How to deal with an inefficient bureaucracy-- from the inside?
March 11, 2013 4:04 PM Subscribe
What are your strategies and best practices for being a cog in an inefficient bureaucracy? How do you compartmentalize the frustration and leave it in the office?
posted by anonymous to work & money (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have a part-time job working in a department of a large and notoriously bureaucratic university, where I'm also a full-time student. Part of my job involves collecting paperwork from academics so they can be paid for services or reimbursed for expenses, and then submitting it to the people who actually control the money. Basically, I'm the go-between between academics and bureaucrats. Usually, things go fine, but fairly regularly, maybe every month or so, something goes wrong on the bureaucrats' side and someone's money gets held up. When this happens, I end up losing tons of time being tossed around from administrator to administrator until someone can finally tell me what happened and how to fix it. I've started to expect that it will take no fewer than three phone calls (each with 20+ minutes of hold time) to get something approximating an explanation -- which usually ends up being something like "Oh, we forgot to send that check out" or "Oh, we just changed this policy but haven't informed anyone."
I am someone who finds it very stressful to not be able to fix things quickly, and I also hate telling people that their money will be late. Even if it's true, saying that the delay is outside my control feels like a weak excuse. As a result, I end up carrying the stress home with me, where it's hard to turn it off and focus on my schoolwork. While I know that this means that a career in academic bureaucracy is not for me, I'm not planning to leave the job in the very near future -- the money is good, most of the time my workload is pretty light, and the people I work with are in the field I study. For now, I want to improve my compartmentalization skills so that when these problems pop up, I can fix them without them taking over my life for a day or a week.
So, my actual question: If you work in a less-than-efficient bureaucracy (academic or otherwise), how do you avoid taking the stress home with you? What are the best ways to be effective without going beyond your pay grade? And if part of your job is dealing with people unacquainted with your special snowflake of a Kafkaesque nightmare, what are your best strategies for handling the mistakes of people deeper inside the bureaucracy?