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Jun 18 2014

Fun times

Well, I may have made a mistake in taking this new job that’s been keeping me from blogging. It’s not the work, the work is the fun part. Getting inside servers and figuring out what might be going wrong is kinda cool. Like a math problem or a puzzle, one that you’re being paid to solve. No, it’s the people. Some of my coworkers are bullies.

This particular job involves resolving network issues reported by the helpdesks of very large companies. A lot can go wrong with that stuff, and some of the tools for investigating and fixing those problems are antiquated or unreliable, or both. But that’s true everywhere and it’s not the problem here.

I can deal with those obstacles, but my class was the first in years to be hired and the employer fucked up, they didn’t have the tools set up and available for us to learn how to do some basic things.

You know, I’m done making excuses for these guys, they should have figured that out and fixed it or adjusted. I could, I can go in with a snip tool and Microsoft paint and make illustration and text showing each step, in an organized methodical manner. I know this is possible because I did it on one of the few processes I was able to master early on, and sent the illustrated file, kit and caboodle, to a trainer offering to help out and work with him to do it for every issue of note. I even offered to do it on my own time to help out the next class and give my classmates a useful resource.

There are other solutions, other ways to efficiently help new people. Say for example, create a group chat for us. Have one or two veteran agents or supes in that chat, ready to help as much as they can online and ready to actually get off their ass and go to the new person’s desk and show them stuff if need be.

Most importantly, management should be expected to set a positive example, give that new person the confidence to ask questions, let them feel the full benefit of having decades of experience just a mouse click away.

But they don’t do any of this, and a new person like me has zero power to make it happen by my lonesome.

There are roughly one to two dozen important processes that we FNG’s needed to know and couldn’t learn in training because of that fuck-up. Each process has somewhere around ten to twenty steps to do and there are little offshoots, things that could go wrong along the way, that might involve knowing how to do another set of steps. It varies widely, sometimes it’s a combo of powershell commandlets and knowing what resources/tools to use to check and edit attributes, sometimes it’s recognizing a known issue and sending the customer an update or hot fix provided by the software company, sometimes it’s a real clusterfuck that involves setting up a virtual meeting with network engineers to investigate, and then just keeping the customer informed on progress made or logs needed.

These processes and steps and logs aren’t any more scary or intimidating than the first time you set up a profile and add a photo on Facebook. To do them fast and accurately by yourself simply requires familiarity. They’re the kind of thing a person is able to do mostly unsupervised after the first five or ten times and gets totally wired after a couple of dozen times.

Since that portion of the training wasn’t available, we had to learn those procedures on the fly. Which means we need sustained, intensive, one-on-one help for some of it and quite a bit of hands on checking and oversight on most of it, at least for the first dozen or so times we do it.

But for some reason, our co-workers, the people who had been there several years, the people we have to ask for help … it started out as edgy teasing, then it got uglier, fast, and spiraled right out of control. Out of the 30 or so tech agents, I’d say a good ten of them are total assholes and the training and leadership vacuum allowed those assholes to set the tone. Workplace group bullying would be the best way to describe the result.

Almost overnight it became acceptable, fully sanctioned and at times led by management, to mock us, scold us, give us greasy back-handed compliments, or just react with open contempt. Even if we ask a question of someone who is “safe”, an asshole might overhear and chime in with assholiness, even if I IM a question, it might get out, and suddenly I’m the center of ye olde rapid fire question routine.

“Didn’t-you-read-the-XYZ” (Yes but nothing relevant came up when I tried to search it and –) “Stop-with-the-excuses!” (Hey look, I apologize if this frustrates you, but I have the customer on hold and he’s asking if–) “Gawd! Why are you so defensive? What’s wrong with you!?” The good old lose-lose you can’t win scheme beloved by bullies all over. It’s been a long, long time since I witnessed this kind of behavior, but if memory serves, once it starts it doesn’t generally stop on its own, and no one is lifting a finger to stop it. Quite the contrary.

My last paycheck was real short. It was short because we new people didn’t have the right kind of log on for part of the pay period, which is why I created and carefully kept track of my hours on a spreadsheet conveniently located in a public folder available for anyone to check 24/7. That’s why I repeatedly asked my supe to be sure and review those hours, the supe just didn’t get around to it in time. And you know what? I’m OK with that, it happens. But the way I found out it would be short was when it was announced in front of the entire room and two supes stood around chuckling wondering aloud if there was anyway they could pin it on me. That’s out of line man, in every way, and think what kind of message it sends?

The double standard and hazing is so pronounced I honestly thought it was some kind of dry joke at first. An employee with zero management responsibilities from across the room suddenly decides to loudly lecture a new person about having a cell phone visible, while that same employee is texting and selecting songs on their own cell phone. A supe publicly calls out a pregnant classmate — I kid you not — for going to the bathroom too often, while three veteran employees walk by 20 minutes late from lunch laughing and joking loudly about stopping for extra milkshakes. But they got one for everyone on the team! Well, except for the noobs …

If you think I’m not exaggerating, think again; one of my classmates, a talented, tech savvy, customer service ninja in her last job, got so fed up with it that she ran out with tears in her eyes, never to return. That should have been a red-flag for me (It should have been a red flag for management. Right then and there, a viable, professional operation would have wanted to know what the fuck just happened to the trainee they had just sunk weeks of training and pay into). But I told myself and counseled my classmates to hang in there, it was just some good-natured hazing, the veterans would warm up to us eventually.

They didn’t.

I’ve been to HR, in person, to ask for advice. I was waved off and given an 800 number. I’ve called the 800 number several times and sent emails, only to get useless automated responses.

The really disappointing thing is I’m not learning much, mostly because I dread asking questions. I now dread going to work, dread every call or ticket, because it might be something I need help with. So a few days ago I called in sick and went on some job interviews. A couple of offers came through, the best one starts at the end of July. And that’s pretty much that, it’s sad but that’s where I’m at. It’s like something out of middle school, except these clowns are plenty old enough to know exactly what they’re doing and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    John Morales

    Stephen, I find it interesting that you wrote this though you “dread asking questions” on the basis of the expectation you probably will be bullied for it.

    (This, because it seems that you’ve told us (your readers), but not them (your employers))

  2. 2
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I did tell them, got referred to a third party 800 HR number that gets endless holds or automated responses, it mainly tries to refer you back to the employee handbook. I couldn’t even get through to a human to get ultra basic insurance questions answered. It doesn’t matter anymore now, I have another job starting soon.

  3. 3
    John Morales

    I stand corrected, Stephen.

    (I hope your new job is more satisfactory!)

  4. 4
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    No worries. I don’t know that bullying is even the correct term. Unnecessary hassle from folks who already have terrible social skills maybe? I’ve never experienced this on a job, it’s a new deal, but it sure has that ancient bully-victim feel to it from grade school days long gone.

  5. 5
    DonDueed

    Stephen, does your current employer conduct exit interviews? If so, you should hand them a copy of this blog post and round it out with further details, naming names and kicking asses. The current situation sounds horrific and no organization can succeed when their workers are subjected to such conditions.

    I’ll bet this atmosphere developed during the recession, when the employees felt lucky just to have a job and would put up with almost anything (and there were probably few new hires anyway). If it persists into more normal economic times it will doom them.

    Case in point — they lost you and another of your classmates within, what, two months? And from what you say, you won’t be the last to bail.

    The whole thing reminds me of Animal House: “Thank you Sir, may I have another?”

  6. 6
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Naw, it’ll just come across as whining Don. But it’s not just me, the last new hire class was a couple of years ago. Every single one of them quit within weeks. And I bet I know why.

  7. 7
    Big Ugly Jim

    Having worked in some genuinely unhealthy IT environments over the span of my career, I have learned one thing:

    Shit don’t get better.

    Leaving is the only way you can salvage anything remotely like sanity from a situation like that. Spending eight or more hours a day hating your life is devastating to the rest of your days, and isn’t worth it, and management that won’t immediately recognize this as an issue that needs immediate fixing will spin down the drain.

    One of my first contracts was a government help desk job. I worked with some of the most skilled, underpaid, and overworked people ever. The two leads for the network and the environment were both women, and regularly the target of awful shit. One night, for example, some engineers showed up at 2 in the morning because the bars had closed and they had bottles in their desks (I shit you not, this was how the place was) so why stop the party. When they heard that people were in the office, the drunk engineers decided to investigate. When they saw it was women, they naturally assumed that this meant it was time to party and probably get laid.

    One of them said nothing out of a combination of fear and institutionalization. The other went to HR. She was told, to paraphrase, that boys will be boys, and that they would totally be talked to by their supervisor.

    You cannot change those who do not want to change. The bullying in your company is a part of the culture now, and it takes active and courageous leadership to change it. The new guy can’t do it.

    Run. Seriously. Get your paycheck until you get something else solid, but this job can only be a very ugly way-station on a much prettier road.

  8. 8
    TGAP Dad

    Darksyde:

    I am into my third decade in IT, and I have seen this happen before, perhaps not to the magnitude you describe. Most of your responses assume that middle and upper management care about this happening. I can assure you this assumption is false. Since you are working for an outside contractor, they are concerned with only minimally meeting the terms of those contracts for as low a cost as possible. Period. Anyone’s well-being is not even a secondary concern. Were I to advise you, I’d suggest looking for work now, while you have a job and lack the (unfair but very real) taint of long-term unemployment. The situation at your current setting will not improve until something makes senior managers care about improving it.

    If another job search is absolutely out of the question, I would advise these:
    1) Document EVERYTHING as thoroughly as possible – screenshots, surreptitious recording, etc. and save these on a personal device.
    2) Walk the straightest line possible. Break no rules or policies (except as relates to number 1 above), including break times, personal use of company facilities, etc. even if every other person there does so with impunity.
    3) Treat everyone there, especially the sociopaths in power, with detached professionalism. Do not fall into the lose-lose trap illustrated in your post. When your request for help is met with a dickish rebuke, inquire as to whether this indicates an intent to not help, and whether you should seek a more helpful supe to assist your customer. Never let this spill out to the external customer. EVER.
    4) Avoid becoming one of the dicks you despise, and (politely) avoid any overtures to fellowship they seem to offer. Nothing good will come of choosing between the crips or bloods.

    Good luck, you’ll need it.

  9. 9
    eternalstudent

    Stephen @4: No, it’s bullying plain and simple. You think those bullies from grade-school days just disappeared?

    Good luck with the new job.

    Don @5: Exit interviews don’t happen in places that don’t care about their employees.

    When my wife started out in her carreer – a freshly minted optics PhD with one of the rare industry jobs – she worked for a guy who was nice enough personally but had no ethics. The last straw was a conference talk they were asked to give. He binned all her input in favor of a collection of stuff stolen from other people’s papers – no attribution at all. Giving a talk chock full of plagarized material is unethical. Giving it to an audience that almost certainly contains the people he plagarized from is just stupid. She told the conference organizers to pull her from the talk, then set out to write her resignation letter. She agonized over wording, how to phrase her reasons, etc. I told her use two sentences: “I’m leaving the company” and “my last date is XX”. If the management cared why they would ask. They never did.

  10. 10
    andrewscott

    “I’ve been to HR, in person, to ask for advice. I was waved off and given an 800 number. I’ve called the 800 number several times and sent emails, only to get useless automated responses.”

    I feel for you – it’s crap being in a dysfunctional workgroup and you are certainly taking the right steps and doing a job search. Just a note about HR – They are NOT there for you (the employee). HR is there to guide management through government regulations and to keep workplace lawsuits from occurring when management wants to get rid of someone or protect the owner\execs from being exposed to litigation for (sexual) harassment.

  11. 11
    lanir

    Oh my. I’m so sorry you got stuck in that situation. I agree with your assessment and the comments about not being able to change things yourself. I’ve tried that before and it’s just frustrating.

    I ended up having to teach techies new tricks, management how to manage, and explain basic customer service concepts to people who were in charge of it. I stayed at the place for about a year and even recruited a friend who was very highly skilled but down on his luck into the business. He needed the job but they treated him so poorly he walked out before he even had anything else lined up. Because management there gave unrealistic expectations that the techs should multitask on everything, nothing could be prioritized, none of the spinning plates could drop or be set down… Effectively it left the techs managing themselves but getting harrassed from above because the assholes harrassing them weren’t doing their jobs. I thought I was fixing things for a little while but it ended up I was tilting at windmills. Towards the end they stole from me, tried to cheat me out of money, and various other shenannigans not worth getting into.

    Oh, I do have one useful piece of advice. Talk to a lawyer about delayed payment. There aren’t too many good excuses a company can give for something like that. The one you’ve mentioned doesn’t even come close as I understand it. Staffing agencies I’ve gone through have at times called me on the phone to ask my hours to make sure they could pay me around some snafu occurring between them and the record-keeping system they shared with the client company and some of what I’ve read on the subject led me to believe they were doing so because paying me on time was the only way to cover themselves legally.

    Sorry to mention lawsuits but if they sound like the kind of place that would happily screw you over if they thought they could. When the rot sets in deeply enough, they think

  12. 12
    Donovan

    I don’t know much about this, but when I worked at a hospital, we had constant meetings, emails, and “work-spirit” posters reminding us that it is the law to keep a workplace free from bullying. This is in NH, so it might be a state thing, or could have even been a hospital, non-profit, municipal, or government contract thing. I didn’t really investigate, because I was hardly interested in fighting for my wedgie rights. I was one of the more outspoken anti-bully people, using my small advantage of “rank” to set an example.

    You might try calling the board of labor and asking if there are anti-harassment laws or such. Being on your way out anyhow, you might be able to lend a hand to some anonymous employees with the misfortune of staying.

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