Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Weight

Maybe I don't get out enough, but until last week I had never been referred to as a mushroom before (as in kept in the dark and fed shit), now I seem to be hearing it every day. In less than a week, it has joined my list of cack phrases, along with gems such as, "tactically naive" and "position has become untenable". Where did it spring from, how did it become so ubiquitous and why does everyone who uses it think they are being terribly witty and clever?

Our glorious chairman used it the other day to describe football fans. He meant well, but coming from the biggest shoveller of shit in the game, it was a bit rich. He wants all other premiership clubs to follow Blues lead in cutting prices to enable poor saps like me to fill the ground. He didn't mention that Blues only reduce prices to prevent embarrassment when it becomes clear that no chuffer is going to turn up; he didn't mention the high cost and low quality of all the merchandise at Blues and he didn't mention that if you want to see our next game you will have to fork out 45 quid. I love the bloke.

You may not want a recipe for muesli, but the methodology for it is one of the funniest things I've read in ages. I made a huge pot of it and it's ok if you like that sort of thing, takes a bit of getting through though.

Why is it, that when I am sitting at my desk, thinking up new ways to avoid work, that when the little e mail noise whistlers its little whistle, I get all excited and happy at the though of some interesting and amusing missive to brighten up the monochrome monotony? The reality is that it is always some chump with a grievance being all arsey and impolite and discourteous. Is this the same for everyone, or just me? While we are at it, when did downright incivility become an acceptable method of social discourse?

I work in a profession with an image problem and a recruitment crisis. No one wants to do the job and those that do get themselves trained seem to have more sense than me and naff off out of it very quickly. Different authorities try different schemes to encourage recruitment and retention and reports are written and hands are wrung because it is a very complex issue. But aside form all the retention payments and promises of annual appraisals and development days there is one thing that would go a long way to help (apart from overtime payments) and that is if we were treated with a bit of respect and courtesy by our managers.

Most social workers I know have broad backs and thick skins and will happily take abuse all day long from service users and carers, we will listen politely as colleagues in other disciplines comment rudely on our collective shortcomings but what really rankles is the airy, dismissive, intolerant and downright discourteous manner of middle managers. They are almost caricatures of management types one might have hoped were extinct:." don't bring me problems, bring me solutions". I think this is common place, and not just in the authority I happen to find myself in, pals in other authorities say more or less the same.

I have been in this game since 1993 and have seen many, many middle managers come and go, like butterflies, flitting from one place to another, and they have all shared the same characteristics of egomania and intolerance of dissent. They all seem to have been educated in the Pol Pot Year Zero school of management. For them, there is no history, there is only now; for them, there is no dialogue worth having, only instructions to follow. Dissent cannot and will not be tolerated. This places us in a difficult position; we are trained to challenge and to enquire and to look beyond the superficial., we are expected to dig deep, but we aren't allowed to do that in our offices.

This isn't a trifling point, it is a very serious issue, which goes to the heart of the daily social work experience. The power imbalance is such that you dare not question these men and women in suits, these power dressers extraordinaire. They remind me of Blair's Babes......... confident, supremely sure of themselves but, ultimately, vacuous: able to learn key phrases but unwilling to understand the actual meaning of words or the consequences of actions. Social workers who question what quickly becomes the prevailing orthodoxy get labelled as awkward, as fearful of change, as dinosaurs. The brave carry on and get sidelined, the meek keep quiet and keep their heads down.

It all makes for an unhappy work experience. I don't think I know one social worker who would describe themselves as truly content, but most of them would concede that they actually like the nuts and bolts of the job; it's the politics and the poisonous personalities within their own departments that they can't stand. It's quite shaming really. Shaming on people like me, who put up with it while quietly seething, and shaming on the managers themselves, who surely, to be so fearful of an alternative opinion must be, deep down, completely lacking in self respect and dignity.

My advice to those within departments charged with addressing recruitment and retention problems is simple, ask the middle managers, the professional bureaucrats, to be a bit nicer, a bit more compassionate and a bit more tolerant. It would work wonders.

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