A Good Man and a Hard Worker

Wesley liked to consider himself a good man, and a hard worker. He always got to the office early and stayed late. Frequently he would work through his lunch break, eating his sandwiches and sipping his milk ( good for the ulcer ) brought to him promptly at noon by one of the typists. He would take great pains to proofread the work of his five subordinates, changing a word or correcting a code number with  his sharp red pencil.  And he was always ready to assist his staff by developing neverending memoranda which the typists would dutifully prepare, xerox and distribute. 

But Wesley was not a success and somehow things had not gone well for him. After the War and a rather undistinguished career in the military, he married. and with only a high school certificate, took the best work he could find, a sales position in a large men's clothing store, a job for which he had neither the inclination nor aptitude. 

However as his family grew, expenses increased. promotion was nowhere in sight and his salary could not keep pace. So Wesley was happy when his brother-in-law invited him to become a partner in his small tool and die operation. The economy was expanding. He believed their business would too and in so doing, bring him the success that had so far eluded him. 

It was a struggle at first but Wesley was used to that. And his fundamentalist religious background had taught him patience and respect for honest toil. Even his father at seventy-five was still working. 

In time, the business flourished. The partners employed ten workers: four qualified tool and die makers, and the rest involved in less skilled shop activities. 

The brother-in-law, who knew the business, made the decisions, solicited the contracts and serviced the accounts.  Wesley accepted the more routine personnel, supervisory and clerical responsibilities, and quickly set up procedures, time cards, and  bulletin boards. He began rating workers on the cleanliness of their machines, assigned one machinist to paint the walls, assigned stock-control duties to another, and wrote up elaborate, cross-referenced production reports. When his brother-in-law occasionally complained about the misuse of his staff or would reprimand him for letting a defective shipment of parts go out to a customer, Wesley would point despairingly at his elaborate files and complain the paperwork was preventing him from overseeing the workers to the extent he would like. He avoided discussion of the relatively high staff turnover, and suspected the men joked about him behind his back. 

At the age of fifty-two, Wesley's brother-in-law died and the partnership with him. Feeling unable to carry on alone, Wesley took a modest profit from the sale of the business, and using his veteran's preference secured himself a government position in an office carrying out Canadian Indusrial Surveys. 

At first there was just three of them: Wesley, another man and a typist. Uneventfully at first, Wesley went off to factories and offices, prepared his reports and collected his paycheck. But the Survey grew, new members were added, and Wesley, having once held managerial responsibilities was appointed Supervisor. He had not especially cared for the survey work, the inconvenience of traveling to plant sites and the meetings with plant personnel which made him ill-at-ease, and quickly developed an elaborate set of clerical responsibilities to keep him in the office. And as time passed, he became more and more distant from his employees as he could no longer relate to the problems they were having in the field. Often they grumbled among themselves about the poor quality of his advice, and sensing this, he attempted to avoid contact by developing lists of instructions for every exigency. His staff turnover was high. There were days he would bury himself in his work and say virtually nothing to anyone. He found it harded and harder to conceal how little he knew about government organizations and procedures, and at times felt totally overwhelmed. That's when he first developed his ulcer. 

A real source of concern was a new hire, a recent university graduate who had worked in a related field two years before joining the survey team. His informal manner annoyed Wesley who felt work ought to be a serious matter and his questions were often  difficult to answer. He recommended procedural simplifications and when these were not implemented, took shortcuts. In addition, he began to bypass his boss turning instead to senior co-workers, a behaviour not lost on his boss. He refused to buy a car when Wesley requested it noting it was not a requirement of the job, making it more difficult for his boss to assign him to work sites. And he began to show he recognized the intellectual limitations of his supervisor. 

Wesley began to view the manner of his young hire as arrogant, and his recommendations as a refusal to be guided. The Junior sensing the hostility of his Superior began to guard his speech and develop a careful, formal manner in his relations with his Supervisor. Interactions were uncomfortable. And though the work of the Junior was generally good, Wesley lacked the skill to mitigate the deteriorating relationship. In fact he chose to chastise his subordinate disproportionately for the occasional error that occurred. 

Finally, Wesley failed to recommend his Junior for his annual salary raise. At this point the Junior appealed the decision through the Employees Union and won. In the process, he was recognized as an excellent worker, promoted and transfered to the Head Office to work in the Research Department. 

The tension and embarrassment of the appeal proved hard on Wesley and he had to be hospitalized for a month while his ulcer was treated. Afterwards he returned to his job, where he continued to work until his retirement. 

This story was first written in the late 1960s and was revised and published here for the first time in December 2019. Frank Levin

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