Job agony

Ken writes:

My work life is almost unbearable at the moment. I will bear it, of course, because I can bear almost anything. It’s one of the most important skills I learned studying philosophy, namely How to Take Beating. I feel like my self-esteem and credibility is taking a savage beating on an almost daily basis at work at the moment. I’m on a six month probationary contract at the moment, which I am convinced will not be made permanent. I want to write this post to blow off a bit of steam, but also to think about some of the positives I can take away from this if I really do get a P45 in a couple of months. (NB: Gosh! how many times can I say ‘at the moment’ in one paragraph?)

Things seem to be going wrong a lot at work at the moment. For example, we’re having difficulties with filtering beer leading to heavy losses. We’re also having difficulties with beer superattenuating, that is, becoming more alcoholic than we planned. This only happens at the expense of residual sweetness and mouthfeel in the beer so the beer ends up tasting crisp and dry (which can be a good thing, but only if that is what you want). Super attenuation happens because the yeast is still active in the beer after it is transferred to the conditioning tanks. We have a bit of a backlog in the conditioning tanks because it took so long to get our bottling/kegging equipment. We started brewing at the end of January, and the bottling/kegging equipment arrived the second weekend in March. We’ve got thousands of litres of beer in tanks waiting to be bottled or legged.

Bottling is itself a bit of a problem because the bottle filler only fills two bottles at a time, the capper only caps a single bottle at a time, the labeller only labels individually and there is a neck label that must be individually applied by hand as well. The bottles must be rinsed before labelling, to remove beer foam, and allowed to dry. Boxes need to be made up and labelled as well. Bottles need boxing up and stacking onto pallets. All told, producing a single bottle of beer takes about a minute. An 8 hour day contains 480 minutes. So we’re only capable of bottling, labelling, packaging etc 480 bottles per day or 240 litres. That’s 1200 litres per week, which is a problem, because we brew about 2000 litres per week. And they want us to produce more!

I’m only supposed to work 40 hours per week (9-5 M-F). I arrive before 9. I leave after 5. I don’t take a lunch hour but fit the sandwiches and fruit in my lunchbox around the available time. Does anyone recognise this? No. I’m being judged on results. So far the results are… meh. I’m no better than I should be.

My immediate boss seems to have lost all patience with me. To be fair, she is pretty stressed herself. Setting up the brewery involved a massive capital outlay and our early attempts (we’ve still only brewed twenty batches) haven’t really made any sort of dent in the loans. We’re still calculating the unit cost of making the beer (the real unit cost not the projections), and we’re still so inefficient that I doubt they make any money on it at all. Still, part of the problem would be the ridiculously labour-intensive bottling regime. But be that as it may, some of the problems stem from the boss’s insistence to sell every drop that comes of the new machinery. This has created problems for us. The first batch was out of specification and as a result had to be blended away which looked like a lot of jiggerypokery latterly when we tried to explain it to revenue. If we’d just dumped it as a trial brew, we’d have gained the same educational value, but not had the stress of squeezing it past the tax man. They started with, to be honest, ludicrous estimates of how much the brewery could produce in a week. This has meant that they want something to be brewed every week despite the fact that we aren’t actually selling much of it yet and we can’t efficiently package what we have made.

My boss has become really terse and unsympathetic with me. For example, I let her taste the rejigged version of a beer we have which I am not satisfied with. THe rejigged version is a marked improvement in my opinion. She didn’t like it, but instead of saying e.g. ‘hmm, I think I preferred the earlier version’ she said ‘it does nothing for me’. For example, we had a revenue inspection this week (more stress for everyone). The revenue agent asked how much the brewery cost. The boss gave a figure and the revenue agent said, ‘wow, well it had better work then’ and we all sort of laughed and my boss said, ‘yeah, Ken’ and looked at me. For example, she blamed me for the super attenuation problem, but it is really a scheduling problem as it would not have happened if the tank turn around times were faster.

Unfortunately, it is my duty to report any upsets and setbacks to my boss. So I am inevitably the bearer of bad news. If things go smoothly, there’s nothing to report.

OK. enough of that. what are the good things to come of all of this?
A. I know a lot more about day to day operations in a brewery than I did before.
B. It should be that much easier to find another job if this doesn’t work out.
C. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll probably be able to work nearer to home in the future.
D. They didn’t have to give me anything. They took a chance on me and that was itself a gesture of good faith.

What I want is for a natural diminution of stress levels as beer sales start to pick up and the problems get ironed out. I hope this is still the most likely outcome. I just need for there to be no more fuck ups. I’m going to operate a more stringent ‘need to know’ policy from now on. I have a tendency to be honest about everything, but when people are stressed, it doesn’t always benefit them to hear the details about everything.


4 thoughts on “Job agony

  1. Murray

    I guess the only thing that I can think of at the moment is that you have a sort of threshold for how serious a problem needs to be before you bother your boss with it. I know that you can empathise with the situation of your employers because you aspire towards similar goals yourself. If you are not getting positive feedback from your initiatives then learn not to expect it. I certainly feel for you being under the gun as you are. Comfort yourself that you are in a real learning situation that is really deepening your knowledge of practical brewing.

    1. kenanddot

      Exactly. If I focus on the positives, I can get a lot from this. I will just have to minimise my time with the boss, which is easy because we work in different areas, be more careful what I report, work hard and focus on what I can learn from the job. And try to see where they’re coming from too. It’s easier to take shit when you understand that the other person is stressed (and not just being hostile and unfriendly).

  2. Mairi Jay

    Wise advise, both of you.

    Also, Ken, I still don’t think they could have got a better person because otherwise they would have selected that person; they selected you because they thought you were the best of the applicants. And it’s unrealistic to think one can start from scratch without a lot of hickups and fine-tuning; so their lack of building the hick-ups into their business plan is equally due to inexperience.

    As you say, you’ll survive.

    My equivalent experience was teaching the Sociology of Development to militant anti-white, anti-colonial, male African students at University of Botswana. It was pure torture. My one weapon was that I had the power to say whether they would pass the course or not, and by how much. Your one advantage is that your boss is in the difficult position that if they tell you to get lost, they will only have to go through the application
    and selection process again and risk someone who causes them just as many hassles. They will be very reluctant to throw you out.

  3. Laura

    Having recently gone through my “once a year review”, I admire your stamina with the daily stress of less than positive feedback. Thank you, also, for reminding me of the phrase, “You’re no better than you should be!” I was trying to recall how you used to say it in preparation for the meeting where my collegues present me all the complaints they have saved througout the year. [ “Eye-opening” is one way to describe it. “Stupid” is what I thought when I realized that our contract requires “nobody say anything until my review.” This allowed for the pent up, easily resolvable differences of opinion to curdle. I was clueless about a lot before that meeting, and now possibly out of work. ]
    My guess: you know a lot more about the beer operation than the nervous inverstor/boss. So, in agreement with Mairi Jay, I cannot help but think the complaints that have fallen to you (the messenger) will take on a different cast when the managers contemplate a search for the ideal brew-master they think they can find.
    Keep us posted!

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