Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Exercises in frustration

I am new to working.

Apart from one year in 1985 I have not worked full time in a regular job until I started work as an RN in mid 2005. I have had the utter luxury of being a stay-at-home wife and mother (albeit with considerable voluntary commitments by choice) for most of my children's lives. I worked one day per week for money from 1996. It was pretty good.

Since I gained my qualifications as a registered nurse I have been employed at the hospital nearest to my house. Because its easy and I'm a bit lazy. And we only have one car. Besides, parking is appalling and I walk to work. And my husband and I prefer to be near to our places of employment and we were able to buy into the area in 1984 (when we still paid 2-3 x what people were paying to live in suburbs further away). My employer is also a specialist in women's health and maternity care. My field.

I relish my work. I find it very absorbing. I think about it alot. I have plans to experience a wide range of areas, with my eye on a longer term goal of being community based. I like to see people in their own environments. That's where health (or a lack of) impacts on people. With respect to maternity care, childbearing is not an illness for most people but it can be a challenge to the health systems of some with underlying conditions, or poor health and nutrition. I like to understand how a pregnancy fits into someone's LIFE.

So I am working about 3/4 time. And fitting work into MY life. I still feel I am a beginner at this. Because of the way I work I move around between areas, 2 months here, 6 weeks there. Mostly with around 2-3 months notice of where I am going, in broad terms.

I am coming to understand that while this is intellectually and professionally stimulating, it has a downside. Namely that my family gets the leftovers. Of me. I am frequently not home for evening meals, weekends, sporting events. Or if I am at home I am sleeping. Or wishing I was asleep. Or mentally exhausted and needing to unwind in front of the TV. Or at the computer. I spend more time communicating with YOU, readers, and others whose blogs I read even if they are unaware of my attention to their whimsy, than with those I live with. This is not always ideal, or appreciated by others in the house.

So to get some time to spend with said others in the house I apply for leave. That I have accumulated. That I am theoretically entitled to. That must fit in with the needs of the organisation. That comes on a first in best-dressed fashion. With advance notice an advantage. Major planning required. Others always ahead of me in a queue. Because I don't (can't, not always) get much notice. Do you see where I'm heading with this?

I am becoming frustrated in my attempts to achieve a better work/life balance because of planning. I am not used to planning this way. The problem is largely mine. I chose to work in this way, to gain experience across a lot of areas. I hadn't anticipated the pitfall of leave planning. And major short-staffing issues - which means that the employer has need of labour and doesn't have the capacity to replace any more staff if they are on leave. Which sucks for the employer as much as the leave-deprived staff. Morale drops because people are not able to recharge their batteries. They feel flogged and overworked, constantly taking extra shifts to meet the shortfall of staffing. I am by no means an island in feeling advance planning pressure. It must be dreadful for the managers to try and fill the rosters with a decreasing number of staff. Almost no-one works full time. Days off are breathing space for the weary. For the sleep deprived with constant body-clock changes.

I don't know how systems can be sustained in this environment. I've only been working for 3 years and I'm getting frustrated. There is no leave available in one of my key areas until mid-2009. And there are others ahead of me in the queue. I can't apply unless I know where I'm going to be. By which time I am never near the top of the queue with a chance of 'getting' the leave.

Many have resigned permanent contracts over the leave issue, and now work as casuals - picking and choosing the days and shifts they want to work. They have to be organised, but it seems to work for them. Of course they rarely want to work night shift, so the bulk of night duty falls to permanent night staff, supplemented by other permanent staff taking turns to work night shift. 2 weeks on nights, 4 weeks on days. It is not easy. I can't see that managers have much choice. But it would be nice to think it will change for the better sometime soon. I could always follow suit and resign and go casual - but that would mean that I lose access to some of the areas I have yet to gain experience in (i.e. I have NO chance of being rotated through those areas if I am a casual) and hence I will never get those brownie points on my CV. Which I'm not building just to take to heaven. I need those experiences to move into the community. Therefore casual = serious career limitations.

My family are resigned to my shift work. They, of course, don't get the rewards that each particular shift gives me in terms of my contact with people, the buzz of a birth, or the camaraderie with work colleagues. I do love my work. But I don't think my family are finding my absence endearing, for all that they are pleased that I love my work. My husband works really hard, and our kids are not the most forthcoming houseworkers or cooks. He is entitled to be somewhat cross when he comes home at 6-45 to a wife still asleep after an interrupted day of catnaps and another night shift ahead, and a dinner not even underway, and adult kids lounging around waiting for the fairies to pop dinner in front of them.

The reality of life as a midwife, being on call (not yet but one day), shift work including lots of night shifts will continue to take me out of their sphere. And return me tired and in need of space and solitude to recharge myself. Which is clearly lacking currently.

As I have alluded to before, this is the first year that I haven't had a kid in school. A reliable 9-3 timeslot where I can have the house to myself. For creating, thinking, reading, sewing, playing bingo - whatever! Where I can just pick up my keys and go out without answering to anyone, or stay in my jammies if I want to. No-one draping themselves over my neck and hassling me to 'do that thing [insert needs of others here]'.

However loved or needed I am by others, I need myself too.

I suppose I am also struggling with the idea of ambition. Of ego. Of stepping deliberately (a little) away from family ties that have been so strong, and at a time when children are usually becoming more independent, ours are not. (For various reasons. Some of them too difficult to go into.)

But I want to strengthen my professional self now. I work hard and happily, in a high-ish pressure environment, and need to re-charge to sustain this. Some regular hours alone, and definitely some time with just my husband would be just what I need. I am planning and applying to all and sundry, while taking my place in the queue (sigh).

Pray for a solution from this seemingly insoluble mess, that will continue to provide the range of experiences I need to build a career doing the work I love.

In other news...

I do apologise, in the public domain, to all those behind me in the queue at a large office supplies outlet yesterday while I insisted, implacably, on a refund of the $50 difference between the price of a new laptop and the slightly higher price of the laptop LEMON that my daughter purchased only 3 months ago, which was being replaced after 2 lengthy delays for major and unsatisfactory repairs. It was the least they (the company) owed us after all the inconvenience. Bastards. We received the refund. Only after I assured him I was quite happy to stand there for the next hour and explain the principles of customer service obligations to him while his potential customers streamed out without their purchases. I am a largish woman and can block an aisle quite effectively. His junior staff were all hissing at him to do the right thing, don't be ridiculous, pay her because it truly is an absolute dud. I even insisted on it being recorded on the electronic comment section for the register "Product exchange - DUD". Take that large corporation whose after sales service sucks.

And finally, I am overwhelmed with joy at the wisdom of the majority of American voters. Intelligence and integrity is welcomed back to the White House.


Frogdancer said...

Phew! I've got no words of wisdom here. The good thing about teaching is that it's usually all during the day, when the kids are at school anyway.
Just wanted to say... I hear you.

Lesley said...

I'm ba-ack, and I've read all this, and we'll talk about it when we skype next time!

Anonymous said...

That 50.00 should not have been contested, it was yours in right, by the sound of your tale.

Janet said...

aargh I sympathise with the intricacies of taking leave in large public service institutions with not enough staff. But you are so right though about the need rest and recharge, to be in your (other) life. My workplace has a system where everyone has to apply for their whole years leave by a certain date and then it goes before a committee. aargh. What I find has worked is that I apply for as much leave as I am entitled to, maybe one largish block and two smaller blocks. Not all of it will be granted. Then I look for opportunities to take smaller amounts of leave at short notice, which is occasionally granted.... I would have thought though that in your field that your employer would insist on taking some leave, for OHS?

Natalie said...

whoosh... you have several platefuls, and so much of it is familiar. I have no answers or suggestions. I offer a shoulder to lean on, a hug for support and my prayers. At least I can sit a little taller and feel a swell of pride... I exercised my wisdom last week... it was so easy and fulfilling to vote for HOPE!

Victoria said...

I don't have any word of wisdom about anything, although I would imagine that adding to the dilemma of it all is that your job is a job that takes a lot emotionally/caringly as well as all the technical/scinetific/practical aspects - it's quite amazing really. The story of the office supplies drama cracked me up though!