Saturday, March 17, 2018

FML as an engineer

My blog readers would know that I've sometimes whinged about work here but has never devoted an entire post on it but this time my need to vent means that a dedicated one must be entered before I literally explode. Here goes.

There is this senior nut-bag of a client who is notoriously difficult to work with but because of his experience will never be allowed to leave the company. Here's a little of his back story - he is a single 65 year-old who has never been married and genuinely complains on Fridays that the weekend is upon him and he can't continue working. Alas my department in the course of our work has to deal with him the most. So there I was this week running him through changes in process design for a project so that he could evaluate whether another round of safety review was required. There was a particular design change that was not an official one and I merely wanted to let him know that we might have to consider this in the next project phase as we were nearing the end of the current phase. It was a pleasant meeting up till that point when to my shock and horror and without any warning, he suddenly unleashed a barrage of insults.

He shook his head and said "it's shocking that you are even proposing this design". He proceeded to ask me if I knew anything about the equipment associated with the change and I replied "yes" to which he responded "clearly you know nothing, this is shocking". Then he went on to say that he's an expert in this area due to his past working history and explained to me what he thought was right. I loathe conflicts and so I tried my best to be calm and avoided escalation by not responding i.e. just listening and nodding as he carried on. People might argue that age and EQ are in direction proportion but clearly what happened proved otherwise. Basically what he wanted to say was the issue that prompted me to suggest the change would resolve itself without having to do anything (which was later verified to be correct when I discussed with my technical manager).
After his explanation, he went on to use perhaps the strongest words that I've ever heard in a work setting in all my years of professional life. Though not fully verbatim here's what he said:

  • "What you have proposed makes me want to vomit".
  • "If someone proposes this to me for real and not just a suggestion, I will make sure he doesn't get out alive."
  • "There will be blood on the floor".
  • "I have lost all confidence in your technical ability".
  • "You have caused a loss of reputation for your company".

I think I'll remember those words and that day forever because the venomous vitriol spewing out of his decrepit mouth was beyond the pale and unprofessional to the extreme. Invective like this doesn't come out of a sane person in a work environment unless he's about to quit or ready to be fired but that's not the case. So I can only conclude that he is not sane. In the interest of time due to the tight project schedule, I had to put on a brave face and pretended I heard nothing and continue to review the rest of the changes with him. Indeed, he went back to his normal self and the rest of the meeting resumed as if nothing has happened, which is further proof that if he's not a lunatic, he has some serious anger-management issues and character flaws. I still had to thank him for his time at the end which made me feel so pathetic.

It didn't end there because to my utmost misfortune, my project manager organised an ad-hoc meeting an hour later with him invited which meant I had to face him again! This second meeting was with all the other discipline engineers for the same project with that old man being the only client representative. I briefed the engineers (as well as my boss's boss who was also in this group meeting) what happened earlier and the more I talked about it, the more emotional I got and I almost cried (that was before the client turned up). My boss's boss actually said if someone used the word "vomit" on him he would laugh as he thought it was really funny. That was a disappointing comment coming from a person of his authority after witnessing how emotional I was. This gives you a flavour of the kind of environment I work in.

I'm not sure whether that crazy person had pent-up frustration from the previous meeting because of me or someone rubbed him the wrong way (which is not a difficult thing to do) in that second meeting but he stormed out as he thought the meeting was a waste of his time (I'll not go into details here). We all know that a group meeting is where one has to behave more professionally compared to one-on-one meetings but clearly he didn't get that memo and more unprofessional behaviour was exhibited, this time in front of everyone in the project. At least now they all know what I'm talking about (not that they didn't know about his temperament before). On and off I've heard similar complaints from other people but I think not many actually made formal complaints. But I did and I subsequently learnt that I was only the second person who has done that and that was enough as it was a repeated offence i.e. the higher-ups now will have to do something about it. The managers convinced me that it'll all be anonymous but I've been burnt before as a whistle-blower when anonymity went out the window due to HR-mismanagement and I was exposed as a result. I'm now hoping with all my strength that this doesn't happen to me again otherwise my future days there will be unbearable.

Just so you know the proposed change I mentioned earlier was not plucked out of thin air, it was a result of a discussion with my ex-technical manager. Because of the crazy project schedule, no one had time to give it further thought to see if it made total sense. If anyone were to be blamed from our side, it'd have to be my boss's boss who repeatedly failed to protect his engineers from useless project managers who regularly screwed up schedules resulting in unreasonable deadlines. These inept project managers rely on good engineers like myself to do their job and clean up their mess which is not supposed to happen at all! In fact, this all came about because of the ex ex-technical manager (now fired for how unsuitable she was for that position) who recommended a series of poor designs that ultimately meant that that old man had to deal with the installed duds after she left. That was when the loss of confidence in the engineers' technical abilities began and it never improved in his eyes ever since which explains (but certainly not absolves) his flare up. The stress coming from work itself is already tough enough, engineers on the ground level really shouldn't be exposed to stress stemming from not-up-to-scratch managers. But when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys and this situation will not improve unless that is changed.

As if things were not bad enough, I was told that the lead role for a big project that was promised to me by my ex-boss was going to someone else because I'm too good technically and need to be reserved for the smaller more complicated projects where good engineers are needed to clean up after poor project managers (i.e. the ones that are assigned to these unimportant minor projects). This is fucking rich right? It literally means that one gets better career progression and rewarded for being less skilled in his or her work??! What topsy-turvy logic! As usual my new boss didn't fight hard enough for me (perhaps because he was not the one who promised me the role) and I lost out in the end. Talk about a further loss of work morale, a day after being verbally abused by the client!

From all this venting, you can see that I not only work in an environment where crazy clients don't get reined in for bad behaviour, incompetent project managers shitting over everyone abound. To top it all up, bosses are constantly changing because they don't get paid and valued by the company well enough and as a result, their subordinates like us don't get the protection and career development opportunities that we deserve after working like dogs to mop up the mess we didn't create in the first place. If not because of how stable the work is where I'm at right now, I wouldn't continue slaving there and I'm pretty sure a lot of the other engineers are in the same boat as me. I've never wanted a stiff drink more than I did at the end of this rough work week but I didn't get a chance to drown myself with alcohol, perhaps for the better.

So until I retire (I plan to ease off e.g. become part time in ten years' time when I turn 50), I'd have to put up or shut up. My husband thinks that someone who earns a six-figure salary is expected to grin and bare it and repeats this every time I complain to him about work but frankly I think I deserve better. However I detest change and crave routine, so I'd have to stay in this stable rut for the foreseeable future until things get impossible to bear. Hopefully that day will never come.

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