Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Workplace Drama - "Mind your emails!"

   Some of you probably know I have spent my career working in the chemical industry. Currently I work in R&D (Research & Development) for a Mining / Metallurgical / Chemical Manufacturing company that has a facility here in Baltimore. One of the more important areas of any company of this type is its Quality Assurance (QA) / Analytical Department. QA is responsible for testing everything from raw materials to production samples to finished goods samples, as well as samples from R&D people like myself. As you might imagine, doing fast and accurate work, and communicating the results of that work ASAP are critical for the success of the QA department, and the plant as a whole.
   The way that most QA Departments (ours included) report their test results to those who need to know them is through some form of Laboratory Information Managment System (LIMS) database. After people drop their samples off to them, and they finish analyzing them, someone from QA will post the result in LIMS, and then whoever needs to see those results can go into the database and see them. Nothing to it. There is one catch, though: QA techs can't enter new results into LIMS if someone else in the plant has LIMS open. When that happens, the solution is easy enough: the tech who needs to enter data will send out an email (or occasionally announce over the intercom system) requesting that whoever is using LIMS log out so that new test results can be posted. Considerate techs will also send out a second email when they are done, so that interested parties can log back in, continue what they were doing, and check out any new results. For the most part, everyone is cooperative and the whole process works out just fine. For the most part.

   For the last year or so, we've had a QA tech here for who cooperation seems to be a foreign concept. Although she is very good at what she does, she also is very much a pain in the ass to deal with.

(at this point, I should make a Public Service Announcement: I'm sure many of you like watching TV shows that involve pretty, witty people doing laboratory work. Let me tell you, what you see on those shows is far from reality. In 25 years of doing lab work, I have yet to encounter any woman that looks remotely as good as the actors portraying lab techs or chemists on television. What's more, although many are genuinely nice and helpful people, just as many of the female techs I've worked with are cranky, bitchy pains in the ass. Perhaps that's because they are a minority in a male-dominated profession, perhaps it's a function of their physical unattractiveness, maybe it's because they know they can get away with it: see, in addition to us chemistry dudes never being mistaken as candidates for People magazine's "Sexiest Man of the Year" award, we also tend to bend over backwards these days to accomodate and be non-confrontational towards our bitchy female co-workers. I think they can smell the fear...)

The whole concept of giving a friendly notice to people that she needs to have access to LIMS is especially troubling for her. From the outset, she seemed to be pissed off that the rest of us didn't have some form of  ESP that allowed us to know when she was about to add data to LIMS, and her emails to ask people to allow her access typically had what always seemed to be an annoyed tone, as if it was an insult to have to do so. But although there some grumbling among the rest of us about her mails (and her refusal to let people know when she was finished), the grumbling never led to any action, which seemed to have to effect of empowering her and making her emails (and any interaction with her) increasingly unpleasant.

   Then finally, she crossed a line.  "Get out of LIMS now if you want your data", she wrote an sent out on a plant-wide email. Even from her, this was pretty ballsy, but as usual, there was grumbling but no action (that I knew of). Then the next day, she sent out the exact same message again. This time, I decided to do something. I had just gotten into LIMS to check for some results I needed, but I logged out, then went back to the offending email and hit "Reply All":

"I've asked this before, and I'll ask it again: can you do us the common courtesy of letting us know when you're done? Other people besides you need to use LIMS." Then I went to go check on a couple of things in the lab.

   When I came back to the office, my office mate asked me, "Did you mean to "Reply All" on that email?"
"I sure did", I responded. "I've gone to her nicely about this, and she's blown me off. And now emailing people to 'get out of LIMS'? I think she's forgetting that the people who rely of LIMS are essentially her customers. She's not putting data in there for her own use."

   The other tech nodded in agreement, as a couple other people passed by the office and offers congrats for my response. Just about then, a heard the tone on my computer indicating I had a new email. I opened it up, and it was a response from Ms. Congeniality:

"I shall no longer send the emails to request "whomever" is in LIMS to vacate so data can be entered.
If LIMS is tied up, NO data will be entered. The plant and R&D data will come to a stand still."

UH just did a "Reply All" on a Plant-wide email that you are not going to do your job, or at least the part of the job that a lot of people higher up than you on the plant's food chain care about the most...hmmm, let me know how that works out for ya...I have a feeling it won't be the way you think it will...I predict there will be someone coming to have a little "chat" with you. 

Less than a half hour later, as I was doing some work in the lab, I looked up to see Ms. Congeniality's boss and an HR rep walking through our lab on the way back to the QA lab.

Awww right awww right awww right! You gon' learn today!

Shortly thereafter, Ms. Congeniality was embarking on an (unpaid) 3-day vacation...

So what have we learned today, boys and girls?
1. Everyone has some particular aspect of their jobs that they don't like doing
2. If your dislike for said task(s) is that strong, then maybe you think about another line of work
3. Under no circumstances do you send an email (especially not a "Reply All" and / or a company-wide one) proclaiming your refusal to do said task(s); otherwise, you may well be on your way to the company's getting the ball rolling towards you seeking another line of work...

1 comment:

  1. Love many people without jobs, wish for her position snd would appreciate it