The Q-Z-ers

An institution has tasks A-Z that need to be done. Tasks Q-Z are very important, but are considerably more laborious than other tasks and also have to be done 2x or 4x more frequently.

The task-assignment system has each employee submit a small number of preferred tasks. Usually, an employee will be assigned one or two among their preferred tasks in order to fulfill the job requirement. Being that Q-Z are rather thankless jobs, they are never high on anyone’s list of preferences, yet they have to be done. Luckily, there are people who are civic-minded, and who step up to do some of the Q-Z tasks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the following dynamics to develop: the people who thought they were helping because they believed Q-Z were important are now routinely expected to perform these duties, while the rest are accustomed to and now feel entitled to being given one of their preferred choices.

The Q-Z-ers get fed up with the fact that their willingness to help is taken for granted and that they appear to be shackled to tasks Q-Z. They complain, politely and respectfully, but nobody takes the complaints seriously. It’s too convenient for the A-P-ers, a majority, to keep the status quo. The Q-Zers  get ignored, because it’s easy to ignore the people who have problems when you yourself don’t, especially when not ignoring them might bring about discomfort to you.

The Q-Zers get increasingly frustrated, showing signs of exhaustion and impatience in their still perfectly respectable but ever-so-slightly more pointed and frequent complaints. Still, nothing happens.

At some point, the Q-Z-ers realize that this will be their job forever, that they are being taken advantage of, and that no one even thinks about how they are unfairly pulling much more weight for the same pay than everyone else. They lose all patience and let everyone know, loudly, that they will no longer do tasks Q-Z, that it is someone else’s turn to do those tasks, and that there should be a rotation system to ensure the workload is shared fairly.

Everyone around the Q-Z-ers is shocked — shocked, I tell you! — that the Q-Z-ers are feeling so strongly about it! Everyone thinks the Q-Z-ers should have said something sooner and definitely not in this impolite and loud and emotional way! Sheesh! These Q-Z-ers are so difficult to work with, always exploding out of nowhere. Why can’t they be “capable of building consensus,” instead of blowing up and upsetting everyone?

The Q-Z-ers feel like $hit and beat themselves up because they don’t have better conflict-resolution skills. They stop pressing for a change; they still perform tasks Q-Z but no longer grovel, now with added guilt over looking stupid and emotional and disrupting everyone. Or the Q-Z-ers press on and get the needed change implemented, but have forever been tainted as “difficult to work with.” Or the Q-Z-ers decide they have had enough and leave to try their luck elsewhere.

I am not sure what the Q-Z-ers could have done differently. It’s shouldn’t be a bad thing to care for the greater good and be a good institutional citizen, and it certainly isn’t something that should be punished. Yet the Q-Z-ers are always led to believe that there is something wrong with them, that they should have done something differently to not be perceived as volatile troublemakers. The powers that be should listen to feedback without people having to yell. Sadly, some people can whisper and still be heard, while others appear inaudible lest they scream at the top of their lungs.

I wish the A-P-ers weren’t oblivious, at best. More likely, they are opportunistic and manipulative. I wish some people were less selfish. Mostly, I wish the Q-Z-ers wouldn’t think they were broken.

7 comments

  1. You left out my favorite part, which is where people who would never in a million years agree to do tasks Q-Z piously lecture everyone about how essential Q-Z are for the functioning of the institution, and how we couldn’t possibly think of reconfiguring our processes to make Q-Z less burdensome on the people who take those tasks on.

  2. One potential strategy to head off the spiral you accurately describe is to negotiate up front when agreeing to take on one of the onerous Q-Z tasks. “Yes, I will do this. But given the scale and scope of the effort, I am going to have to give up doing some other tasks. Here is what I propose as a fair trade.”

  3. You know your department is dysfunctional when you are at a run of the mill PUI and Q-Z includes “Teaching more than one class” or “Teaching a class outside one’s subspecialty.”

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