Idea Bank #105: “I could run this place better than him/her!” Write about a job you had (where you couldn’t stand your boss.)

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First off, I added the parenthesis to the title because I don’t have a huge problem with my boss, even though I do 50% of his work. He deals with a lot of the stuff that I never want to have to deal with and the things that I don’t like him to do, well, it’s my duty to stand up to him, which proved easy this past week.

I work in a print shop. My formal job is bindery, which is everything after a job is printed. My informal job is everything else. We have a production manager who is supposed to manage every job as it comes through production but more often than not it’s my job to make sure that things get done in a timely manner with or without the PM actually telling me that a job has to go out TODAY. It means sticking my nose in a lot of people’s (well, 4) business as I read job tickets before they officially make it to bindery. The worst part of this very unofficial job is that I often have to manage my immediate coworker who is 62 years old and has worked there for at least 5 years and maybe 10+.

There’s a rumor floating around that they’re going to hire a “girl who knows how to run all the equipment” and fire someone. My 62 year old coworker is certain it will be her even though her sister owns the company or if she isn’t let go, then she hopes that whomever it is “doesn’t try to boss her around”. This is my problem because I have the very subtle job of excelling at bossing her around without her knowing that I’m bossing her around. If she suspects I’m trying to tell her what to do she get’s very bitchy even though everything I do is to ensure that she has plenty of work without it being too much work (there’s a fine line). I also have to make sure that it’s the right kind of work because her work quality is questionable these days. We had a spiral bound book which was sent back because the spirals looked like crap (the way the ends were clipped). We’d both worked on it, but I had a regular pair of dikes while she had the proper special pair of pliers that bends the coil nicely before it clips.

She apparently doesn’t know how to use the special pliers and that’s why her ends looked like crap. I’ve known that she can put out some ugly looking coils, so usually I clip them for her while she’s busy “spinning the spirals” by hand (not always necessary because we have rollers that will spin 50% of the books we make, but she won’t use it). She’ll thank me then. Part of me wishes I could have snuck in an looked at her spirals before they left the shop, but for this book I’d been on the front desk (our receptionist was on vacation for 3 days) spinning spirals as I answered the phones. Usually my coworker won’t touch a job I’m working on unless she’s desperate so I was taking only a handful at a time to the front desk to work on them so that I’d have a reason to check out the production area instead of just vegging out at the desk (I was supposed to be there when I wasn’t needed in the back, though I try to only sit at the desk when I have valid work to do there since it isn’t a dire necessity that someone sit at the desk at all times when the receptionist is away). Anyway, this was my 2nd day after being on vacation myself so I was still trying to regain the rhythm. I thought she had enough work to leave my books alone, but I apparently misjudged. It was impossible for me to go behind her work before that job left the shop (she took care of the shrinkwrapping and packaging as well). Our actual Production Manager should have looked over her shoulder and seen the problem, but he often neglects such things. I feel uncomfortable “ratting” my coworkers out for stuff like this because it isn’t officially my job to be quality control. It’s one thing to tell the PM that a job is too short to claim otherwise because we’ll all blame the presses.

This isn’t our press–it’s way too shiny!

My coworker is both very narrowly focused and a multitasker (depending on her mood) and I’ve yet to figure out when she will be which. If I think she’s going to put all her attention on one job regardless of the fact that she’ll have to move in slow motion to do so, she’ll suddenly be able to stop one job to work on another (this is usually when there’s only enough work for us both if she works in slow motion–maybe she is paying attention to the work load?). It we really need her to stop what she’s doing and get another job done, she’ll spend the next 6 hours (or longer) complaining that she hates getting pulled from one job to another. This happened a couple months ago when we were swamped. My dad had to die-cut 16,000 tabs (it took like 3 days), which meant I needed to pull the certain bank’s releases from the warehouse so that he could die-cut before he took the delivery (he runs an old Heidelberg Windmill Press for numbering, die-cutting, and some printing; he’s also the main delivery driver, rubber stamp maker, warehouse executive, and general know it all because he’s worked for the company for as long or longer than the current owner). While I was pulling the releases, my coworker was told that she had to get on a monster amount of time cards (counting and boxing) even though she was in the middle of something else. She actually had the nerve to say that “[my dad] should be doing his work so that [I] could do [my] work”–at least the PM was there to quickly set her straight though she was grumpy for the next 2 days (she often leaves work relatively early and that day she left as soon as we got the partial shipment of time cards together since there were too many for one person to count and box in the time frame we had).

Anyway, to illustrate the primary way I dictate her work life, I had lots of options on Friday of what jobs I could do. If I was stingy, I would have finished shrinkwrapping some teller receipts for the other bank (we doing printing for and warehouse for 2 different banks). But since I knew my coworker would need work before I got there on Monday morning, I cut down an NCR job and set it up so that she’d have options (I didn’t get the receipts finished). By doing things this way, I ensured that we’d both have work Monday rather than her puttering around until I got there. Because for her, it doesn’t matter if there’s a ton of work in the shop if she doesn’t realize it exists. She rarely investigates or cares what’s coming down the pipe.

I know the PM would fire her, but since she’s the owner’s sister, that will probably never happen. Generally speaking, I like working with her (when she’s in a good mood, which is only 80% of the time). I like the challenge of figuring out which order to do which job so that we both have the maximum amount of work between us at any given time. Usually the only “bossing” I have to do in these situations is that by putting the jobs in front of her in the order that I want them done, she’ll usually do them in this order. It gets awkward when suddenly there’s a rush job and I have to figure out how to tell her that we both need to get on this. I can tell her that I need half of the padding table for a rush job without a problem, but getting it so that she understands that we both need to be padding the job, that’s a different story. Luckily it turned out that job wasn’t as insanely rush as I’d been led to believe, though it’d be a heck of a lot easier if PM were to tell her to rush a job instead of him telling me and expecting me to make sure it gets done ASAP when both of us are necessary.

This past week, one of the pressmen (who has a tendency to put out messy work when it’s not insanely overprinted) was having trouble with an envelope. He’d left the envelopes in haphazard stacks and expected me or my coworker (which usually means me as it was in this case even though I was upstairs at my computer doing (not vital) paperwork) to count them. The first thing I asked him was “how many did you run?” and he was all like “I don’t know! Most are in the trash!” Ugh. In case you’re wondering, I meant how many envelopes did he take out of the box before the were printed and thus went into the press. I knew most had ended up in the trash and that a lot of what didn’t weren’t good, but I still need to know where we started at! He finally said there’d been 2000 which is good because the customer ordered 1000 and I counted a bare 700. As I started counting my first 100, the PM said to just split them into 10 piles, which I don’t like because it’s cheating and he’s been caught by customers plenty of times when they call to complain that their job is short. When someone has 900 letters to send out so they order 1000 envelopes, they shouldn’t end up with more names than envelopes! But as he’s the one who has to deal with the stress of customer complaints like that, depending on how short a job is, I might stretch it even though it rankles my ethics. But I like to know how far I’m stretching a job before I do it, so I count first.

When I ended up at 700 I knew I couldn’t stretch it any further so I told the PM. The pressman had told him that with the problems he’d had he’d needed more envelopes but I guess PM said he wouldn’t order them. When I told PM that the envelopes were too short, he said to ship the 700 and write that we owed them the 300. Yes, his story changes like this often which annoys the pressmen and this pressman asked me what I had hanging over PM for him to order more envelopes (and earlier that week labels). I told him that I believed it was because there are times when I will decide for myself whether I will send out a job short or not and I don’t care what he says (it’s easy: I mark the delivery ticket as short (just the facts, no promises), mark the job ticket, and put it into billing if it’s within the standard 10% or put it on PM’s desk if it’s something that does need to go back on the press before the customer calls wondering if they’ll get the rest). So long as the customer knows a job is short, I don’t mind sending it that way (they only pay for what they receive) and sometimes they’ve called and told us not to bother with the second shipment because they can always reorder later. What’s awkward with this job and why I’m desperately hoping that the second press-run goes smoothly is that this customer had ordered 500 of the same envelope with different printing and that case had been at least as heavy as the 700 I’d counted; meaning he’d ran a lot of extras and included them in the box without marking the overrun. This is fine–I love tossing overrun into the shipment and giving it the customer for free if it’s not too much (again the +/-10%), but my one hard and fast rule is that when a customer gets two different but similar jobs, the quantities had better be the same/proportional!

Customers aren’t stupid, though when you send a lot of uncredited overrun along with an exact quantity they do get confused. I once made the mistake of putting an un-numbered sample on the outside of a box and the customer called to ask for the job to be picked up and numbered. I happened to be standing right next to the customer sales rep when she got this call and I told her to tell the woman to actually open the box because I’d literally finished that job an hour earlier. My poor dad was making a delivery to another company when he heard their receptionist mumble about throwing away “the duplicate numbers”. He didn’t say anything, but the next day that company called to say that we’d shorted them 100 numbered invoices. We don’t send any duplicate numbers as a rule, but how do you tell a customer that their receptionist threw away good invoices because she didn’t read the boxes correctly? Luckily we keep some of their invoices on our “extras” shelf, so the cost of re-doing those numbers for free wasn’t as high as it could have been.

Anyway, I’m obviously starting to digress. You can see that our shop could do with having a more attentive Production Manager. I do what I can to help the shop run as smoothly as possible, but when all my official labels put me at the bottom of the totem pole, it’s difficult to step on the toes that need to be stepped on. It’s hard to be the unofficial assistant production manager when there are people who either don’t want to be managed at all (even though they’re the ones who need the most management) or think that they should be management (even though that pressman has committed way too many mathematical errors (he’s printed 4 times the quantity ordered on at least 4 occasions) and generally would put out better work if he’d simply clean his press and wash his hands more often among a few other things).

By the way, on the rumor of them hiring a new girl. The official story is that it will be a new sales girl, which we do need. If she knows the printing business already this would be a bonus. If she is going to be added to production and we lose someone, I hope she’s a presswoman. I swear our pressmen spend more time smoking, bickering with each other and simply walking around scratching their butts than they do actually printing stuff. This wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t fighting their presses at the same time (one more than the other).