Back in 1985 I was fortunate enough to get a temporary job as an account clerk for a city government. My only qualification was being a typist who made very few errors. By the time the job opened up for permanent status, I knew how to use a calculator, enter information into the City’s Series 1 IBM computer (it was as big as my walk-in closet), and had demonstrated a knack for detail; I was hired. It meant I made twice as much as at my previous job (millwork/secretary), and our family finally got health insurance.
I worked for the City for 16 years. There were many benefits, such as increased income, meeting a variety of people, increased confidence in my abilities, and a rise in self-esteem. I got training in accounting and various office skills (including editing), and was introduced to the wonderful world of personal computers.
There were also drawbacks. As we switched to more sophisticated computers, more reports were demanded, and they wanted us to do things more quickly. [Just because you CAN get reports on specific information doesn’t mean you NEED them.] While I am a firm believer in an efficient government, it is still people who enter the information, cut the checks, collect the money, type the letters, take the daily deposit to the bank, maintain the cash pad, go to the post office, make sure things get done on time and accurately, and deal with the dozens of little glitches than can come up in a day. If you want things done right, you try to keep the people who already do them right. There was always a push to do more in less time, and “don’t put this in as overtime.” I thought perhaps this only happened in government offices, but have since heard it happens in the private sector as well.
There were certain deadlines that had to be met. Twice a month I cut checks and prepared an expenditure report to be okayed at the City Council meeting. In order to get that done on time, I had a deadline of my own – don’t request a check after X date/time, or it goes on the next pay schedule. My boss was the worst about bringing things in late and wanting them included. You know the worst thing about making exceptions and still getting things done on time? They begin to expect you to do it ALL the time. Then there were the longterm deadlines, such as tax forms and getting ready for the audit. But the worst deadline of them all was FYE (fiscal year end), which was June 30th for the City.
Every account clerk deals with FYE. You want to pay everything that is due by that date (which usually meant a special check run, often at 11 pm). And if someone buys something on the last day of your fiscal year, and you don’t get the receipt in time, you have to pay for it out of special account lines. Or if you make a firm commitment to buy something before that day (like an expensive piece of equipment, or a mail order of any kind), you have to pay for it out of the special account lines. Money that comes in that was due before FYE has to be receipted into special account lines. And all this had to be done in such a way that the City was fully prepared for it’s audit by independent auditors in September. For years I hated June 30th. I couldn’t take a vacation at that time of year (though that didn’t stop my boss from going on a cruise one year), and it usually meant extra work the week before and the week after (but no overtime).
At one point the constant stress got so bad, I wondered if I could get some time off if I broke my leg falling down the stairs (I had a second floor office). Figured with my luck it would be something worse, so I began looking for some other occupation – one that worked with people and didn’t include a lot of paper-shuffling. I went to night classes at my local junior college, and discovered psychology and the possibility of being a therapist. Went as far as I could with night classes, even transfering to the university level. But the City administration wouldn’t let me shift my schedule so I could take more day classes.
Insert here, “and then a miracle happened.” A small inheritance allowed me to pay my debts, and I could afford to quit. So I did, in April, well before FYE. HOORAY!
In the six years since I left that job, they have had five or six different people doing it. The people running the City kept demanding more for less, and people have not been willing to put up with the stress. Am not sure at this point if it’s the City Manager or the Council to blame, but it’s happening in other departments as well. For instance, they still have a Police Chief who has ruined the police department, which is now down to a skeleton crew because of people leaving.
June 30th is now a holiday for me. 🙂 Besides relief, even joy, there is another emotion I feel. The German language has a word for it: Schadenfreude, taking pleasure in someone else’s suffering. I don’t feel it about whoever is doing that job now, or even the Finance Director (they are on the second one since my former boss retired after me). And I certainly don’t feel it about the residents of the city (who deserve better, and most don’t have a clue what is going on). I feel it about an administration and council who doesn’t value hard workers when they’ve got them, who doesn’t listen to the people who DO the jobs, and who keeps trying to get more for less.
Happy June 30th! 🙂