Thursday, August 18, 2011

Welcome to the Clown Car

The Dark - Ben Kyle (w/Ryan Adams) (mp3)
You Get What You Give - New Radicals (mp3)

You want new ideas? Be ready to create a new job title. You can’t make new things happen without new employees or big promotions. That’s my takeaway from this summer.

Our entire floor of administrators spent the summer visiting select schools to conversate and collect ways to build on and improve what we do. At the same time, committees of faculty and staff members met and set out action plans for the accreditation process our school must undergo this fall, a process that expects schools to evolve and adapt over time.

I’m a hopey changey kind of guy, and this kind of stuff excites the hell out of me.

All those trips, and all those committees, and all those fresh new ideas, and they all had one uniting common bond: A New Position. And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout sex.

You want something more done? You want to ramp something up or revamp it? Create a new job description. Or appoint someone with a new title with mo’ money. Otherwise, it will never happen. That’s the universal innuendo of every task force and committee I’ve seen recently.

We’re all busy. Even those of us who aren’t that busy, whose days don’t stretch past 40 hours and whose 40-hour weeks aren’t the stuff of ulcerating stress and misery, whose days are regularly buffered with stops on Facebook or casual emails or a few clips of last night’s “Daily Show,” even those people are firmly convinced they’re busy. They could pass a lie detector test on it, because they truly believe it. Myself included.

When someone has an idea, and that idea points to more responsibility on our plate, our instantaneous reaction is, “Sorry. I’m busy.” We can’t help it. Because we are. Busy. Or we believe we are. At least when it’s our idea, we can sometimes squeeze in time for it... but only when we own the idea. Otherwise, fuhgiddaboutit.

Ironically, as a faculty and staff, we can’t figure out why our salaries aren’t going up. And we can’t figure out how tuition can keep rising, and student numbers can hold steady, yet there’s no income around for us to make mo’ money. (HINT: Maybe it’s because we keep identifying all these things that need to be done and insisting that new people have to be hired to do them. Our raises are going to add people to our ranks!**)

There’s no magic solution here. Few folks want more responsibility without more money or more power. That’s the way we are.

However, for us to implement even half of the ideas we as a school generated this summer, we’d apparently need to hire three to five more full-time people, who would require a budgetary investment of... what, at least $150-200,000, right? After the cost of benefits and other perks, even if the average salary was technically only $35-40,000?

Well, if we have a staff of 150, and we just threw $200k at new employees, not only have we potentially sacrificed $1k+ raises for each of us, but we’ve added three to five more people to the salaried population, which makes the next round of raises spread ever thinner.

Was it always like this?

Did cavemen sit in cavemen conferences and decide someone needed to tackle the velociraptor problem, and the only way to do it was to create a “Velociraptor Czar” job position and post the job on

I don’t think so. I think they took a look at what they were all doing. And if velociraptors deserved more energy, they figured out what deserved less, and they took from that. Cavemen probably had to conclude that some of the jobs they were doing weren’t nearly as important as “Velociraptor Czar.”

We as a society have increasingly lost the ability to give things up.

We’re hoarders. We hold onto things far beyond the point where it’s worth doing or keeping. And this is true with jobs as much as anything. If we as a school were completely honest, there are several positions in our ranks that are outdated concepts from an earlier era. Or jobs that used to take someone 40 hours a week now shouldn’t take more than 20, but that dude or lady ain’t about to admit she’s doing half a job for full-time wage.

And we like the people in those jobs. They probably took that new job description back in 1992 and worked it like gangbusters. And we don’t want to let them go, because we’re a tight-knit family. Kumbaya and shit. I get it.

But we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t demand more salary for ourselves, demand new people to fill new perceived needs, and also demand that the family all stay together and no one breaks up the band. But hell, even the Beatles eventually had to cut Stu Sutcliffe.

New positions. Raises. Keeping the family in tact. Tuition that has already out-priced the market. Not even in America can all of these things remain comfortably crammed in the clown car. Something's gotta give.

* -- Well, it’s also going to support pension plans for retirees who have vastly outlived their expected expiration date, to health care plans that shoot up faster than Courtney Love, and to the ever-increasing costs of campus and building maintenance. But those aren’t as central to my point.


goofytakemyhand said...

Solution to increase budget for employee raises:
Corporate Sponsors ...
For example
Morning Chapel: "Today's prayer is sponsored by Schlitz... Schlitz... The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous... Let us pray."

troutking said...

Businesses do it all the time. That's why companies are making more money than ever with fewer workers. Productivity. Not saying we should be as ruthless as Mitt Romney when Bain Capital took over a company and dismantled it, but you're right, we need to assess what's not as important anymore and shift resources to cover new things. I submit that 3 linebacker coaches might be a little much. if one is comparing linebacker expertise with global environmental sustainability.

Bob said...

Add to that, I held a meeting late this morning and in looking around the table, I realized that almost everyone at the table had either by assignment or by choice taken on more this year than what they were doing last year. And these were people that, if you thought about them by name, you would think are the kind that don't work all that hard. The additions to their job load in one case resulted in a pay cut, in one case was completely the result of renewed enthusiasm, in another case was resulting from the person raising the funds for the program; in the rest of the cases, the tweaks and upgrades of their programs will result in a wash, financially.

I fault leadership that is occupied in other areas for this. I counseled these people to be very, very careful, to scale back, if necessary, to avoid burnout.

And, by the way, the first song on this post is the first public verification of the kickass cd mix I handed out in New Orleans this year.

BeckEye said...

Cavemen and velociraptors didn't exist at the same time. I'm not even a nerd and I know that. ;)

I just quit my job recently and they tried to counter offer by throwing a lot more money at me and creating a whole new position that was INSANE. It was like I would have gone from low girl on the totem pole to Director of...Something. I smelled bullshit and did not take the offer. I'd probably never get another raise again, and I had complained about my position before (it was kind of a dual role covering two completely different departments) but they never did anything to change it until I said I was quitting.

Billy said...

@Trout - There's the left LB, the middle LB, and the right LB. That's three coaches. Duh. Just be grateful we're not running a 3-4 scheme, or you'd need FOUR linebacker coaches.

@Bob - The interest and curiosity about the technology training on Wednesday felt mostly genuine to me. It seemed like a nice step in the right direction.

I worry that you're a little late for some on the "to avoid burnout" warning. Worse, I sometimes fear that the easiest way to burn out is to stop finding ways to move yourself forward. (And yes, your CD kicked ass.)

@Beck - Valid points, especially if you have the security or safety net and can flip off your employer. However, I'm feeling like we've entered a new era in this great land, where we're all gonna have to sing a little harder for our supper. And even then we might be considered expendable. It's kinda scary, because I don't believe we're gonna recover from this one for a long time, maybe never.