Faking up the Charm…

There is a kerfluffle going on in the blogosphere over how support staff should be treated. I’m just going to pause here and say WTF???

You should treat everyone that you work with (and everyone that you interact with in general in the other parts of your life) with kindness, respect and the benefit of the doubt. Even people who are rude to you. Period. You don’t need to go about this with fakery and stealth, like our beloved Comrade Physioproffe confesses to do:

Example: I like to eat a few hard candies every day after lunch, but I don’t want to keep them in my office, because then I pound them instead of just eating a few. So I keep a dish in our department business office stocked with candies that I buy, and every day after lunch, I pop into the office to grab a few. While I am in there, I say hello to the admins, and make small talk for a few minutes.

So why should you bother? Because it is the right thing to do. Not because your job might be made easier (and for the record I don’t think this is what CE really meant), not because you think you should, but because it is the right thing to do. I don’t know how to explain it any more simply than that.

I have a special ire for people who think that because of their profession or position they are ‘above’ people in other professions or positions and they act accordingly. The kind woman who empties the trash can in my office works every bit as hard as I do- and I’ve had every advantage. The compliance officer, who I often spar with over the rules, has a job that is amazingly difficult in ways totally different from my job, and a totally unenviable one at that. What we all have in common is that we are all trying to do our best at our jobs and for the competing demands of our various lives.


23 thoughts on “Faking up the Charm…

  1. Damn straight….we have the most awesome office staff. I give them lots of smiles and kudos on a regular basis because they deserve it and they love me right back when I need something done ASAP. Our work could not be done without them.

  2. This is a kerfuffle? I fear this means that there haven’t been any real good kerfuffles in a long time.

  3. To this day it amazes me that one of the people I work with does not acknowledge our janitorial staff. It irks me to no extent. They are kind, considerate, hardworking individuals that keep my work area clean, the least I can do is say hello, ask how their day goes and to know their names.

  4. “fakery and stealth”

    Yeah, it’s fakery and stealth to stop and spend a few minutes chatting with the office staff while I’m in the office on my daily candy run. Did you even read this nonsense before you posted it?

  5. Bugdoc- Right on!

    Isis- I don’t suppose I spend that much time in the blogosphere lately. Hmm. I liked this post though.

    ScientistMother- I quite agree.

    C PP- C PP- Meh. Your own words make you sound calculating about cultivating such ‘relationships’. I chat with the office staff because I genuinely like them as people.

  6. I liked that post too. I had quite a blog temper tantrum over a form the department of folks at MRU who handle all the aspects of our time tracking and reimbursement had created. I did turn in the form with the best estimates of what all the fields meant, and gave them feedback on how difficult to fill out they were. I also had good sense to calm down before I engaged in any communication with them because, although they deal with an area that I find frustrating and hard to understand, they still deserve to be engaged with kindness.

  7. Whatever. I have no control over what sorts of strained interpretations other people choose to make of words I type into the Internet, nor do I particularly give a shitte. I have excellent relationships with all of the people in my workplace, virtually never have trouble working effectively with any of them, and wasn’t the one seeking advice in this area.

  8. CPP rarely comes off as terribly authentic to me, but so much of his net thing is that persona (that obviously does not care for me) that I don’t know what he’d be like in real like. I don’t think the *action* he describes is necessarily faking. There’s an element of ‘I’m here for X’ when he’s really there to seek connection for people, but I don’t know that it’s fundamentally any different from going to talk to a friend by asking them if they wanna go for a coffee.

  9. Excellently put drdrA. I agree that no-one in one walk of life is ‘above’ anyone in another walk of life, and everyone should be treated with kindness and respect.

  10. What about the flip-side of the argument? How do you treat your superiors? Most of the time, we can’t help but want to be liked by our boss or boss’s boss because of the incentives to do so. Potential for promotion, recognition, award. Isn’t being nice to “support staff” the same thing? Potential for favors, higher efficiency or information. Heck, being nice to your co-workers is the same! But bottom line is, there is an incentive to do everything, whether it’s as cunning or dark as purely business advancement or as genuine as the need to be liked or to have another friend in the office or make a more enjoyable working environment… or a combination of both. Some people are fake, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Some people are genuine, and sometimes it works and someties it doesn’t.

  11. C PP- You are right- strained interpretations. It drives me nuts when people do that. I’m sick and tired of it, but it is every-fucking-where on these blogs. I have no doubt you are wonderful and genuine IRL, despite the blog persona (this last said without sarcasm).

  12. It is true that when trying to tell people *how* we do something that involves interpersonal relationships, it often requires breaking it down in a more formulaic way than when we just do what feels kind and right. Nonetheless, if Dale Carnegie’s success is any indication, there is a pretty significant utility in breaking it down for people.

  13. “I agree that no-one in one walk of life is ‘above’ anyone in another walk of life”

    this is news to me. I can’t believe the platitudes I’m hearing here. A lot of amusing self deception is going on. Of course every sensible person is somewhat ‘nicer’ to support staff and ‘the boss’. I got called on that yesterday by a postdoc, in fact, though in front of our PI and we all then had a laugh about it.

    And CPP, haha. Didn’t you just win an internet Hypocrisy award for the way you were talking about lower class people? First of all, the way you mange to drop in sounds a bit contrived, so admit it. I mean, where do you store the extra, if the bag of hard candies doesn’t all fit in the dish? So you are walking back and forth with the candies also? Yet, clever. Typical of people from your station.

    I just hope they are all voting in ways you approve, otherwise we know what you will really think of those “little people”.

    And Isis’ post, oh gag me. She was friends with a machinist once? Nice to know the machinists in my family are “good enough” to become friends with someone like Isis one day! Oh yeah, they have lots of PhD friends. Tons!

    Hey I hear black people are just people also! I was nice to one once and we became friends! Aren’t I a wonderful person??

  14. Yeah, Isis’s post was indeed quite nice. Sure the support staff deserve to be engaged with kindness, and no doubt she did so IRL. But she called them clock-punchers, which can read as a class-based insult we are invited to participate in. (WE are professionals, but THEY are clock-punching slackards.) In reading that post, we are encouraged to view admins as non-professionals who don’t care about doing a good job or are just too stupid to know how to do it until it’s explained to them.

    A professor I know at an MRU recently was given a seemingly ridiculous bit of paperwork from the admins there. Turns out it was mandated by the state legislature.

  15. Isabel, you are a wonder all right.

    Now me, I’m surly and unpleasant to everyone. So you are all saying I should try to be nice?

  16. That was not my intent in calling them clock punchers. I refered to them as the clock punchers because they are the group of people in our college who are charged with ensuring that holiday time, vacation time, sick time, and furlough time are all accounted for and that everyone is reimbursed for expenses. Because of the type of place I am affiliated with, we don’t all come and go as we please. They have to be concerned with when everyone has clinical duties, when people are away, and now when everyone furloughs. Our furloughing, for example, has made things extremely complicated because not all of our effort is furloughable and this has led to these folks having to account for fractions of hours per week to enforce the complex furlough mandates. The last week of the fiscal year, for example, I have 4 minutes of furlough time that I must take because the fraction of my time that is furloughable is not divisble by any reasonable number. This is why I used the term clock punchers. There are a whole group of regualtory folks who concern themselves with when people come and go and these folks document that. They are responsible for “punching” our time sheets each week to account for this ridiculousness.

    If the crafting of my blog tantrum gave the impression that I was refering to them as a lower class of employee, then I apologize. That was not my intent, but they are my words and I take responsibility for them. . The folks who deal with all this bullshit, caused by mandates from being both a health care and government facility, aren’t slackers. They are salaried employees just like the rest of us. It is important to me to treat them with respect and kindess, even though I sometimes find the ways that policies are implemented frustrating and infuriating.

  17. Isis makes a good point that is easily overlooked and is worth emphasis.

    The departmental support staff aren’t the ones who have come up with the need to jump through these hoops. There’s also a reasonably good chance that they didn’t (badly) design the form and don’t have the authority to change it so it’s actually sensibly arranged. They will probably get it in the neck from the central administration if the forms aren’t filled in right.
    Her temper tantrum (that she had the grace to do online, before calming down and talking to them in a reasonable way) is a fairly common reaction to having one of these idiot forms to do. Now multiply it by the number of people who would have to do it (as they’ll all need to be checked and translated into what they’re actually supposed to be, rather than what is written down). Add to that the number of people who don’t have the good manners to not rant at the support staff in person, then add the people at the centre who are probably demanding the information immediately, and blaming the support staff if the forms aren’t done right. That is what it’s like as support staff.

    Combine that with the generally poor pay (in the UK, the amount a funded grad student gets competes quite well with what most support staff get) and the poor prospects for ever not getting poor pay, and it is very easy for support staff to feel undervalued and underappreciated.

    Being nice just when you want something, or when you realise that you’re going to want something in the near future isn’t going to further your relations with the support staff. We may not have/be getting a doctorate, but we’re not stupid, and we’re not naive.

    “An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!” – Rudyard Kipling

  18. HAHAHA DM, you are like a freaking tenderheart carebear rainbow unicorn sunshine lovenut hippieflowerchild. It’s only that you deal with too many people who are supernaturally nice from too much weed. In comparison to them, ok, yeah, then you look like a monster. But hang out in a different locale for a while, and you’ll just seem like the big ol softy you really are.
    Or maybe you totes just hang out with CPP to make yourself look good.

    “The folks who deal with all this bullshit, caused by mandates from being both a health care and government facility, aren’t slackers. They are salaried employees just like the rest of us.”
    Wait, if they were paid on an hourly basis, they’d be slackers? (just kidding! I know you don’t think that… it’s just, these concepts can be a bit fraught for people… Especially when your mama was an hourly worker who had a literal timecard)

    The truth of the matter is that low-paying poor-respect environments in which you literally have a timecard do not typically bring out the highest levels of devotion to career that we tend to expect of whatever poor sap trainees/professors are sufficiently brainwashed by St k3rn types those lucky enough to have intellectually stimulating and relatively high respect jobs that typically come with a goodly amount of autonomy (relatively speaking). So it’s not like most of us couldn’t *understand* it if someone with an AA job was a slacker. But it’s vitally important to not let us *assume* that that means any particular individual is. It’s tough to give people both kinds of benefit of the doubt, but I think it’s worthwhile. Forgetting the former makes us less decent when we have the power to change what jobs are actually like. Forgetting the later makes us… well, jackhats, when dealing with individual AAs.

    Also true is the fact that excessive obnoxious bureaucratic hoops do not bring out the kind side of people on *either* side of the paperwork.

  19. (I wonder if the monkeys in the zoo also entertain the bizarre idea that they are higher in the social hierarchy than the keepers carrying the slop bucket and cattle prod?)

    Anyway, I agree that there’s no reason we can’t respect The Enemy as we give them the stink-eye across the battlefield of bureaucracy. I like to do it just before I duck back into the lab to hide all the empty beer cans and complete the Effort Report forms I was supposed to hand in three weeks earlier.

  20. “…… aren’t slackers. They are salaried employees just like the rest of us.”
    Wait, if they were paid on an hourly basis, they’d be slackers? (just kidding! I know you don’t think that… it’s just, these concepts can be a bit fraught for people… Especially when your mama was an hourly worker who had a literal timecard)”

    HOW do you *know* she doesn’t mean it? It seems totally in line with everything else she has said. Why not let her explain what she meant by slackers?

  21. Because, Isabel, I’m tired of playing the “I’m more PC than thou” game, instead of stating things plain out- “what you said offended me”. Or even more brutally honest, in this case, “what you said there didn’t offend me, but I happen to disagree with your argument and so I feel compelled to point out that it might offend others”

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