My time, Our time

Last summer I was recruited for another part-time job, Thursday nights. I knew I could squeeze it into my busy life because this potential employer made it clear if I had an emergency related to my full-time work he did not expect or need me to be there. The hours were flexible, the expectations were low, the people were warm and open. How could I say no?

The trouble began in the summer, I needed to take some online courses and I made the time during my vacation from the other employers to complete this work. I had never taken online courses before and I found the login process and the sequencing of what work to do first, as a variety of material appeared on the screen at once, very challenging. I confess that online work is difficult for me, I get confused by the process and need the steps to be laid out very clearly.

Although I could read all of the material and found it easy to understand I could not complete the responses. As my frustration grew I used the email and phone number provided for assistance. In both cases I left messages and none were returned. It was August so I certainly understood that one could not expect a speedy response. But after two weeks I saw the deadline fast approaching. I called the office where I worked on Thursdays and asked for other sources of assistance. I also asked my superiors, the people who had recruited me. In each and every case when I received an email response or had a live conversation over the phone the answer was always the same, “that is not my job and no, I do not know whom can help you.” This chase continued for another two weeks.

I remember my frustration boiling over, I closed my laptop with a thud and my wife came in the room to ask what was wrong. I explained my situation, took responsibility for being a slow-learner on the computer. She responded, “You already have plenty of jobs, you don’t need this job, why are you allowing yourself to get so frustrated. Let it go, walk away now while you are new so this employer does not invest any more time or money in your training.” I felt bad but I knew she was right.

I have served on volunteer Boards and worked as staff in the government and non-profit sector. A lot of employees feel they are asked to do work that in the private sector they would not have to do. They feel they are not compensated the way staff in the private sector are. So there can be a temptation to respond to each and every response that seems technically outside our job description with, “that’s not my job.” Technically they are correct. And it is true that staff in such work places can be taken advantage of, continuously asked to do what they are not paid to do.

But here is something few staff in government and non-profit work will admit, the flexibility and affirmation, the deepening personal relationships, these are rarely experienced in the private sector. The general public given exceptional service in the public sector or the non-profit sector are often inclined to see these staff as neighbours, bring in treats and cards, remember birthdays, etc… If a loved one is sick or a friend appears from nowhere we have not seen in years non-profit and government employers are far more likely to be flexible about work hours.

When we respond, “that is not my job” we are sending a signal that this is purely a contract relationship. That may be exactly what you want. But do not be surprised if what you receive in return is equally cold and exact. Do not be surprised if the person who asks for a little extra help or a little extra effort to find what s/he needs responds to “it is not my job” with disengagement from a good cause or participation in something you believe in.

We do need to protect ourselves from being taken advantage of, there are individuals who do this. If I see a pattern like this I can muster a strong and resilient “no”. But more often than not the requests to go beyond “our job description” are an invitation to a different kind of relationship and if we respond with consideration those we help with respond in kind. My time is important. So is “our time”.