Author: Carl

Work Culture is expectations

In the most recent Culture Study, Anne Helen Petersen shares a talk she gave called The Librarians Are Not Okay. This talk sums up where we are as working adults. None of this is new and none of it has started with the pandemic. But it’s been exacerbated by it. It’s twisted the dials up to 11 as the machine that eats up people and spits out shareholder value continues to consume.

While this piece is focused on lLbrarians and by extension people who do care and passion work, it can be applied to anyone working today.

The librarians are not okay. The nurses are not okay. The teachers are not okay. The journalists are not okay, the clergy are not okay, the social workers are not okay. And we can’t start the long-term work of recovering from the burnout and demoralization of the last year until we acknowledgment as much.

The Librarians Are Not Okay

Though women, who are paid less because the of the circular logic of feminizing low-paid work to justify its low pay have to reckon with not being valued professionally while also performing the majority of the care work in their own lives and families.

The same is true, of course, for care workers, for educators, for nurses, and for so many people working in the non-profit sphere, and it’s such a convoluted logic that keeps it in place: the work is feminized, so it’s low-paid; the work is low-paid, so it’s feminized.

The part I’ve seen in my professional life most is picking up the work of more and more people. When I worked as a government contractor this was rampant through the government itself as positions would be cut and fewer people were left to do the important work.

The same thing happened in the IT space. Contractors are a staffed by companies bidding the lowest amount to get the same work done. So it’s going to lead a race to the bottom of pay and benefits and stability.

I talk about systemic problems with burnout, and exploitation, and overloaded jobs, I heard from a lot of librarians — people who really have absorbed responsibilities that were previously the work of three FTEs, if not more, and how they’re expected to just….have a better attitude about it?

I worked in one position for a little over three years. In that time, I was employed by no fewer than five separate companies. The final three were because they were generating shareholder value and would spin off, buy up, and generally screw every employee by saying “we can’t offer raises or reviews because we’re a new company” every single year.

Guardrails can be though of a “Work Culture.” That thing your company may be touting as the reason to return to the office amidst a pandemic.

Guardrails are things like: we don’t email when we’re off, and if you do send an email when you’re off, you’ll actually be taken aside to talk about why that’s not part of our culture here. Guardrails are: even if you, yourself, work really well at 11 pm at night, any communication you craft at that hour should be delay-sent to correspond with the start of others’ workday, so they don’t feel the need to be responding to work at that hour as well.

Guardrails are being very clear about levels of urgency: an email is not a five-alarm fire, and you shouldn’t train yourself to react as if it was, because that sort of vigilance is not sustainable.

This is the work culture that matters. How is time off treated? Is it something to be approved or acknowledged? When you’re off, are you really off or just working from a more fun location.

Culture can be devious. It may not be stated in the orientation or the handbook but as an expectation. Are you expected to be available all the time? Are you expected to be on call even if you’re not compensate for it or its stated as part of your job description?

Understanding the culture of where you work is looking at the unwritten expectations on your time, attention and life.

Resistence is Futile

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think anything I did would have necessarily changed anything. I’m hearing stories like mine everywhere (even the Vice President is similarly struck). I think this variant is just super-contagious and gets around barriers.

This illness does not mess around and we don’t know what the long term effects are. I’m so bummed out that, after over 2 years of assiduously avoiding it, I got sick.

Covid Tales – Coming Out the Other Side

I am about a week and a half into it and yesterday I tested negative for the first time since April 22nd. My energy level is nonexistant. The headaches come and go making focus very difficult.

I have patches where I feel pretty good and then immediately feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I need a nap after every meeting. Work is extremely taxing.

I am scared of long covid. It’s exhausting to have been so careful. Trying to make the best decisions we could and to still end up sick. We’ve avoided large gatherings. We don’t go out. I work from home and rarely leave the house. My wife works with a population that is already suspectible and maintains extreme because getting sick for her and interacting with folks she works with could easily mean death.

After going nowhere, doing nothing and generally trying to be a bubble of health in a county with nearly 90% vaccination rate and 95% partially vaccinated populace. We left that bubble and took a weekend trip and returned with Covid. Even on the trip we masked, we stayed in an isolated cabin. We were around enough people while eating and outdoors that it could have come from anywhere.

I know more people who have been cautious that have ended up sick recently. Anecdotally, I know more people who are sick now that have avoided it for the past two years. Maybe it’s simply a numbers game. We made it through the first waves and finally one found its way in. Or the new variants, aided by removal of restrictions, and two years of incubation, has gotten better at infecting people

For the first time in my life I took an entire week off work and could have easily taken another week (or two?) off to recover. And if I lived in a civilized country I might have had that option. we have no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave. 

I think about this a lot.

It’s a lot to put on a cabin

Work has always been frantic. The pandemic kicked everything into hyper speed. I spent all of 2020 keeping my head above water. Tracking Zoom changes as it grew and changed by the second. Webex plodded along but even they kicked things into gear eventually.

It was a frantic year. Trying to manager web conferencing platform integrations and starting a brand new job all at once. I came out of that year exhausted.

2021 wasn’t much better. The priorities changed. We had sunk into a new march forward. Ever forward. But it felt familiar. There were moments of hope. Like sunlight kissing a branch during golden hour before plunging once against into darkness until the new morning.

That’s a dark stage set for how my brain has been working. It’s full. My RAM is full and I’m having to use swap space. It’s slowing everything down.

Keep it all in memory

I don't really know how to describe this so it makes sense. But here goes…

I look at problems holistically. I look at the problem and not only the way forward. But as many ways forward as I can see that aren’t immediate dead ends. I look at those branching choices and look for threats and road blocks and wolves along my forest path.

I try to think not only of the next problem and how to solve it but the next problem and solution pairing after that. I don’t want to walk into a peaceful mountain pass instead of climbing over if there’s an army waiting for me in the pass. I’d rather pick the harder route at first than deal with an insurmountable problem around the next turn.

Because this is how my brain works, taking on a big project is like loading all of this up into my head. I’m looking at the problem and all the ways it can go wrong and trying to find the best path toward.

There will never be a perfect path. But one that doesn’t lead to immediate failure or insurmountable problems because we leapt before we looked.

This is fine when I’m able to focus on the problem at hand and map out a way forward and what other decisions need to be made. What other people I need to consult and what decisions we need to make now, or at least consider, before racing forward.

But this is not how the world works. Nor is it how work is done. Work is an ever-increasing set of context shifts and priority sliding. Walking the well-lit path becomes shifting sands of uncertainty when there’s a sudden detour thrown in the way.

When instead of working the plan I’ve made, it’s time to put that away and run in a new, unmapped direction. It’s exhausting. I can’t just turn off my brain and run into the unknown hoping for the best.

Before I move forward, I need a path. I’m going to pick the best path but I still want answers for what we find up ahead. During the day, I’m very happy to live in my project and work on the many, many many moving parts and looking ahead at decision points and who needs to be involved.

But that’s rarely how my days go.

Many days it’s Big Project work.
Then fire fighting.
Back to Big Proj—- FIRE!
Meeting.
Meeting.
Reviewing notes from the meetings.
Surprise Meeting!
Email.
Instant Messages AHOY!
invent time travel because it can’t possibly be only 11:30am

At the end of the work day, it’s hard to clear the cache I’ve loaded into my head. I find it challenging to turn my thoughts to other things. To let go of the problems I’ve loaded up and been thinking through.

Relaxing is hard.

Unwinding is hard.

Even when I do eat properly and take breaks away from my desk, by the end of the day I feel exhausted. I don’t know how to be a person outside of work. All I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for a month.

I know I am burned out. The Pandemic is about to start its junior year. I know I powered through all of 2020 and most of 2021 and I am rightly paying for that now. I know why I feel the way I do. I don’t know how to, not even fix it, because this isn’t fixable with a long weekend. But how do I start to mend? How do I nurse my sore legs and aching feet when I’m still running on the treadmill? How do I find space for self-care? If I’m too exhausted to think about how to take care of myself… how do I start to find ways to feel better?

I fantasize about going to a cabin in the woods with a pile of books for a month. Then emerging as some sort of human being. My wife’s response when I said that stays with me: “that’s a lot of pressure to put on a cabin.”

Twitter Rules of Engagement

Yesterday, I wrote about How I Use Twitter. In writing how I use it, I started thinking about how I don’t use it. Social media encourages you to engage on its terms. I don’t believe in that. So here’s how I engage with Twitter.

I’ve been on Twitter a long time. I created my account on since Nov 15, 2006. This leads into my most important rule for Twitter.

Delete old tweets

I use Forget to automatically delete anything older than my last 100 or so tweets. No one should have 15 years of their own immaturity online. There’s no value in having anything that popped into my head or any reply I’ve made to someone over the last decade and a half online.

I could not agree more with this sentiment.

It’s important to remember, selfishly, it’s my twitter. With some ground rules and discipline to go with, I’m reckoning I can use it in a way that feels less frazzling, and more nourishing. – jasraj

I use Twitter how I want to use it and one of the reasons I’ve stayed as long as I have is because I can use it in through third party apps and Tweetdeck. If I had to use the official client or twitter.com, I would have left years ago after one set of annoyances or another.

How I don’t use Twitter

Don’t use Twitter.com or the Official Twitter Client™
I don’t want Twitter deciding what order I should see tweets or who I should see them from. I’ve already done the work to curate my lists and who I follow. I don’t need a computer guessing at what I would like. I’ve always used Tweetdeck on the computer because Twitter never felt the need to mess with it. On the phone/tablet I use third party apps. On Android I use Flamingo, which due to Twitter’s stupid practices is no longer available to download. I previously used Talon though haven’t in some years so can’t vouch for its current state.

Don’t recommend me anything. Ever.
I am not interested in recommendations. Whether it be people to follow or Lists I may enjoy. I ignore all of them. The metrics they’re using to offer things to me are poorly tuned and will often include topics or people I not only have no interest in, but are actively opposed to. I am here to curate my Twitter experience for me.

Turn off Retweets
I’m sure you have good things to share, but when I scroll my feed and it’s full of things other people I’m not following have said, it defeats the purpose for me. If you add a comment, then I see that along with your retweet. But if you press the button, I don’t see it.

I mute people/apps/hashtags
I mute what annoys me. Wordle has escaped the mute because they’re pleasant and not overwhelming. But through the years when popular “tweet this” buttons were in popular games, those were quickly muted. The same goes for conference attendees or large (usually tech) events. I mute the hashtag because I prefer to get my news through sentences, not tweets. If there’s an option to mute something for a set time (a day, week, month) I will do that versus obliterating it from my life forever. But if it’s all or nothing, then I vote nothing.

When I follow, it’s on a trial basis
I test follow a lot of people. I try them out for a bit. But many times I don’t stay. They’re too noisy and take over my entire feed. Or I followed them for one thing and it turns out it was an outlier from what they normally talk about. Sometimes their whole timeline is retweets so I don’t see anything from them for weeks and wonder why I followed them at all.

I don’t follow back
I owe you nothing. You owe me nothing. If you’re interesting I’ll follow you. If not, then I won’t. More often, I will check my new followers for two things. Are they a bot? Do they have a blog? If you have a blog, I’ll check it out and if it’s interesting, I’ll add it to my RSS readers. I like following people’s longer form thoughts far more than their 280 character hot takes.

Bots get blocked & reported
That’s the other thing I check for. If the account looks suspicious. I look at their follower/following numbers. I see what they post, if anything. And if they look like a bot, I block and report.

Lists are vital
I use Twitter mainly through lists. As a fan of Destiny 2 and the Washington Capitals, I prefer to see all of my news about them in one place. Not mixed with everyone else I follow. It’s also a great way to keep up with your A-List Can’t Miss people on Twitter. It’s easy to get lost in the torrent.

These are my rules for engaging with Twitter and keeping it enjoyable for me. How do you use Twitter? Do you use Twitter? What are your rules of engagement for social media to keep it on your terms?