Out with the New, In with the Old
by: Steven Keiths © 11-2008
The phone rings. I can see from the display that it is my boss, George, calling. I dread answering: I even think of ignoring it, but I will have to speak with him eventually. I know it is about Edna. I know he wants me to let her go—fire her. Several people have complained that she’s too slow and she doesn’t possess the skills needed for the position. I have several of the memos to that effect sitting here in front of me; I’m sure George has them too.
It rings again.
I know she’s slow, but she’s methodical and her work product is perfect. She is an elderly woman who lost her husband a few years ago. She is finding it difficult financially to get along. Who isn’t these days? I just know if I can give her a few more weeks to become more familiar with our state-of-the-art equipment, her speed and productivity will increase.
The damn phone rings again.
I know all the different functions on the copier are overwhelming for her. It staples, collates, does double-sided copies, double to single-sided ones, too. It enlarges and decreases size. This machine will even allow you to send documents electronically to another person within the office; it is a very complex piece of equipment. Edna comes from an era of carbon copies done on a Remington manual typewriter. She’s not accustomed to PDF machines, e-mailing, fax machines and other gadgetry.
Another responsibility of Edna’s is relieving the receptionist for her lunchtime breaks. Edna is used to taking hand-written messages, not announcing calls or putting them into a voice mail system. There are quite a few steps for both of these procedures. To complicate her task, there are some fifty buttons on a phone panel—and many times, there are three and four lines blinking and ringing simultaneously. It takes a while to become proficient with this system, not to mention memorizing all the names of personnel and their assigned extension numbers. Yeah, she gets bogged down on occasion. She may have even lost a call a few times. She just needs more time to learn that part of the job. However, she is pleasant and very professional and congenial when she talks to the callers.
Many on the staff want to know why I hired someone who lacks the knowledge of today’s high technological equipment.
“What were you thinking,” asked Tom. He is one of the production staff.
Good question really. A few other well-qualified candidates had applied for the position. For some reason, Edna stuck out. She was polite, honest, even admitted she was a little nervous, as it had been years since she had held a job—outside the home, she emphasized. She needed the job. That’s why I hired her. She needed the job and I had a sense, though she wasn’t up on the newest technology, that she was a diamond in the rough. She’d try. She’d succeed. I knew it.
“Did you hire your out-of-work grandmother?” Pete asked. “Why didn’t you hire that cute little blonde?
“Because, Pete, she was a walking, breathing blonde joke,” I said.
“She at least was nice on the eyes. Which is more than I can say for Edwina,” Pete said.
“It’s Edna, Pete.”
“Whatever,” he replied, and then hung up.
Halfway through the fifth ring I answer, “Hi, George, what’s up?”
“I want to know who assembled this McFarland proposal,” he asks.
“Why, is there something wrong with it?” I couldn’t recall a request coming through my office to assemble a proposal.
“Well, I want the front to have a clear cover and the backing to be black. It’s bound presently with a clear front and back.”
“Oh, that’ll be no problem to change. I’ll have Edna do it as soon as she finishes giving Sara her lunch break. Sorry it’s screwed up.”
“Well, it isn’t really her fault. I requested only that it be stapled. She took the initiative to fancy it up on her own. Nice job. Wish I had thought to request it bound. It looks very professional and is sure to impress the McFarland group at our presentation tomorrow.
“Since you mentioned Edna, I wanted you to know that I got a few clients calling asking who the new receptionist is. They said it was quite refreshing to be spoken to so professionally, though a few complained about waiting longer than usual to be connected to the person they were calling.”
“She’s really trying, George. Ours isn’t the easiest system to grasp, and she’s been here less than two weeks.”
“I’ve also received a few complaints she’s slow,” George added.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten those same complaints, but…”
“Ah, that’s the problem with the younger generation,” George interrupts. “They seem to think everything needs to be done in microwave-oven time. You just continue to work with her and see if you can get her speed up a little more. Oh, and don’t forget to send someone by to pick up this proposal and have it rebound with a clear front and black back. In fact, have Edna make four more copies.”
“Sure thing George, talk to you later.”
I just look at the phone and smile. George didn’t even hint at me having to fire Edna. I know he’s gotten more than a few complaints about Edna being slow. Then I recall—George is probably about Edna’s age.
Empathy. Ain’t it great?