Welsh Valleys Humour David Jandrell: The types of people that I’ve met in 44 years of work in Wales…
I started work in 1965(ish). I reckon I was about 10 when I started so that would make it 1965. My father was the newsagent in the village we lived in and there was a shortage of paperboys.
One of my earliest memories was standing in the middle of the shop with my father plonking a bagful of newspapers over my shoulder to see if I could stand.
I think that this procedure may have started much earlier because there were many times that I did collapse which indicated to my father that I was ‘not ready yet’
If I’d had my wits about me I would still have been collapsing at the age of 15 in an attempt to fool my dad into thinking that I was still ‘not ready’.
But, as I was not that savvy in those days, I finally managed to stand up when fully loaded, at about 5:15am and at the age of 10, and my father deemed I was ‘ready’ and I was introduced to the world of work by tramping around the village in monsoon conditions. I did point out that I could barely walk with a full bag but he fed me a line that every time I delivered a paper, the bag got lighter. I suppose he was right but I didn’t really notice the weight difference after every delivery at the time. I was also unaware the 140 near vertical steps that I had to climb to get to every house, open the gate at the top, remember the special instructions for that house, deliver the paper, shut the gate and then negotiate the descent whilst wrestling with a bagful of papers that probably weighed more than me.
‘Special instructions?’ I hear you say.
Yes, this involved the actual penetration of the door with the paper. Some people wanted their paper pushed right through, others wanted the paper pushed halfway through (presumably so that they wouldn’t have to bend to pick the paper up from the ‘welcome mat’). But, on days when it was raining, about 30% of the people who wanted their papers pushed halfway through wanted them pushed all the way through (in case half of it got wet). I had to remember all these!
I could come a cropper on this one though — on certain occasions, it would start to rain after I had delivered and before the people who wanted their papers pushed halfway through had done so — and the paper got wet. And it was my fault! And they would complain too — Aaarrrggghhhh!
Then, when I was about 15, I landed the most coveted job in the village — peeling the spuds in the chip shop. They paid a fiver a week, for five evenings from about 5pm to 7pm. Marvellous! My paper round (which I was still doing) paid 15 shillings a week — (75p) so, I was making £5.75 a week, which was a king’s ransom in those days.
Despite having been tramping the streets before 6am every day and being up to my elbows in potato peelings and starch five evenings a week, I still managed to utilise the time that I had in school to gain good enough results to go to University.
I entered that period of my life already fully geared up in the work ethic mentality — effectively I had eight years of working to deadlines behind me, and mostly before I had my National Insurance number when, at that stage, I could have theoretically, worked officially and paid tax and NI, for the first time.
I worked in the evenings when at University (bar work etc) and during the summer holidays I worked on building sites where I wiled away the time carrying bricks, mixing cement, sweeping up, going to the chip shop for 40+ people at a time and going to builders’ supplier to ask for things like; bubbles for spirit levels, skirting ladders, striped paint, sky hooks, sparks for the grinder, left handed hammers and long weights.
When my University days came to and end and I was ‘educated beyond my intelligence’ as my missus refers to my academic upbringing, I was ready to enter the job market proper.
I am now in my 45th year in ‘proper’ work. And, now, as I have a great career behind me I like to look back and recall, mainly with a shudder at all the highlights of those previous 44 horrendous years.
From those years I have had stints working in, Cardiff Museum, scientific research, local government, Civil Service, private industry, steel, furniture, education (secondary and higher), youth work, construction, statistics and numerous voluntary position to select highlights from.
Well, no highlights to speak of- I mean it was work wasn’t it. You just do it and come home. That’s what I thought anyway.
The overarching thing that struck me about my ‘proper’ work experience was the people that I had to share my working day with. Prior to my first proper job, I was basically a free agent — worked on my own and to my own work ethic, but, when I encountered my first ‘workmates’ I couldn’t fully engage with them, well, apart from a very small few.
I wondered how these people’s minds worked — did they adopt a ‘work persona’ that took over their whole outlook which took them over as they drove into the car park in the morning? Surely they did, I mean they couldn’t be like that all the time could they? If they were, I would be the in the minority — and, I must be on the wrong planet.
Nobody really wants to go to work, but seeing as it is a necessity my philosophy has always been to turn up, do what is required and make the whole experience as pleasurable as possible. Looking at my ex-colleagues it seems that I am in the minority in this area as well.
As time went on, I began to notice traits in my peers and they prompted me to categorise them in order to slot my workmates into different groups which I used as a benchmark for the way that I put up with and dealt with their horrendous personalities and characteristics.
Here they are.
Empire builders — usually the most inefficient workers, but a very successful strategy inasmuch as they usually manage to ‘fool’ their line managers into thinking they are hardworking and an asset to their dept. They create a ‘busy’ environment by monopolising their time by getting involved with things that are not their concern. The thinking behind this is, I think, “If I’m continually sorting out problems, I’m not sitting at my desk ‘getting on’ with the mundane paperwork side of the job.” — which is part of their remit.
Of course, a lot of this time will be spent liaising with their boss, just to make sure that he/she is aware of the empire builder’s whereabouts at every minute of the day and compounds the myth that he/she is completely tied up with something ‘over and above’ their duties. These can then be used as a ‘lever’ when they are so behind with their own work that they claim to be slogging away at home until 11pm, just to keep their heads above water. Empire builders are not backward in coming forwards when quoting the number of hours they do at home and mention this frequently every day. The answer to that is “If you can’t do the job in 8 hours, you shouldn’t be doing it. That suggests to me that you are incompetent so we should look at giving you a less demanding role.” I always got into trouble when I said that.
Another philosophy they may hold is the ‘I do everything in this office, the place wouldn’t survive without me. They can never get rid of me.’
They do this by ‘snagging’ all the ‘meaty’ duties, that are those noticed by those ‘in charge’ and farming out all the parts of those jobs that they don’t like to other people. This is where systems fall down because one person is not taking responsibility for the completion of a task, and gives the empire builder carte blanche to blame the ‘others’ when something, which is part of their remit, goes ‘pear shaped’.
Bored admin worker — These are generally quiet and never appear to be participating in large bouts of inactivity. They know what is expected of them and just do that, quietly and unobtrusively. If they come in one morning and they have 2,394 items which have to be filed, they will do it by home-time. If they come in the next day, and they have 16 items to be filed, they will do it — but it will still take them until home-time.
They also have developed a remarkable ‘knack’ of positioning their monitor in such a position that nobody else in the room can see that they are continually on Ebay, Candy Crush Saga, Fortnite (with sound muted), Facebook and other web based entertainment sites.
The last thing they want is to attract attention to themselves and they never do — however they will spend long periods of time complaining about their role — “I can do better than this! I’ve got 2 GCSEs you know. Can’t wait to get out of this hole!”
Smoothers — these are people who don’t like confrontation and will do anything to avoid such. Usually, they are in positions of authority. Smoothers are probably the worst people to go to if you have issues or problems. The smoother’s philosophy is to ‘smooth over’ issues and get complainants out of his/her office as quickly as possible. They do this by trying to make people ‘feel good’ and take a light hearted view of the problems. They appear to show a great deal of empathy when listening and will try to say what the complainant wants to hear. His/her aim is to reach a point whereby the complainant leaves his/her office with a smile on his/her face, usually accompanied by a wink and a slap on the back. He/she will reinforce the feeling of well-being by cracking a joke as the complainant leaves. Once the door closes, the smoother will be overcome with a feeling of ‘sorted that one out’ and do nothing to get to the root of the problem.
Of course this problem will arise again and the smoother will go through the motions again.
If the problem continues to recur, he/she will issue a ‘blanket lecture’ in a staff meeting and infer that every member of staff is guilty instead of taking the guilty party aside and addressing the problem head-on with that person.
The effect of this is that those who are not guilty will be thinking, “Did he/she mean me?” and unfortunately, those who are guilty will also be thinking, “Did he/she mean me?” as well. The more astute members of staff will be offended by the dressing down and tackle the manager afterwards — which will be met with another ‘smoothing off’ exercise by saying something like, “Obviously. I wasn’t referring to you.” Unfortunately, the smoother will also say this to the guilty person who suspects that he/she was the person that the smoother was referring to in the dressing down.
Long stayers — these are people who have worked in the same place since they left school and are now middle-aged or older. They are normally extremely average in ability but have put the time in. They are basically getting paid for attendance and have reached the dizzy heights of whatever position they have reached within the company because of longevity rather than contribution and achieved their own level of incompetence during their first week. They generally have a meaningless title alongside a disproportionately large salary and is most commonly observed in companies where nepotism is rife. They seem to be able to come in late every morning, spend longer at lunch than is allowed and have to leave early. Nothing is ever said to them. This is because they grew up with the boss, who has achieved his/her high status through graft and ability but remained loyal to their inadequate long-term mates by creating positions for them and although their contribution is minimal, in fact, some would say, a negative value they are kept on. I called this, ‘being promoted out of harms way.’
Usually despised by other members of staff whose daily routine can be interrupted by their apparent sporadic attendance and the inefficient way in which they conduct themselves on the odd occasions that they frequent the workplace.
Much of their working day is spent in meetings, or socialising with customers/suppliers or people from outside the organisation.
Managers (a few here).
Busy busy bees — always too busy to deal with staff. Never follow up leads and feedback on reports.
- “Haven’t had time to look at it yet.”
- “Sorry, completely went out of my mind.”
- “I’m just about to go into a meeting.”
- “Something more important came up.”
Answers to above that are rarely used (although I did…)
- It would be a different matter if I hadn’t produced the report by the time you asked for it.
- What would have happened if producing the report went completely out of my mind?
- How do you know it was more important when I hadn’t told you what I was going to say to you?
Whizz-kid — The fast mover who has worked his way ‘up the ladder’ — usually by treading on his/her peers on the way up.
When new members of staff are being shown around on their first day, after they have been introduced to the whizz-kid, the established member of staff, usually adds, when the whizz-kid is out of earshot;
“He/she used to be great him, till he/she got promoted. You know, one of the lads/girls. He/she is a right tyrant now since he’s/she’s the boss. Hate him/her. Started the same day as me he/she did. Now look at him/her. If that’s what being a boss is I’m happy as I am.”
Low esteem & insecure managers — These come across as aloof and abrupt — A smokescreen to cover up their complete unsuitability as a man-manager.
They do not have the mentality to handle the authority and believe that, to be able to be authoritative they have to be rude. This is probably in an attempt to emulate their previous boss’s attitude as they would be likely to be totally unsuitable as mangers as well. “Well I’m the boss now- better start behaving like a tyrant, like my boss did.”
Far from generating respect, this pompous acquired persona doesn’t enhance the managers’ authority, it merely makes staff members wary of them and be less than co-operative — and when managers don’t have the support of their staff …
When the inevitable happens, these will not delegate. They will try to do everything themselves for fear of being let down by demotivated staff (of their creation) until they grind themselves into the ground.
At this point, they will not sort the staff out themselves, but go bleating to their own boss in order to pre-empt backlashes as a result of severe shortcomings in day to day tasks, which are a direct result of the shortcomings of the manager.
Hip manager — probably the most irritating. He /she adopts the full management psyche and bolsters this by using all the hip management spiel.
“Have the guys got a ball-park figure for me yet? I know it’s a big ask but we need to be on it 24/7. We’re all standing at the bottom of a very greasy pole but we must touch base and make sure we’re singing from the same hymn-sheet, you know, making sure we have all our ducks in a row.”
You have probably realised by now that I was not impressed by any of these characters and whilst I had the misfortune of spending eight hours a day cooped up with them and subjected to their foibles, I managed to keep myself sane by maintaining very low-key relationships with them and communicated with them on an even lower level which was pitched solely on business related stuff and did not deviate one iota into personal or social topics.
Unless they asked, of course. That was where the trouble started — when they asked.
The thing is if something is on my mind or needs to be said, then I have to say it. Over the course of my working life, my colleagues realised that if they asked, then I would tell them — and this usually meant that people wouldn’t ask any more because they didn’t want to hear the answer. Some people even stopped speaking to me at all, which, I guess was their way of inflicting some sort of punishment on me because of my bluntness, but, in reality, I preferred it that way.
I have a few examples.
“Dai, I noticed that you have not put your name down for the staff Christmas party.”
“Are you aware of it?”
“Shall I add you?”
“Oh. Er …. you haven’t been to any staff do’s since you’ve been here.”
“Any reason for that?”
“Yes. I don’t want to go.”
“Well why not? Everybody’ll be there.”
“That’s why I don’t want to go.”
“I have nothing in common with these people.”
“What do you mean?”
“As my line manager, you choose who I spend eight hours a day with, I choose who I socialise with in my spare time.”
“What about the people in the Midlands office, or the people in the North office, you speak to them twenty times a day and you’ve never met them!”
“I have no more desire to meet those people than I have to meet my maker.”
“I think we’d better wrap this up here.”
“I think that would be a good idea too.”
Soon after that, we had a team building day, where I did (unfortunately), meet those people. During the ‘post team-building exercise chat’, in response to the question:
“What did you learn from today’s exercise?” my response was:
“I learnt to not attend any more team building exercises.”
This prompted a scoff from one of my colleagues which forced me to add:
“Eddie, I have spoken to you thousands of times since I joined this company and I always suspected that you were an insufferable bore. Now, after having met you and spent a day with you, I know you are.”
And the last one- Innovation Day.
A visiting facilitator came in to talk to us about Innovation. He was a professional speaker and one of the most irritating people I have ever encountered. He began his spiel:
“Good morning peeps. Today I am going to talk to you about Innovation. This is going to be very informal and easy-going and it’s going to be led by you. So, if at any time you get bored or if I start getting on your nerves, just get up and go.” (Pause for laughter).
I got up and went.
I still made it to the buffet though!
So, if you have read this have you spotted anyone you know that would fit into any of my workplace categories?
Or, are you one of these? Go on, be honest…
More writing by David Jandrell is available on the digital magazine Parallel.cymru: