Archive for category: Worker’s Comp

Zen and the Economy of My Words

14 Feb 2002
February 14, 2002

horoscopeI’ve got laryngitis. The rest of my body feels fine. In fact, my throat and voice box feel completely normal. It’s only when I attempt to speak that I even realize I’ve got a problem. I’m revisiting puberty as my voice cracks and jumps two octaves without prior notice. But this might be a good thing.

Co-workers don’t expect you to answer them. In fact, you aren’t called upon at meetings to report. If you try, you are given sympathy (a valuable commodity in the workplace).

It can be a problem in an emergency, like when your 3 year old is running away from you in a very public and potentially dangerous place. Yesterday, I instinctively yelled out for her to “come right back here this minute!” The thought flowed so easily out of my mouth. Yet the words simply curdled. I was simultaneously shocked and amused (and couldn’t run fast enough after that giggling little child). If it were possible, I would have laughed out loud.

Yet there is something Zen-like about this condition. I am forced to consider my words (both in content and by sounds I can actually produce). Economy of chat. It’s like editing my written words but in real time. Even my writing feels more compact (isn’t this the shortest post I’ve ever made?).

I talk too much. I’m enjoying both this silence and hesitation. It feels very, very good.

A Review of Performance Reviews

13 Jan 2002
January 13, 2002

horoscopeIt’s January in Washington, DC. Nestled snuggly between The Holiday Season and The Tax Season in this town is The Performance Review Season! This is the period when all good federal government supervisors are “tasked” with evaluating the performance of their staff. Deadlines loom and are taken very seriously, so it’s important not to procrastinate.

Before I was hired, in my interview with our Administration people, I was asked what I would do if I had to fire someone. Since this was my first 9-5 job ever, and the only people I had previously supervised were my students, I only had my common sense to draw upon. “I’d make sure I hired good people in the first place!” I responded guilelessly. And that has been my policy (and good luck) from Day 1. I work with a wonderful group of people who do their jobs well and make mine a pleasure.

Talk of review deadlines starts just before Christmas. Of course, no one really begins until New Year’s passed. Last week I began working, not just on my staff’s reviews, but on listing my own achievements for my own review. It was hard to piece together everything I did last year (may I recommend monthly reports, if only to remind you in December of what wondrous things you did in January?). But, once I got it all down, it was very gratifying to see what I actually did. I left work last Monday with a warm sense of accomplishment.

This week I wanted to assemble each worker’s review, their 2002 Performance Plan (with duty changes updated), and the official cover sheet to get them to my boss before the deadline (think 1040 (long), Schedules C and D, and Estimated Tax multiplied by the number of people you are responsible for). Since paperwork is not my forté, I like to dispense with it as soon as I can (not that I don’t take great care in writing these things).

Here’s how it works: each January I write a Performance Plan for the upcoming year for each employee using a template supplied by my higherups. My job is to list basic job assignments in the first column and more detailed duties in the second. Critical (i.e. important and heavily weighted) categories are noted with an asterisk. The third column, Actual Performance, is left blank and is filled out at the end of the year. The last three columns allow you to check whether they Exceeded, Met, or Not Met these criteria at year’s end.

From a design point of view, I’ve never been one for filling in prefab forms. I always feel an incredible sense of pressure to weigh my words to fit the space I’ve been allotted without touching the bounding lines (proper forms always make you put things in boxes). Of course, what I usually write is initially greater than the space I’ve been given. I hate going over those lines! It makes me, um, uncomfortable (whatever the reason for filling these things out, I’m always afraid I’ll be disqualified if I do). Do I edit or forget making it look elegant. Form or function? The old conundrum.

But now, with computers and the ability to use minuscule type, it’s possible to say as much as you want and still make it look good. Form and function can both be achieved! The only problem here is that I am required to place my final review comments on the original (signed by both the worker and the chain of superiors) form. Last year I was allowed to simply create an additional attachment page to write as much as I wanted. Life was good.

I’d planned to do the same this year when I was informed that OHR (personnel) had issued a clarifying email that stated we were no longer allowed to do this. Everything had to be on the original. Deep down, really deep down, I understood the importance of this. After all, this was a legal document and if a negative job action had to be taken, it was important to uphold the veracity of that document. But, I appealed to my boss anyway.

He deferred to Admin (but warned me to give into the “force” now, for my sake). And Admin pointed to OHR. I invoked my patented “is this worth fighting for?” internal bureaucratic checksum system. It immediately sent a warning to cease and desist this futile action. I resigned myself to figuring out how to put all I’d writen in the space alloted on the original form.

The choices: use a typewriter (where even the Elite typeface was sure to mess the form beyond the beyond, and besides, there was a long line to use the only typewriter on our floor) or cut and paste into the original form. But I couldn’t actually cut and paste something onto the form, it had to be entered directly on that sheet! This was why I never became a graphic designer. Despite my Masters degree in the subject, in the olden days, I hated doing real pasteups.

I was trapped (indulge me this one obscure inside joke). The only way to do it was to type my assessment in a copy of each worker’s review, making sure not to write more than the original space alloted. Then print it and use pieces of paper and whiteout to block out everything on the form but my appraisal (especially the column lines). With the comments in the right place I’d feed the signed review into the copier and, hopefully, it would fit perfectly in the right space.

It took me a good two hours to cover everything up on my staff’s documents. I printed out blank copies to practice copying on. I was tense. Would it work?

I assembled everything I needed and walked quickly to the copier. The first test showed that it sort of fit. Not perfectly: it was a little crooked, the margins were a bit uneven, and, yes, a recalcitrant word slipped beyond the boundary here and there. But then it hit me: IT DIDN’T MATTER IF IT FIT PERFECTLY! All along I had been focusing on my high design standards when it was the very different office standards that really mattered. OHR didn’t care if my review looked good! They simply wanted it on the signed original! The tension vaporized. I began to breathe again. It was over. They were done and they were done perfectly.

Finding More Than My Hat

21 Dec 2001
December 21, 2001

It’s ¡El Día Más Corto del Año Pero de los Días Está Consiguiendo más Largo y Soy Día Feliz!

This is one of my most favorite holidays! Yes, it’s the advent of winter (my second least favorite season) and I am not a cold weather person. BUT, the days are finally getting longer. The sun will not rise any later than it did today nor will it set any earlier. And I now have my personal equinox day to look forward to!!

horoscopeA few early winter discoveries I’ve made: First, I love these!! They make my feet feel toastie and keep me just a little happier during DC’s looong winter (remember?). They are soft and unlike any wool sock I’ve ever worn. I was turned onto them at LL Bean when I was shopping for winter boots.

I tried on a few pairs of boots but settled for these. They’re more like hiking boots but my urban wintering doesn’t require anything heavy duty. And, they have a nice high arch with a seamless tongue (the shoe and tongue are one piece of leather), just perfect for sloshing around the snow muck of DC streets. They’re not insulated so I asked the salesman what type of sock he’d recommend. That’s when I hit paydirt. But he said I could get them half price if I could drag myself to one of their factory outlet stores. It took me a few weeks but I finally bought an 8 day supply! I’m much happier than I’ve been in weeks.

The second discovery I made (which isn’t really winter related but is so interesting I’ve just gotta mention it) is that if you work in a large corporation and want to encourage interpersonal interaction send an email to “everyone” in the office telling them you’ve lost something.

My hat will not stay on my head. I am constantly losing it, albeit temporarily. And, of course, it’s one of my favorites: a beige baseball cap with a G on it. I bought it at another factory outlet last summer (it pays to have a last name that begins with the same letter as a large apparel chain that has no qualms about plastering their product with self-referencing symbols).

So, earlier this week, I lost it again. I had it at lunch and made sure I made a mental note not to leave it at the restaurant. I don’t even remember my head being cold as I walked back to the office in the chilly afternoon breeze.

I had just gotten one of those office emails addressed to EVERYONE seeking someone else’s missing item and decided to do the same. It was late in the day, I sent it, and went to pick up my daughter from daycare. When I arrived, there it was hanging in her cubby!! One of the teachers at the lunch had picked it up (by the way, I also found my long lost umbrella at the daycare that day too—where is my mind?).

The next morning people at the office began stopping by my cube to ask if I’d found my hat. Others, when seeing me with it on, came up to me exclaiming: “You found your hat!” I suddenly found myself at the social apex of my bureaucracy!

The effects of this have lasted for days. Just this morning a coworker stopped me as I was running into the men’s room. “Did you ever find your hat? he said. “My wife thought she’d lost her credit card and even remembered the store where she was sure she’d last used it but it was at home the whole time! And then there’s my mustache comb. It’s always getting lost, only to resurface months later.”

Who says the internet has depersonalized our lives?!


09 Feb 2001
February 9, 2001

horoscopeBoy, did this week fly by. But it didn’t start out that way. The first three days were spent in a class in contracting. I’m now an official COTR (pronounced “cotar” as in Cotar the Barbarian). In official parlance I am a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative. This means that I can be summoned at any time to be the technical rep on contracts. I have no legal power, thank goodness. That’s reserved for the CO (Contracting Officer). But I do advise on the technical parts of contracts that come to our office of the new media variety.

Day 1, 9 am: I am being filled with acronyms and “what ifs” so fast it’s hard to keep up. This is dense! It’s excruciating to think I have 24 hours of class left to go. But, as the hours and days plod on it gets easier to visualize the end. The only way I know how to survive these things is to get totally involved: ask lots of questions and visualize myself living each example the teacher gives.

Not to say that it’s totally uninteresting, especially near the end when we talk about ethics (somehow it’s comforting to know that a federal worker at my level is subject to the same rules of ethics that the President is –Clinton, give back those individual gifts worth more than $20 or gifts from one person totally more than $50 per year!). And we were having a final! An open book final, but still. Just where in the book did it mention patent ambiguity?

I came back to the office at the 25th hour, certificate (suitable for framing) held triumphantly above my head, humming the theme to Rocky. I made it! I am COTR!

What really surprised me is that I started to talk like one! The very next day a group of us interviewed a couple content management companies and I heard myself speaking of process and making sure I got everything we talked about down in writing. My abilities were multiplying exponentially! Even my boss commented on it.

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074