Flexibility comes with the job

I arrived home after a particularly rotten day (nothing to do with work, of course) recently, and was greeted by a paper recycling bin that, unlike hundreds of its peers on my street, had not been emptied by city workers earlier that day. Turns out a particularly stubborn piece of cardboard meant the worker in question would have had to get his hands dirty to loosen the contents. Rather than do his job, however, he opted to simply leave the box as it was, sitting on the curb.

I hauled the bin back up to my porch and found other ways to store my recycling for the next two weeks – something that would have been a far more daunting task for the elderly woman who lives alone two doors down, or my well-retired neighbours. My grumbling aside, that one, brief moment of laziness could have caused someone a whole lot more trouble than it caused me.

This incident stuck out in my mind as I was reading over the stories submitted to us by those who entered our recnet contest to win a digital camera. When we originally went calling for you “craziest” stories, among them I expected to find at least a few tales of careless or incompetent co-workers, or perhaps an ill-thought out stunt that seems less funny in the cold light of sobre second thought.

Instead, our winner sumbitted a tale of going way, way above and beyond the call of duty (I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already – check out the ComputerWorld link at www.itworldcanada.com, and follow the anniversary link). In fact, most of your stories involved patiently dealing with extremely difficult or rude end users, bosses that were, to put it midly, “overbearing,” or working at jobs that just plain stunk, but which paid the bills nonetheless.

If the stories alone were any indication, it would be clear that working in IT often meant working in less than ideal circumstances. Obviously, this is probably no more or less true than other professions. But I do think IT requires its practicioners to be much more flexible than the average worker, and as such, only those who are willing to go the extra mile are likely to survive.

It makes sense, really. Systems that go down have to be fixed – whether it’s 9am or 8:30pm. Viruses don’t schedule appointments. Nor does the president’s laptop, which always seems to have problems. And upgrading the network usually means weekend work. Those looking for predictable, 9am to 5pm jobs will find their dreams on some days, but on others, that all goes out the window.

So by their very nature, or at least the nature of the jobs they’ve chosen, IT workers are implicitly willing to do what it takes to get the job done. In fact, it’s the failure on the part of employers to recognize this crucial fact – or just as bad, take advantage of it – that leads to job dissatisfction. As our winner said at the end of his tale of woe: “Respect – it’s all I ever wanted.”

It’s reasonable to assume that people like my recycling man would never cut it in this world.

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