“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern."
- C.S. Lewis, [From the Preface] The Screwtape Letters
So it was approximately two weeks ago that my coworkers and I got our first ‘official’ announcement of when our contract, and hence our employment, is ending. As of today, we’ve got just under six weeks of employment left here. We all knew it was an eventuality once the contract was awarded to a different company last year, yet the mood in the office still seems somewhat somber with a tinge of desperation. The funny thing is that unlike most people here, I am actually looking forward to my employment and time here coming to an end. I am counting the days with anticipation, not dread.
Before you say it, no, I’m not mental. And no, I’m not planning to be a welfare sponge either. This is simply me being eager to move on to new things, and knowing that I don’t have to scramble to find any job available to pay the bills because we have put a lot of effort in increasing our financial resilience and living well below our means. This job was nothing more than a means to an end (that end being saving money for future business endeavors), and I am eager to leave this behind me.
Now before I start talking too much trash, let me explain that the company I work for is actually not a terrible place to work by any means. It treats us slightly better than what you typically might expect from any big corporation, and the (local) management is not only competent but they’re fairly considerate and forthcoming to the employees. It sucks working for them in the sense that it sucks working in just about ANY corporate environment, but compared to most corporations they are pretty decent.
No, the biggest issue I have with my job is that we work for a government customer, and just about every cliché regarding government incompetence, inefficiency, and cronyism has been demonstrated for us in spades. I’ve worked for poorly run private businesses before, yet both of those places end up looking like Apple or Google when compared to this particular government organization. It gets to the point where it can be funny to watch it unfold, at least until one remembers that it’s our tax dollars being used to fund this circus of ass-clowns. But while the incompetence and inefficiency displayed by the government organization and officials in question is grating, what I find hardest about working here is the work culture. The culture in this, and I expect most other, government organizations can be summed up as follows:
- Groupthink dominates everything.... sucking up and doing ONLY what you're told tends to gets you ahead, whereas independent thought and proactive behaviors more often than not just opens oneself to criticism from management and stalls ones career.
- Seniority and the approval of those with it trump the strength of any particular idea, plan, or proposal.
- Accepting responsibility and taking accountability for your actions is usually seen as only a risk to one's career, where avoiding accountability or spreading it around so wide it cannot be applied to any one person or small group is the key to success.
- Growing your department and securing more money for it supersedes the need for efficiency or whatever is good for the customer, taxpayer, and/or nation.
- The rules only apply to the rank-and-file, not your boss and especially not upper management. Try applying the rules to upper management and you will get spanked.... HARD (a warning to you sysadmins and network security folks managing government systems).
Don't get me wrong, I know full well that these elements are often found in private enterprise too. Particularly large corporations and businesses... the larger the organization the more bureaucracy you typically find, and these behaviors thrive in bureaucracy. Hell, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has made a wonderful career of skewering these behaviors in the corporate world. However there usually tends to be a practical limit to how much it prevails in the business world, as any business too entrenched in these behaviors becomes consistently unprofitable and eventually fails. Government organizations are very rarely under any pressure to be profitable or produce more than they consume (which doesn't necessarily have to be measured in monetary terms), and the ways in which their performance is typically measured (if it ever is) are usually pretty vague and much more about conforming to the system and not creating controversy than being productive or the level of service they offer.
So that is why I'm happy to be leaving. Over the long term, the environment just feels toxic and appears to make the people in it dumber over time. And being a government contractor instead of a government employee doesn't make it much better.... you're still exposed to this toxic mindset & culture, just to a somewhat lesser degree. Putting up with this environment is a small part of the reason I started writing here, to exercise the thinking and analytical skills that get so little use during my work activities. Some people put up with certain jobs so as to gain knowledge or skills that can be used for some later goal in life, like running their own business. Sadly, the biggest learning experience I can take from this job is a long list of things NOT to do when operating an organization or running a business. Though I suppose that can be just as valuable in its own way...