Saturday, July 28, 2012

Workplace relations

When I started this blog at the end of last year, it seemed like it would be a kind of interesting way of a) keeping myself amused, b) testing some new social media, and c) trakking the highs and lows of the transition out of academic work.

One of the big lows, about academic, unemployment and starting new jobs is how relationships with other human beings are played out.

There are all the annoying types you meet in academic circles. These include rude and arrogrant professors, disinterested advisors, whiny colleagues, entitled students, needy students and so on. But usually, you don't have THAT much contact with people in any case, so you can generally avoid the people you don't like. I think that's why working from home becomes the dominant work model for so many people - so they don't have to leave the comfort of the familiar and trusted space of their own intimate environments. Lucky for me, I had an office. I used to shut the door and sit in peace, blissfully ignorant of what was going on outside in the hallway. Crucially too, when I'd had enough of the student emails, I simply switched my email off for most of the day, and only answered emails at certain times. These were both strategies that worked quite effectivley for me, and left me largely untrammeled by the demands of others. When things got to much, after teaching, during the semester, after meetings etc - shut the office door, turn the email off and bury yourself in some obscure reading/writing.

But then when you are unemployed, your perspective shifts once again. In effect, it almost feels like you drop off the face of the earth. It's like you have some kind of contagious disease or something, with few invites to socialise as everyone you know is out doing fun stuff that you can't afford to do. You become increasingly isolated and restricted to the small domestic habits of your immediate environment. It's a very isolating time being unemployed.

Then you start a new job. And if it's a non-academic one, you now have to work out how to be a team player and get along with a whole host of new people and different kinds of personalities. While learning the ropes and surviving your intial period of performance evaluation, you also have to work out who are the mean girls, who is the office bully, who is the organiser and who is the prankster. You can never predict which one of these people will be around at any given time, so you have to be ready to play the appropriate role at a moment's notice. It's exhausting. Throw in the obligatory birthday cakes, leaving dos, team outings and office socials, then that's a whole lot of interacting with people before you've even done any work.

For someone used to shutting the door and turning off their email, this is too much! Perhaps I am just a misanthrope, but I think the hardest part of any new job, especially if it's in a different industry to the one that you're used to, is the socialisation stuff. Who am I now that I can't retreat behind the door? Am I in fact the office wierdo because I don't want to go out all the time and would rather read a book at lunch time? Am I the office grouch when I am heard to express a critical opinion about, say, any current affairs kind of issue? Can I extricate myself from the endless obligations that seem to happen while still being "a team player"? The dilemmas of office life!

8 comments:

  1. Yes! I've found that LAP is BIG on social events and it's difficult for my introverted nature. Hang in there and try to guard your time as much as you can.

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    1. Yes, I think that now I have put in the effort for not much return I will start having a lot of sick grandmothers and other family occaisions when there is an event on...

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  2. Ugh socializing has never been a strong point for me, so I can totally sympathize! My solution - should I ever leave academia - is to go into consulting. Yes I'll have to socialize with clients and drum up business - but I'll be my only co-worker, and I'm okay socializing with myself. :)

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    1. A very big advantage of running your own business! good luck :)

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  3. Ahhh I find socialising outside of the academic world much easier really since I don't get the sense that the person talking to me is trying to score points off me, find out whether I knew some academic gossip or not..I've found that socialising outside of the academic world is less fraught and less stressful. I prefer it but I also think that move from one to the other is hard, really hard since its a huge shift since its socialising for a different reasons. In the business world its about socialising to build team work while in the academic one its about knocking points of each other.

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    1. For me the academic thing is easy - you just have to ask a lot of stock standard questions about someone elses work and then they ramble on for a while and then it's time to get another drink/go to the bathroom/see a paper etc. Terribly dreary, but so is endless team building! Perhaps I am just a misanthrope...

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  4. "And if it's a non-academic one, you now have to work out how to be a team player and get along with a whole host of new people and different kinds of personalities. While learning the ropes and surviving your intial period of performance evaluation, you also have to work out who are the mean girls, who is the office bully, who is the organiser and who is the prankster."

    I worked in an academic environment, if it could be called that. Alternative high school. Whew. We had bullies, both students and teachers, who verbally and sexually harassed others daily. Open concept classroom equated to no privacy and lots of noise.

    School starts this week, and while I have lots of anxiety about not working, I would have more anxiety over returning to a workplace where female teachers display sex toys on official retreats, where teachers call other teachers names, where teachers ostracize other teachers and undermine with administration, where students carry weapons, drugs, seriously bad attitudes, and come to school to recruit prostitutes.

    I kid you not.

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