linguistic approach adopted throughout many bureaucracies. Do not underestimate the power of words. A "working inventory" is far easier to manage than a "backlog" just as "downsizing" and "administrative streamlining" are far more palatable than "terminating" or "firing", not that most bureaucrats will ever have to worry about these nasty consequences.

A strong, vibrant bureaucracy relies on euphemisms as part of its lifeblood. We all know that large organizations can be deadening, soul-crushing places to work. But you don't have to directly face that fact so long as you keep a smile on our face and a ready supply of dysphemisms to banish even the most disagreeable workplace features.