I am almost done with my duties as Interim Human Resources Manager; the duration was supposed to end on June 7th, but was extended by one week. Now, if I can only survive until next Friday without going up in flames… I want to finish graciously, of course, but mostly I want to finish. I’d like to actually finish (as in get everything done), but that’s an impossibility.
We’ve been kicked back into full press recruitment mode – thanks to visa issues. It appears that a cap has been placed on the actual number of employment visas that will be granted – as per the number of ex-patriots who are leaving. That number is less than the number of ex-pats already hired. This has put us in the extremely awkward position of rescinding a couple of contracts – and then, when things appeared slightly more hopeful – of rescinding the rescission. Feel like a Yo-yo anyone? Of course, in the aftermath of receiving an email saying we can’t have you come after all, people have faced a huge disappointment – and some have gone on to make other plans! It also means we are recruiting more specifically for Indian staff to fill some positions. Unfortunately, a band teacher will be (almost) impossible to find in India and will require one of our carefully hoarded visa permissions. I’ve been putting out the word, searching the world over for music schools that train teachers and sending an email/flyer posting the position. I’ve also been exploring the option of having one-year interns come on an entry visa and work in exchange for travel, room and board. Any band teachers out there?
We faced this situation ourselves in 1989 when our hopes, dreams and lease agreement to farm the home place in Nebraska, fell through just weeks before the move. At that point, we looked around (figuratively speaking) and asked ourselves, “what other dreams do we have for our lives?” Being Mennonite, and having grown up (in Dave’s case) with an extended family history of overseas service, and being exposed to the culture of service while at Bethel College, we turned right around and applied to Mennonite Central Committee. Six weeks later, we were accepted and invited to Chad, six weeks after that we were gone.
After nine years as a computer programmer, Dave was then working as an agriculturalist. He went to our village chief and asked for a field – like everyone else – where he experimented with sheep manure for fertilizer, potatoes and popcorn. I worked with women and children, trying a sewing class for girls (not particularly successful – after all – men are tailors in Chad) and then started a very popular afternoon program for kids. We collected and provided resources for school children living in a village with no books, attending a school with forty students, one teacher and a blackboard. No textbooks. They lined up outside the door, waiting for their half hour with our (relatively) small box of children’s books in French, puzzles and math workbooks. Dave homeschooled our daughter Abra and decided he wanted to be a teacher. After three years in Chad, we came back to Newton, KS and Dave returned to college (that’s another story…) to get his teaching degree. He then taught one year in Wichita before we came to Woodstock School for the first time, 1995-1999. In our case, moving to Chad, Africa instead of Nebraska, was life-changing. It has shaped who we are and changed the entire trajectory of our lives. We can only hope and pray that this huge disappointment in the lives of some of our hired/unhired new staff will also be the opportunity to do something else that leads to a positive new direction in their lives.
Back to now…
I had hoped to spend these last two weeks winding down in the office: cleaning out my desk, sorting through files, both digital and hard copies, and cleaning out my inbox. I also need to do performance evaluations for the three staff I supervise – a task they will not let me forget! As an interim, there are a number of things I chose not to do, in hopes of limiting the amount of chaos in HR (I am the third supervisor in less than three years). Some things have been falling through the cracks and we have been caught up short by processes not fully followed, databases not updated, policies not in place, etc. The list of “undone/failure” is rather long, but so are the good things! Among them, I have enjoyed learning how to be a supervisor, and contrary to past experience, have (according to my two HR officers) been a very good one. I always thought I had it in me to do well as a “boss”, but my first experience in supervision was a complete disaster and utter failure – and what can I say – I got fired from my first HR job out of graduate school! It has been very healing to do that part of the job well. It has also been quite a learning experience and challenge to work with employee issues.
I had some fears of being inadequate in dealing with employees, however, that has gone better than I expected – though challenging! FYI: “Employees”, as the term is used in India, refers specifically to class 4 and class 5 employees whose jobs are low status, low paying, require lower skill levels and are often associated with being from a lower caste. At Woodstock, we have employees who are 3rd or 4th generation in their family to work (and live) at Woodstock. As the expecations in the US beween employees (in the western sense – all of employed staff) and employers are changing in terms of expectations for staying with one company for one’s entire career, expecting retirement benefits, etc., so are the expectations in India (at least at Woodstock) as well. There is a shift, both in Woodstock’s policies and in employees’ attitudes and expectations. It’s harder to enforce (?) caste distinctions or differences between staff (the rest of us) and employees when employees have Bachelor’s degrees and are working on a Master’s degree in Business Administration (albeit online). There are a few who have crossed over from employee to staff, a rather difficult social transition.
Signs of the changing relationship include decisions by the school to outsource janitorial services in some sections of the school and challenges by employees of decisions made, particulary contract or disciplinary actions. Decisions made in HR (in consultation with administration and our labour lawyer) and by the Employee Personnel Committee have been challenged. Several of our employees have joined a union. I have reread parts of “Getting to Yes” and tried to use that model in a conflict between an employee and their supervisor. I had the priviledge, after the finance director, of addressing a group of 40-50 employees who had gathered demanding to be heard. We stressed that there are policies, procedures and processes that will be followed, that need to be followed, and that need to be given time to be completed. Of course, I couldn’t understand what was said in Hindi – and what I said had to be translated, however, everyone went back to work. Given new information regarding his unexcused absence, one employee’s dismissal has been revoked. Meetings. Meetings. At this point, I don’t have time for meetings! I have made it clear that other employee issues will have to wait for my successor. I’m hoping that he comes, not just with his broader corparate experience in dealing with employees/reward systems/outsourcing/unions, etc., but also with some sense of how things are changing in India so that he can help Woodstock move through the changes with some degree of grace.
It’s an amazing growing experience for me; I’m just not sure quite how I will use the breadth of HR experience from this last year – when back in the US. Here, beyond straight forward recruiting, we’re dealing with (visa issues, of course),. but also allocating housing. The Housing Committee has one of the most intensely political tasks on campus (Professional Development might be next). We three on this year’s committee did get a compliment from the principal who thought we had done quite well – better than some past years… If one just begins with the premise that it is, in fact, impossible to make everybody happy… recognizes the fact that we do not have enough apartments for singles (some will have to share) and that there is a vast difference in the quality of the housing we do have – well – then you know for sure that you can’t make everyone (anyone?) happy. Another good exercise in not taking people’s frustration with process/results personally.
Another side issue for me is health. I have not been doing great. Could be stress-related; could be ??? I’ve been down to Dehradun to a gynecologist twice, had a lower abdomial ultrasound which found nothing. I have gut issues that (apparently) are unrelated to parasites. Today, I’ll try once more. I’m going shopping in Dehradun and am also trying to get a full abdominal ultrasound that will look at gall bladder and kidneys as well as stomach/colon, etc. It’s been bothering for about three months.
My stress level should drop immediately on June 14th when the new HR Director comes. We’ll see how quickly all of my ills disappear! I have no clear job description for next year other than “special projects” as assigned by the principal. By the way, I’ve had half of my own performance evaluation with the principal. So far, I’ve survived despite making some pretty strong comments about the things that have made the job difficult. Haven’t had time to hear his evaluation of me/my work, other than that I seem to have done well with my staff and that I write well. I have gotten a fair amount of practice writing difficult letters/emails!
As a whole school, we’re in an “extreme” mode, with the seniors graduating last weekend and this week beginning finals. Dave and I missed the graduation ceremony/lunch – due to a doctor’s appt. in Dehradun, though we did attend baccaluareate the day before where the seniors all wear their national costume – making for a sartorial parade of nations. For graduation, they all wear formal Indian dress; it’s a beautiful ceremony. Our staff banquet (more politics – who’s invited, who’s farewelled, who gets a gift?) is on the 15th and the final staff meeting is on the 16th. There will be taxis at the gate waiting to make a run for Delhi in time to catch flights out of the country. We’re not making big summer plans, but hope to spend a couple days in Dharamsala with Farleys. We’re missing my niece Jane’s wedding – Sat. AM – but Abra (daughter) and Phil have gone. We’ll bring back a funky wedding present for them next Christmas!
We all become vultures when staff who are leaving post their list of items for sale. So far, we’ve gained an additional electric blanket, some wool/fleece blankets, a toaster, kitchen utinsils, a lamp, a rug, a few clothes, etc.. We’re going to get a digital projector from Farleys!!! This means we’ll be able to watch videos even after Mira takes her TV back (stored with us while on leave). We’ve got a great veranda for showing movies on hot summer nights. We’ve missed getting a full-sized stove – twice. It’s very, very difficult to be “first” in responding to those all-staff emails with sale items. We’re just going to have to go out and buy a new stove that will cost as much, or more, as in Newton.
It rained hard last (Fri.) night. I woke up at five and have been doing laundry and wishing I were sleeping in! Dave has now joined the land of the living (8:15 am) and I’m ready for breakfast and the rest of my day.
Cookie (and Dave)
Update on ultrasound this afternoon. Nothing. Stress. “Go read about Irritable Bowel Syndrome”. Cost: RS 600 (about $12) plus 1/4 of taxi for the day (went with down three other women) RS 375.