Shut Up, and Listen

Disclaimer: I'm about to talk about work, again.

At this rate, it should be a given, based off how this whole thing came about; however, I hope to slowly get out of this black hole and make it a bit more... optimistic. Here's another baby step, in the right direction.

The best way to describe Happy Land is, in truth, a vortex. A black, shitty vortex that saps all enthusiasm, spunk, and will-to-work out of anyone that drives into the parking lot. Once you cross the threshold into this concrete abyss, I swear there's a scientific phenomenon where overall serotonin levels tank, and cortisol skyrockets. Everyone is hyped up on anger, frustration, and as one of my operators likes to describe it, "It's like a 7 hour anxiety attack, man." Definitely not America's Most Wanted place to work.

But it can be.

And that's the most frustrating part. So, as I've mentioned, my current work shift is a split. I come in halfway through afternoons, and depart somewhere around the latter half of night shift, before mornings gets in (ideally). So, when I come in to the building, I start my day off with greetings and downloads of how crappy afternoons has run, coming off day shift. It usually takes about an hour for everyone to get it out of their systems, but it's also fairly mild, since they've already given most of their grief to the day-shift managers. Now, when third shift comes in, in the middle of my day, that's bare-none. Round two is a fully-loaded hour and a half or more of incessant b****ing. Lastly, I'm greeted by the morning split-shift manager, who then starts his rounds of venting about the day prior. 

It's quite a tiresome cycle, that really wears on a person. Down, down, down, goes the morale. 

Now, what I've gotten into the habit of doing, particularly with the morning manager, is partaking in this vent session. Me, to vent before going home, him, to get stuff off his chest before facing the day. A year ago, it was a healthy partnership. A year ago, it was also balanced out with the happy parts of what life we did have outside of work. Things like family, beer drinking, tree-trimming, and the excitement of moving his eldest son into college. When we did talk about work, it used to be capped off with not just the struggles, but what achievements the team made, and action plans to improve the situation moving forward. Now? Now, it's a flat out b****-fest. Now, it's a 10-hour bath in a cesspool of negativity. 

Coming off my extended weekend, I had my mind made up that I wasn't leaving. Not yet, at least. Due to the changing circumstances surrounding my life outside of work, I would stay here in my current home and, even if I had to change jobs, my location would remain consistent. Unwrap the next surprise outside of work, and it makes the idea of changing jobs a very illogical choice. Two nights back in Happy Land, and that whole mentality was nearly chucked out the window.

This brings me to yesterday. My work day kicked off on the drive in, when I realised I had left my cell phone at home. It's been quite a while since I've done that, but not a big deal. I used to do it on a fairly regular basis, and no one died, so I shrugged and continued on my way. What this inadvertently did, though, was it cut my communication ties with folks in the outside world. Good for minimising distractions, bad for mid-day venting. Since I couldn't funnel all of my rage to contacts outside of the workplace, I had to go back to the basics when it came to problem management, and internally dealing with folks at Happy Land. 

This includes my fellow manager.

Now, I'll save the backstory to my paranoia for another time. Just know that due to a series of unfortunately well-founded events, I do not trust a single person I work with. As yet another potential event unfolded, last night, when the day-shift manager came in, I was a bit put off by the entire day-shift management team. As he said his hello and launched into the emotional events of the day prior, I sat quietly, wrapping up my work. Typically, I feed into his recap, commenting on particular aspects of the events he is recounting. Yesterday, I hardly gave him a nod. I did, however, listen. More-so than I have in a very long time. I listened to every word, with it's double-meaning and backhanded stories. Somewhere, in the mess of me getting all wrapped up in the negativity here, I would be so focused on dumping my issues onto him, that I stopped listening to what he was truly saying. I focused on the similarities of our struggles, saying "Yes! I faced the same issue! Let me tell you my problems!", and didn't really digest the words coming out of his mouth.

Last night, I did.

Last night, I took in every time he put the blame of an issue on me, without saying my name. Last night, I took in every round-about critique to how I manage my team, my people, and my department. Last night, I took in every ounce with bitter disgust.

Last night, I shut up, and I listened.

Typically, our conversation continues as a two way street with a solid berm in the middle. We both speak out on similar issues, but neither of us really connect. Up until I'm walking down the steps and out to my truck, our conversation is completely on. No wind down period, no easing out of the heavy stuff. I could tell that last night, especially towards the end, things got a little awkward.

Last night was the first night that, without a full-blown plant disaster, I've walked to my truck, alone. 

When I stopped responding to his negativity, it's turned into a hand trying to clap without the other. It's just a flailing limb that might garner attention, but is useless. If our first of the morning talks are that petty, then good riddance. 

I got home and did a bit of work, before crashing out at 7am. I woke up to feed by whining dog, but aside from that, slept until just about 5:30pm. Another day spent, in the books. I got around for work, and came on in. 

I greeted the out-going afternoon-split manager. Part of it was me still being sleepy, but I wasn't as animated as I normally am, coming in. I managed to dodge the crowd, for the first bit--long enough to set my stuff down, but our work spaces was unusually quiet. As he got around to leave, he stood by my desk, and downloaded a quick recap of the day. I nodded, taking it all it, writing down what bits I needed to, but for the most part, stayed focused on booting up my workstation for the day. It almost had that same feeling as the night prior. He said his piece, and I didn't say much at all. I asked if he was attending an event tomorrow, but outside of that, he was out pretty quickly. Usually, he sticks around and tells me about the interworked frustrations of the shift.

Today was relatively drama-free. 

Just keeping my trap shut has started to shed the extra. And it got my day off to a start, much quicker than normal. Quickly enough that for a minute, I didn't know what to do. I was out of what had become my routine. So, I went out to the floor. By the time third shift rolled in, I had most of my to-do list checked off. A few cups of coffee down the hatch, and I'm running circles around the place, a heart rate of 180, quacking like a flamingo.

Now, I realise this is getting long, but the second epiphany happened while I swept the floors like a recovering addict, jittery with caffeine and focused on the fuzzy lines in the edge of my vision. While I was sweeping debris into the dust pan, I look up and see an operator staring back at me. As the machinery chugs along, he mouths "Thank You". 

It occurs to me, it's been months since I've last done this. Since I last was just out on the floor, not because something is wrong, or breaking, or needs managed through, but just to be out. To see how the team is doing, to help them where I can (or, in this case, help myself...OCD on overdrive, the debris was driving me bonkers), but the team had gotten used to my absence. The team, in the midst of the negative vortex, has gotten used to the absence of true leadership.

I'm not saying by sweeping the floors, I'm magically absolved of all my sins and am some Patron Saint of Manufacturing. What I am saying, is that for me, the lightbulb went off deep inside, as to what this coming shift change on Monday means. It means I will have total control, and can lead my shift--a shift I will truly have direct oversight on. It means I can start to make changes for the better, within my direct sphere of influence.

Everyone has a sphere of influence. Anyone you come into contact with on a daily basis, is someone you have the potential to influence. I influenced my fellow managers, when I deflected any negative discussion. As someone in a position of leadership within this company, my sphere is slightly larger than everyone else I typically work with, on a given day. My boss' sphere is larger than mine, as his influence expands to folks he doesn't see or work with.

To shrink it down, my sphere will align with the folks I'll be working with for the entirety of my shift. It's like a celestial alignment, as now, I can really hunker down on turning this shift around. And because of this, I am excited.

It will turn the lack of communication, the lack of managerial oversight, into a positive. If no one is here, who is going to stop me, or question me? No, I'm not going to host a rendition of the Hunger Games to improve performance, but I will have a life-cycle in sync with my team.

This means team outings. Something that hasn't happened in a very, very long time. This means team events. This means team dinners or breakfasts, where we're all together. I'm not neglecting a different shift that I still am supposed to be working with, but instead, am able to focus on building the team I have. And honestly, as salty as they all are, they're pretty dang great. I have some of the best folks here, that just need to be motivated. Like myself, we all feel dumped here and ignored. But in the position that I'm in, I can influence them. I can change that perception, and utilise this to make the best, most positive impact possible. Most people here have families, children, lives outside of here that I still will need to take into consideration. But that beer & yoga idea I have? I'm pretty sure Mr. 50-year-old Maintenance Mechanic won't be bringing his own mat in, anytime soon, but I'm sure he'd be willing to join me for a beer, afterwards.

What I dislike most about work, right now, is the lack of fun. Motivation comes with it, but people have to be happy in order to get the best out of them. Right now, hardly any of us are. Maybe, my first go at MWR or D&I events was on too large of a scale. Trying to influence the whole plant from a poor vantage point was difficult to do, and didn't make much of an impact. So here goes something smaller. I'm going to make my shift the best shift, the happiest shift, the most fun shift. And because of that, our performance will be something to be rivalled. Day-shift is where the experience is. The folks with higher seniority typically choose a normal work-life schedule, so us on third, we're the babies. We're the young ones, and our current performance scores absolutely show that. 

To wrap this all up, it's a goal. An obtainable objective that I'm excited to go after. I could say it's all a result of forgetting my phone, but that would have just altered the way I handled my situation. In reality, I was able to gain a better perspective on where we are truly at as a plant, how unfortunately sad of a state we're in, and how absolutely alone I am in my way of thinking. The information was all there, in front of me the entire time; all I had to do was shut up, and listen.