03 May 2012

Woman's Work

I recently got my own office at my day job. Well, I share it with my boss’ assistant but he has so many meetings that he’s hardly ever there. Being moved to my own office has really changed my attitude. I’m a whole lot less cranky. In fact, I’m downright happy!

When I was down in the main office, I was the go to person for everything. If a contractor, security, the mailman, housekeeping, Joe Blow came into the office, they came to me first. If the phone rang, the expectation was that I would answer it despite the fact that we have two other extensions.

As is the case in every workplace, we have more and more work to do and the same amount of hours to do the work in. When there are three other guys ( I work with all men) in the office you would think that one of them could take it upon themselves to answer the ringing phone especially when I look busy. What they do instead is they look over at me as if to say, “isn’t she going to answer that?”

That’s what started to make me cranky.

I’ve never worked with so many people who receive so many personal phone calls at work in my entire working career. I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve received personal calls at work . Three of them, on Sept 11th, 2011 because I didn’t have internet access, didn’t have a radio and it was important to know if the world was ending. It really did feel that way. All my friends and family know not to call me at work, if they even have my work phone number, because they’ve been told, “Don’t call me at work.”

In this day and age, you can contact me on my land-line, my cell phone, by email (I have two personal accounts), on Facebook and you know, leave a message. But call me at work? No! I’m at work to, you know, to work.
A couple of years ago I broached the subject with my co-worker that I would appreciate it if he answered the phone half the time. “It would be different ,” I said, “if all the calls were work-related but half the calls are personal and a lot of them are yours. I don’t see any reason why I should have to stop what I am doing to answer all the calls to say, it’s for you.”

He told me that he looks at the call display to see if it’s for him and if it’s not he doesn’t answer.
“Well no, that’s not entirely true because I’ve sat here and watched you not look at the phone repeatedly.”
“Fine,” he said with THAT tone of voice, “I’ll tell my wife to stop calling.”

Um, in what part of this discussion did I say that your wife calls too much?

We had a silent moment and I backed off because I didn’t want to turn it into a war especially since we get along so well. And I tried a new tactic. If I saw that a call was for him, instead of answering, I’d say, “it’s for you.” Something about that change made him realize that yes, it was true, he wasn’t looking at the phone, ever. And he improved somewhat. He started looking at the phone sometimes. Especially on the second ring when he realized I might not be answering because it was for him. Of course there was still the case of everybody else’s personal calls.

With my move to my new office, I still have an extension to the main office but now I have my own direct number. If a call comes through on the main office number that looks like it might be for me, I answer it, but 90% of the calls I no longer answer. The guys now have the responsibility of answering the phone and there is some serious grumbling about it.

It’s become like an episode of ,”The week the women left,” a show where the women of a small community are transported to a week’s vacation sans children and their husbands are left to fend for themselves taking care of all they’ve taken for granted. It’s a lovely world when everything is automatically done for you. It’s a rude awakening when you find out, through experience, that it’s darn time consuming when you have to do it yourself.
A couple of my guys have asked me, ‘Don’t you answer the phone anymore?”

“I answer it if it’s for me but it doesn’t make sense for me to answer the phone to put it on hold and yell down the stairs to tell you that it’s for you, especially when it’s a personal phone call.”


Don’t even get me going on what we deem “women’s” work or a “secretary’s” job…

It’s one of the stories of my life actually, that expectation that I’ll take care of everything and know my place. I do for a time, until I get tired or I take a good hard look at the unfairness of a situation and I speak up. My assertiveness always pisses off the other person, the person called on their actions or lack of actions, as the case usually is. But I have to speak up.

It reminds me of the first time I finally spoke up within my family. When I was assigned all the housework at 13 years old. My step-dad would come home and survey the house to see what I ‘d done or more appropriately, what I hadn’t done yet. And he’d tell me, “you haven’t cleaned the bathroom yet, you haven’t cleaned the kitchen yet…” He was my first micro-manager. Lol No wonder I can’t tolerate being micromanaged, but I digress.

In my meekness I suffered in silence for months but then even I couldn’t take it anymore and I spoke up. I stood in the living room while he and my mother were watching television and I waited until they noticed me.
“What do you want?” he asked with that tone of voice.

I looked at the carpet and said softly, “If you don’t pay me to do the housework, I’m not going to do it anymore.”
The volume of the television was quickly turned down and the stepfather said, “What did you just say?”
“If you don’t pay me to do the housework, I’m not going to do it anymore. You come home and all you ever notice is what I haven’t done yet.”

Then came the yelling and swearing and the accusations of being an ingrate and troublemaker and how they could never simply have a nice quiet night at home because I ruined everything. Everything!

I was sent to my room with a, “get out of my face,” and had to sit in silence listening to all the qualities that proved there was something wrong with me. As I listened though, there was a little smile mixed in with my thundering heartbeat because I’d said what I wanted to say despite how completely terrifying it was. The yelling and complaining ended with something along the lines of, “I’ll show her if she thinks she’ll get away with this.”
The next step of course is that I knew I had to actually follow through on my word. And for a week I didn’t do the dishes, the dusting, didn’t clean the bathroom or any of the other chores I’d been assigned to do. With a few more days of bad moods and worse words, they caved and started to pay me.

Now, I have to say that I understood why they had assigned me the chores but the unfairness was that I’d inadvertently found out that Step dad’s daughters, who were both younger than me, received a larger allowance and received “extra” money from my mother. That I Could Not Tolerate! So yes they paid me to be their live in maid and complained to anyone who would listen that I MADE them pay me. But it taught me a fine lesson.

At work, for the first time ever, it has been someone else who saw the unfairness in my situation and fought my battle by moving me. It was my boss’s boss (the big guy) who’d come into the main office, watched what was going on and asked, “How the hell does she ever get any work done with all those interruptions?”

Right? I told the big guy recently that I am so thrilled that every time I see him I’ll give him four kisses, one for each cheek. Ha-ha! (I got that joke from Charlie Parker who kissed Richard Nixon’s cheeks four times.)
It’s still not resolved, I’m sure. There will probably be more complaining before the guys finally realize that maybe they should receive their personal phone calls at home or suck it up and answer the phone since I’m not going to. Time will tell, and I will continue to state the facts… I wasn’t hired to take messages from your creditors, your dentist & doctor, your wife, or your friend who wants to know if you’ve gone on break yet so he can meet you on it.


26May12 - Watching Ken Burns Jazz and the quote is actually from Duke Ellington. He was honoured by the then President Nixon at the White House and in accepting the honour kissed Nixon 4 times. When Nixon asked him, "Why 4 times." Duke said, "once for each cheek." :)


Bonnie Vesely said...

Hi Shelley-Lynne. I'm one of your fellow MNINB Platform Challengers. I've been enjoying your blog posts - you have a very honest and down-to-earth approach to writing and life and that really appeals to me. I wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for a Liebster Blogging Award. You can get the details (there are some responsibilities involved - like nominating five people yourself to "pass it on" - and you can get the details from my latest post: www.justventurescoaching.com.

Shelley-Lynne Domingue said...

Ahh Bonnie, What a nice thing to say about my writing. And thank you so much for the nomination.
I'm going to organize myself and get looking for 5 blogs to nominate.
I'm really thrilled, thanks for this.