Friday, May 20, 2005

Scapegoating is the sign of a very sick institution

A comment from the


I agree that there are far more serious problems than the 9/80 but I think employees see it as a symptom of a larger problem -- scapegoating. There was no connection between the 9/80 and the security incident, but management, apparently right up to Foley, decided to punish all employees for the trouble others had gotten the lab into.

And frankly, it is related to Todd Kauppila's case, because Todd, was the victim of scapegoating for a truly broken security system which he did not have the authority to fix.

Scapegoating is the sign of a very sick institution. It isn't just the 9/80 it is the insanity of management people are upset about. Employees consider what is happening to them to be completely unrelated to their actions and frankly, they are right.

UC's refusal to restore the 9/80 is a signal to me that we're still being judged not by our record (the safety/security data showing our performance to be good), but by political innuendo. It causes me to feel that I have no control or influence over outcomes at LANL, that no matter how hard I work, I'm still doomed. This forces me into a state of hypervigilance over where the next baseless attack is going to come from, which is a distraction from mission.
I agree with dug! We are screwed. Its like a feeding frenzy with piranah! No matter that the safety and security incident records of LANL are among the best in the complex.
Another sign of arrogance with the 05:26:14 post. To quote “feel I have no control or influence”. Who the heck do you think you are, you work here period, you are not in charge and you DO NOT have any control. As has been said before GET OVER IT. Move on.
To Anonymous @ 5/20/2005 06:08:54 PM, by move on, are you suggestting that we get out (quit or retire)?
To the commentor at 5/20/2005 06:08:54 PM: Many people at LANL, mostly TSMs and some TEC-7s, are very dedicated and work 50 - 60 hours per week to meet schedules for hydrotests and other projects. These individuals are genuine stakeholders in the future of LANL. I fyou really want people with attitudes such as "you work here period," then put in timeclocks, forget the science, and convert LANL to a DOD lab.
6:08 -

I happen to know the poster and he is anything but arrogant... he stepped up to the plate during the standdown and helped our group comply as thoroughly timely as possible. He is a model employee in all ways in my experience.

He just wants to do a good job IMO and any sense of empowerment that will help with that is a good thing.

As for "you work here period, you are not in charge, you DO NOT have any control!" I hope you are being sarcastic or ironical... this is not a factory (yet) and we are not assembly line workers (yet).

If DOE wants professionals then it needs to treat us like professionals.

I am not a 9/80 advocate but I think Dug's other comments are well founded. Disempowering your (professional?) employees seems like a really bad idea to me.
I am suggesting that you stop fixating on the past and all of the perceived mistreatment. Things are what they are and it is certain that things will continue to change. You may just like it if you open your mind a little. Come to work do your job and make the best of the evolving situation. If you can not bear the thought of change then maybe it is time to consider your options, which includes leaving or just getting over it. The first step to your recovery will be acceptance.

The fact that the posts with the most comments, are about 9/80s or UC retirement, are illustrative of what may need to change here.
To the commentor 5/20/05 6:57
Give me a break! mostly TSMs and Tec 7 work 50 to 60 hours a week? Open your eyes and get a clue.All levels,TEC series,TSMs,SSMs,Post Docs,UGS,ADMIN work very hard and long. We ALL have to work TOGETHER or nothing will change.
Signed a lowly SSM who averages 60 hours a week so we can keepthe doors open
Hey 07:03:05 PM, your platitudes make me think you have still not seen what is going on at the lab. I know people who were coming to work early, doing their best (which was pretty good)and "making the best of the situation" as you suggest. Then, without warning or even discussion, let alone any chance to defend themselves, they were given lab discipline because their managers felt the need to punish someone for something that never happened instead of defending the lab from an erroneous accusation by DOE. Their managers did not act the least interested in what really happened, what was best for the lab, or what was right; only in making sure no blame could settle on them. I am not talking about last summer, this happened last week. Is that fixating in the past?
Listen you can all tell stories about events here at the Lab.. good or bad, but until people start naming names, times, and places.. that can be substantiated by other sources.. it all looks like BS to people on the outside reading this blog. If you are afraid of retaliation, you really shouldnt be posting to this blog anyway.. the federal government can use Patriot act powers to find out who you are if it felt necessary. [And UC could use similar tools if needed.]
It's a system in which the one who points out something that is wrong or illegal gets punished. It's all about fingerpointing and retaliation. Foley's stupid comment that we can't ask for 9/80 schedules going into the bid is insulting. The RFP doesn't mention (that I have seen) work schedules other than 5/40s. The whole lab culture protects stupid managers at the expense of thinking/questioning workers. OMBUDS is a joke. There is NO recourse for workers who are victims of stupid/vindictive managers and team leaders/ Luckily in my lab experience I have only run into a handful of these morons, but they exist and they are dangerous and they have the last word. NO dismissal should be accepted without a thorough and objective examination of the facts. I don't give a shit if it comes from the Director or some group leader. It's all potential bullshit until it is proved.
It appears that 9/80 really polarized the discussions here on the blog. I finally find it irresistible to add my $.02.

There are several arguments against the 9/80 schedule. First, it seems that people have witnessed others abusing this benefit. To this, I have to ask how does one know? I know people who go home in the afternoon and come back later in the evening. I know those who come in at 11 and stay late. Personally, I often read journal articles and prepare talks at home where there are many fewer distractions for me. In any of these cases, one working 8 to 5 might think that all of the aforementioned are working less than 8 hours a day, while in reality it may be quite the opposite. It is easy to judge another’s work schedule based on your own, but without actually following someone around for a day how do you know? If you don’t know outright, you must make some judgment about your coworkers that they are dishonest and lazy. If this is how you feel, why do you continue to work here? Almost everyone I have met here is very hard working. I have talked to many afraid to browse the news on the web for fear of “wasting government dollars” despite the fact that they work more than 50-60 hours a week. If they work 7.5 hours one day, they make up for it with 9 or 10 on another day (speaking of the 5/40 schedule). I am sure there are those who come in at 9 and go home at 3, but again, how do we really know what hours they are working? And, if there are people that do that, they would do this on 5/40 or 9/80, so does this mean we should punish those being honest too? The only way to really know the answer is to spend time at work tracking the work schedules of others. This doesn’t appear to be very productive either. Please don’t be so quick to judge your co-workers, thinking that they are lazy liars. This does not build an environment in which anyone I know would want to work.

The next argument I have seen is that it is difficult to get work done on Fridays. Others have said the opposite, happy that no meetings take place on Friday. In our group, everyone was on the B. This made it quite simple to get things dealt with inside the group. Also, if anyone took off both Fridays, it was obvious to everyone. With some support organizations this might not be possible, as someone needs to be there on both Fridays. Organizing this appears to be a job for group management, deciding what is best for the group. Again, I tend to believe that managers are capable of making the decision that is best for their group and the lab. If they are not, then perhaps the problem isn’t with the 9/80, but with the managers.

Now, there are several positive arguments for 9/80. The first being honesty from management to the work force. Both my wife and I (both lab employees) have heard from various levels of management that 9/80 will be back soon. This started with Nanos saying it will be back once we fully resume work and has continued since. The first clear indication that it wasn’t going to happen was Foley. If 9/80 was taken away and we were told to live with it, almost everyone would have grumbled for a while, but it would have gone away in a few weeks. However, leaving it to drag out like this has left another festering wound on the workforce. Was management lying to us? Is it punitive? Will it ever come back? Can a case even be made to Foley? Instead of honest straight-forward answers, we are left to speculate. This prevents us from “getting over it”. Taking something away with the promise of giving it back and then hoping people just forget is the way you treat a child, not a workforce. This does not breed good morale and trust, but instead undermines everything we are working so hard to accomplish.

The next argument for 9/80 is that it is good for recruitment, retention, and morale. When I signed on as a post-doc, the 9/80 was part of the appeal in the package. By the time I arrived, the 9/80 was gone. This seemed a bit of a bait-and-switch to me, but there was hope of it returning (at least at that time). The Los Alamos area is beautiful, but frankly is in the middle of nowhere (something I actually kind of like). This isn’t appealing to most people coming from schools in big cities. Recruitment of good candidates is most likely at an all time low with the contract uncertainty and the recent bad press. Removing another benefit is not the way to attract new blood, especially at a time when good new blood is necessary with some many planning to retire. While some seem to have idealistic notions of why people come to work at Los Alamos, realistically the whole package comes into play. For graduate students finishing working 14/120, a 9/80 schedule sounds pretty nice, even if they are unlikely to take full advantage of it as they will likely work 50+ hours a week anyway. I don’t really see any argument that 9/80 can be bad for recruitment, retention, or morale. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Finally, personal benefits from 9/80 are very nice whether this comes in the form of time for medical appointments in ABQ, time to spend with family, time to get oil changed, or time for biweekly 3-day camping trips (after all if you live in the middle of nowhere, it is nice to be able to enjoy it once in a while). Arguments that this is not financially best for the institution do not hold water. Similar arguments could be made for any of the benefits we receive. Why not pay us all $40K per year (approximately the median household income of NM). This would reduce costs. Indeed it would seem that this is best for the institution. However, if this occurred, there would be a mass out flux of workers and very few good scientific candidates who spent the last N years of their life in school would want to come here. So, with this change in a minor benefit, which from a purely fiscal prospective is “good” for the institution, there is irreparable damage done to the quality of the workforce. At a time when we should be raising benefits, not primarily for the benefit of those already here (although this does factor into retention), but to attract the best minds to LANL, we should not be cutting those benefits. While people may not leave due to the lack of 9/80, it will make people consider other places such as industry or other national labs that do have such a benefit. I know it would have for me.

In summary, first, please don’t assume those you work with are lazy, lying rats without being sure that your assumptions are founded. Second, please don’t be so quick to judge what is best for the institution without considering the effects on the quality of the workforce. LANL should desire to do whatever they can to draw the best scientists here. Cutting benefits (9/80, retirement, etc.) will not accomplish that.
"I am suggesting that you stop fixating on the past and all of the perceived mistreatment."

We've got a bureaucracy that is a little too eager to dispense itself forgiveness, and a workforce that is looking for some sign of awareness that vindictiveness is the wrong way to manage. Until we see this, we'll be "fixating" on the past as a key to understanding the future.

"If you can not bear the thought of change then maybe it is time to consider your options, which includes leaving or just getting over it. The first step to your recovery will be acceptance."

The word "change" is not a magic wand for turning careless schemes into genius. Does it occur to you that you are addressing one of the most accomplished groups of people in the world? Do you think it shows "decisiveness" to be telling these kinds of people "it's my way or the highway"?
Well said dug.
Let me add that I don't believe the "you work here period" attitude is held by either UC President Dynes or Director Kuckuck, nor would either of them advance such a view. I'm cautiously optimistic that this attitude is a relic of the past. I just hope Kuckuck has an "active virtue," such that he won't tolerate his staff treating subordinates this way, for the sake of the Lab and of the country.
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Did any of you read the Albuquerque Tribune article on the web 5/20? It's too bad we have to go to a newspaper 90 miles away to get articles on the contract! Anyway, Robinson was quoted as saying that the 9/80 was a good thing, and that it works well at Sandia. He mentioned meetingless Fridays and was very positive. I'm not necessarily saying that I favor this group over UC, but his comments were a far cry from Foley's clear dislike/distrust of LANL employees and his head up his ass approach to questions regarding the 9/80.
Don't blame time abuse on the system. Time abuse existed before 9/80 and probably after. Rather it is symptomatic wherever the supervision/management is out of touch with their subordinates unless and until there is a problem that cannot be ignored. This is called 'management by exception', a longstanding anathma in business programs. Supervision/management at LANL does not even seem to understand that they are part of overhead. Overhead is so inflated at LANL that it is a self-propagating entity unto itself. As stated elsewhere in this blog the supervision/management are often too busy stumbling/climbing over each other to notice what is really going on in the trenches until it hits them in the face.
The title of the original post was "Scapegoating is the sign of a very sick institution." That is not respectful of the majority of employees. Scapegoating by management is a sign of bad management and absentee oversight of that management. It is not a sign of a sick institution, unless the institution is equated with its bad management.

The logic seems to be that going back to 5/40 turned all employees into scapegoats and therefore only a return to 9/80 will rescue them from that status. But the real question is how to get the institution back on its feet, and a return to 9/80 with all its problems is not a good way. That would just be a return to the bad management practices that came before the most recent even worse management practices. And treating scientists like assembly line workers again is not a good way to restore the respect that has been lacking for the past two years.

LANL was much healthier before 9/80, and 9/80 shouid not even be on the table right now as a way to undo the horrors of the past few years.
To 5/21/2005 11:47:32 AM you say "...a return to 9/80 with all its problems is not a good way. That would just be a return to the bad management practices...". It is very interesting that Paul Robinson has a dramatically different opinion:

"The 9/80 is firmly entrenched at Sandia, and the people love it," Robinson said. "I believe Sandia is actually more productive because of it.

"One of the biggest benefits we had with that at Sandia is what we called meet-less Fridays. We decided to avoid meetings on Fridays because half the staff was off. People got so much more work done on Fridays - the results were pretty amazing."
LANL unofficially had meet-less Fridays under 9/80 also.

I love my Friday's on almost as much as my Friday's off, because I could work on technical aspects of my job without interruption. I seldom if ever get to do that now.

Those who were frustrated by not being able to obtain support services on their Fridays I have to ask, how are you getting them now?

Procurement is now so badly broken they are asking that PRs for material to be delivered before FY-end be in NOW and prioritized or forget it.

It's MAY, not ever 2/3 of the way through the FY and they're so badly behind they can't get stuff in.

In my experience, HR works on a geological time scale, so expecting anything from them in one day, like a Friday, was something I just never even expected, back in the 9/80 days or now.

The lack of productivity in support organizations, or anywhere, and abuse of the working schedule are results of management failing to manage, not the result of the working schedule we were under.

People I believed abused the 9/80 are just as effective at abusing the 5/40 schedule, and are not dealt with now just as they weren't dealt with then.

9/80 simply amplified the symptoms of poor personnel and service management, it did not enable them to exist.
The sign of a sick institution is not only scapegoating, but when employees insist that the only way they can get their work done is when half their co-employees are not present, and they're not joking.

In healthy places, scientists are shielded from all the administrative overhead so they can get their work done any day of the week.
"In healthy places, scientists are shielded from all the administrative overhead so they can get their work done any day of the week."

Careful! Such penetrating logic is going to get you thumped with a "GET OVER IT!" or similar such mind-shuttering mantra.
Anonymous : 5/21/2005 08:52:35 PM said:

"In healthy places, scientists are shielded from all the administrative overhead so they can get their work done any day of the week."

In the first few years I worked at the Lab exempt personnel were required to be present during the core hours of 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM, and time and effort reporting consisted of marking the time sheet with a "P", "V", or "S". We worked as long as necessary to get the job done. Many of us did not use all our annual vacation and few used sick leave.

If we pleased our Section Leader, he would take us to the VFW for an "attitude adjustment". We loved the work we did. I wish I could say the same for the last 20 years.

Regarding your comment:

"LANL was much healthier before 9/80, and 9/80 shouid not even be on the table right now as a way to undo the horrors of the past few years."

Could you please provide some evidence for this assertion? I have seen a lot of evidence presented supporting 9/80 that no one against 9/80 has addressed. Can such a case be made or is no one willing to try? If management (or co-workers) would persuade us that returning to 9/80 is truly bad for LANL, we would "get over it". However, just saying "get over it" does not make the case.
I think 9/80 is a red-herring.

Nanos took it down to "prove" that he was serious to those watching us. I don't doubt that he felt glee in knowing it felt like punishment to many.

I found 9/80 convenient in some ways and inconvenient in others. I think it is still to early to be clamoring for it.

I agree with Dug's implication that when it IS returned, that will be a sign that we are no longer presumed irresponsible and lazy. But I'm not holding my breath.

When the new contract is in place, then I think we have a chance of seeing 9/80 or similar from UC or LM...
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