Job Security is Not Always a Good Thing

by Jamison Koehler on February 5, 2015

Sour.  Unprofessional.  And extraordinarily slow at everything she does.

That is my assessment of the woman who sits at the reception desk on the 10th floor of the Office of the Attorney General.  She reminds me of everything I didn’t like when I worked for the federal government many years ago.

I complain about the receptionist to one of the prosecutors I meet in the elevator on my way out of the building.  The prosecutor laughs.  “Looks like someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” she tells me.

Maybe so. But it is true. A woman like this receptionist would not last 5 minutes in a private organization.  All you have to do is compare her to the people who staff the reception desk at my office. And that is what bothers me about the government:  There are far too many people who are unhappy with their jobs and who are taking this out on the world around them.

This is not good for the organization. It is not good for a member of the public who visits that organization.  And it is not good for the employee him- or herself. Who could possibly take pride in behavior like that?

Job security is not always such a good thing.

Normally I would hold the woman’s behavior against the people who run that office. After all, aren’t they responsible for assuring that their employees perform their duties?  But I have been a government manager.  I know the challenges they face. Early on in my career, I wanted to get rid of an underperforming administrative person. Forget it, people told me. Use your time in government to achieve something positive. Don’t wrap yourself up in knots trying to circumvent all the protections accorded to civil servants.  So that is what I did. The person is probably still working for the government.  But he is someone else’s problem now.

Many years ago, when my wife was changing jobs, I brought her former secretary Judy into federal government. Judy was everything you would ever want in an administrative person. But despite the pay, benefits, and job security, Judy had a rough time of it. For one thing, she antagonized all the other support personel by raising the bar as to what could be accomplished in a day.

One time, when Judy was putting together something we needed for an important meeting the next day, we were missing some of the supplies she needed.  So she went to the local Staples late at night and bought everything she needed using her own money.  As a result, everything was ready and waiting for us when we arrived the next morning.

Judy didn’t expect to be reimbursed for the money she laid out. She didn’t even expect to be thanked. But what surprised her was the criticism. The head of our operations office was furious when she found out about Judy’s trip to Staples. Instead of thanking Judy for her hard work and initiative, she brought Judy into her office and accused her of committing a crime – if I recall correctly, some prohibition against supplementing federal appropriations or something.  Judy lasted less than a year before she accepted another job back in the private sector.  I was very sorry – but not surprised – to see her go.

The problem with complaining about anybody – especially in a public forum such as this blog – is that the person you complain about will usually make you regret it.  For instance, have you ever seen me complaining about a court clerk here?  After all, I am no idiot.  But I needn’t worry about the receptionist at the prosecutor’s office punishing me.  She couldn’t possibly make my interactions with that office any more painful than they already are.

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