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Barely Keeping It Together

, , , , , | Working | May 9, 2022

I work on the manufacturing of an experimental biotech product. When we manufacture our product, we have to maintain careful batch records, which are a series of handwritten documents attesting to the quality of the product. The documents are, for good reason, very carefully controlled.

The particular batch of records I’m in charge of maintaining and submitting is a stack of about fifty sheets of paper by the time we’re done. For years, I’ve been submitting them to Quality Control with a paper clip or binder clip holding them together. This seems to work fine, and no one has ever suggested I do otherwise.

Then, some of the documents are lost. Now, pretty much everyone at the company knows how they were lost: our terrible head of Quality likes to bring documents home, where she promptly loses them. This happens over and over, and nothing happens, because she’s BFFs with the head of manufacturing. In fact, every time documents go missing, the question is not where they could possibly be; the question is where they could possibly be other than the head of Quality’s dining room.

So, when part of my batch records go missing — batch records that I submitted months ago — the hammer falls on my group and how we must have lost the documents.

Head Of Manufacturing: “I don’t understand. Where are the batch records now?”

Me: “Well, I turned them in to Quality on [date], and—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “You’re blaming Quality? You’re blaming Quality for your mistake? I just can’t believe you wouldn’t take responsibility for your own actions.”

Me: “I’m not saying it’s Quality’s fault. I’m just saying I turned them in—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “And these batch records. Were they stapled together?”

Me: “Uh, no? We never do that. It’s, like, fifty sheets of paper. I don’t even think we have a stapler at the company that could do that.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “So, these were lost because you never bothered to staple them.”

Me: “That’s not really—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “From now on, staple the batch records! Staple them! How hard is it to do that?”

Me: “Fine. We’ll staple them from now on.”

I figure this is over. Not even close. She emails my boss and tells him that, from now on, we have to staple the batch records. She tells him to make sure the entire team understands this.

Okay, we get it. We find a special stapler in a closet somewhere that can handle fifty sheets — not without jamming every stupid time, but still. My boss emails our entire team, six people, to let us know that, from now on, we staple.

Not good enough! The Head of Manufacturing finds my boss in his office.

Head Of Manufacturing: “You sent an email telling your team to staple the batch records.”

My Boss: “Yes.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “That isn’t enough! We can’t afford to lose these batch records! This is too important!”

My Boss: “So, what do you want me to do?”

Head of Manufacturing: “I want you to look your entire team in the eye and tell them to use the stapler. I want you to have a training session.”

My Boss: “A training session… on… the use of a stapler.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “Yes! And I want the training session documented, with signatures!”

And that’s how my team — all of us with advanced degrees in molecular biology or biomedical engineering — ends up having to have formal training on how to operate a stapler.

The kicker: the first time I turn in batch records after the training session, I staple them and hand them into our Document Control person. The next day, she pulls me aside.

Document Control Person: “Hey, could you not staple these batch records? I noticed you started doing that, and it’s a real pain because the first thing I need to do to scan them is remove that staple — and it’s really hard to take off.”

Apologetically, I told her the story of the stapler training, and how, despite it making her job harder, I would be using that stapler from now on. From then on, every time, I’d staple the batch records, hand them to her, and she would begin the process of trying to pry out the staple.

I am so glad I no longer work there.

Suddenly, His World Lit Up With Color!

, , , , | Right | CREDIT: Philosaphucker | April 3, 2022

I am part of a four-person team providing IT support for a spa manufacturing company. My role is “doing whatever it takes.” The culture can be described in a word: chaos.

Today, I got stopped by a frequent flier on my way back from a harrowing journey regarding a minor issue on the factory floor. [Technician] is a nice guy, loveable even. He is the lead spa technician and heads the department in charge of fixing broken hot tubs. I see him a lot because he has a knack for breaking or resetting the hardiest of mobile phones and forgetting credentials. [Technician] is a hard worker and, as he’s been here for almost three years, I am determined to help make him even better. Sometimes, all that takes is getting him to slow down and listen to himself.

Me: “What’s up, man?”

Technician: “Okay, listen. Can we get [Customer Service Person] access to a color printer? She prints off pictures of the spa in black and white, and I can’t see what’s going on in them.”

At the mention of “color printer”, he can feel the heat radiate from my body. He grins.

Me: “…?”

Technician: “Yeah, I can’t see where the leak is when it is black and white.”

Me: “Oh, so she is handing you pictures that the customer is emailing in!”

Technician: “Yeah, and the black and white is no help!”

Me: “So, why is she printing them?”

Technician: “Uh… what do you mean?”

I know he can do this, I know he can do this, it’s right there…

Me: “Why is she printing pictures that she received via email?”

Technician: “So I can see… Ohhhhhh! She can just send them to me! This is why you are the man!”

We both laugh.

Me: “Yeah, man, that should work a bit better for you!”

Now we’re thinking!

Follow The Rules And You’ll Feel Lighter

, , , , , | Working | March 1, 2022

Many years ago, I worked in the UK for an American company that made adhesive tape. Making the glue involved some very flammable solutions, so smoking was restricted to a specific area and, after some problems with people smoking outside, all lighters and matches were banned and we were all subject to possible searches at the gate.

One day, a taxi pulled up at the gate, and [Security Guy] asked the passenger if he had matches or a lighter. Back then, most people smoked. The passenger said he had a lighter, so [Security Guy] asked him to hand it over. The passenger refused because A) it was gold and valuable, and B) because he was too important to obey the rules.

[Security Guy] stuck to his guns, and eventually, the VIP handed the lighter over and was let in. A few days later, [Security Guy] got a letter commending him for his diligence. Apparently, the VIP was well known for his arrogance, and the site manager was well pleased to see him taken down a peg.

Recruiting In Reverse

, , , , , , | Working | February 22, 2022

After I was laid off, I was looking for a new job. I got an interview for a job that was above my experience level. I got a second, longer interview where I found out it was a bait and switch. I was an engineer (by degree as well as experience). Being laid off wasn’t a performance issue, and I had a letter of reference to back that up. They wanted me as a technician at just under half the salary they quoted for the original job. During the interview, it became clear that they had no ethics; they were asking technical questions about my former job, trying to get any information that they could use for their products. 

They gave me an offer and I turned it down. I explained that my fiancé had a job that paid much more than the technician position and it wouldn’t be cost-effective to take the job. I couldn’t believe they kept pushing. It was incomprehensible that they would expect me to take a job so much to my detriment.

Sounds like the end, right? Quite a bit later, I got a call from their Human Resources guy; they still wanted me. I told him I was making twice what they offered. He was cool. They made him call again and he made the offer but didn’t push. We got talking, and the company was on strike! He was having to work his job and in the factory!  

I told him about a good job at the company I was working for, and he said he was going to apply.

A Forklift Load Of Attitude

, , , | Working | September 23, 2021

I work for a small company that services industrial laser cutting machines. Since there are only a handful of us service engineers, most of our clients’ employees know all of us. They also know that I’m the least experienced one by far, having joined the company less than two years ago.

One day, I come to service a client complaining that his machine is suddenly cutting very poorly.

Me: “Good morning. What seems to be the issue?”

The client’s employee, who’s the one usually operating the machine, responds.

Employee: “All was fine until yesterday evening, and then it suddenly started cutting like crap. One of the mirrors must have cracked.”

Older laser cutting machines use moving mirrors to deliver the laser beam to the cutting point, and those do occasionally crack due to overheating.

Me: “This may very well be the case, but I need to do some testing first to see what’s going on.”

Employee: “You’re wasting your time. We’re behind schedule already because of this breakdown. Just check the mirrors.”

I ignore him and do my tests. True to his word, the cutting is, indeed, of unacceptably poor quality, but not evenly so across the cutting area, which suggests an entirely different problem.

Me: “It seems that your mirrors somehow got misaligned, not that one of them cracked.”

Employee: “But you didn’t even open the casings to look at them! And why would the mirrors move? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Me: “I’m not going to open the casings, expose the mirrors to dust, and then spend a couple of hours cleaning them if that’s not the issue. Please, let me do my job.”

The employee leaves for a break while I realign the mirrors. He comes back when I’m just about finished.

Employee: “Are you still with that crap? Why don’t you look at the mirrors already?”

Me: “Just finished. Now, time to verify that the alignment is correct. Please load up any of your programs and try cutting.”

Muttering that I don’t know what I’m doing, he does as I ask. The machine cuts perfectly.

Employee: “Well, I’ll be d***ed. But why would the mirrors move?”

Me: “I don’t know. Did anyone hit them by accident?”

Employee: “Not that I know of. What do you think we are, a bunch of apes? We take care of our machines.”

I’m about to leave it at that and write off the reason for the alignment issue as unknown, but then I decide to have a closer look. I’m glad that I did because I notice that the whole laser generator, which weighs over a ton, is not exactly where it used to be judging by the marks on the dirty floor and the bent bolts that hold it in place. Lightbulb moment.

Me: “[Employee], did anyone, by any chance, drive a forklift into the generator just prior to when you started having issues?”

Employee: *Sheepishly* “Um, yeah. Something like that may have happened yesterday.”

Cue me banging my head on the wall. Thankfully, the manager didn’t write off my conclusions as “inexperience” and agreed to install a barrier to prevent this from happening again.