Amy Finkelstein

Amy Finkelstein

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Do Give a Damn about my Reptuation

When I worked as an RA I developed a very distinct reputation with my co-workers and the residents of the hall. I began solidifying a persona and building my reputation the very first day of summer training. Throughout training I was a hardcore social butterfly, I made sure to network as much as possible and to make the most of this time to get to bond with my co-staff members especially. I was an eager beaver to say the least when it came to paraprofessional life, I was the girl who volunteered to do everything and made an effort to be there to help everyone out- at the time I felt that my enthusiasm would be the best way to establish myself as a staff member really “in it to win it” if you will. I put my best foot forward and hope others would do the same. My main goal was to build a very high rapport with my coworkers and to motivate all of us to think of ourselves as a team or a family unit- life as a paraprofessional is no cake walk, I needed to be sure I had people who had my back. To continue to solidify my reputation I would go out of my way to really treat people well and to lend a hand wherever possible. We had “theme days” such as ‘beach day’ and I was the go to woman for props and costumes, I helped RAs complete bulletin boards and door decorations for their floor and I would volunteer to do die-cuts for other staff member. I even planned and organized a small birthday party for one of my co-workers over the summer training session.

The reputation I had established only blossomed as the year went on- sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I’m a die-hard idealist, and as the saying goes I was definitely born in the “wrong decade”, the 1960s and the hippie era would have been much more my cup of tea, then the here and now. I believe in honest to goodness altruism, and I genuinely just like being there for people, whatever their needs may be- often I wonder if I have and overzealous need to always be the superhero, the “fixer”, and the confidant. No back to the main attraction… I would really go out of my way to do something if I were ever asked a favor, often to my own disadvantage. In staff meeting, and when planning building wide programs I always volunteered to fill the positions that no one else wanted, and in every way imaginable I would go above and beyond the call of duty for both my residents and my co-staff. Essentially I was the mom of the residence hall. I made soup for co-workers when they were sick, if my residence asked me for anything I would almost drop what I was doing to lend a hand, and I once even accompanied a resident to the hospital to be treat for strep, because she had no one else to go with. I wanted to be the nurturer and the “mom” and both my staff and the residence came to see me and treat me that way.

As every rose has its thorns, this reputation did not always work in my favor. In my efforts and from all the good that came out of this (close friendships and the opportunity to make an impact on someone else’s life, even in a small way) there was a darker side to the environment this reputation created. The atmosphere I created was a perfect storm for opportunism. Several people really used me, knowing that I would help “no matter what” led some of my residents and co-workers to become very expecting and demanding. As well, trying to be the perpetual superhero, was leading me to burn out relatively quickly. I wanted to stray from my reputation many times. Usually when I wanted to throw in the towel, I would tell myself to suck it up and play like a champ. If I had said yes to someone to do something I have to follow through- even if it’s a snappy and disgruntled resident who asks you to investigate the case of her missing bed cover or and then figure out a way for her to be refunded for if it if it cannot be recovered, and you have 2 exams the next day, 5 bulletin boards to make and cookies to bake for a birthday. I would figure out how to make these situations work no matter how ludicrous or how much it put me out and deterred me from taking care of my own life. I had ‘cashed in’ though a few times, the immediate gain usually being free time, sleep, a night out on the town and in those moments I would freeze that part of my life.  These days would be akin to something around the line of John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend”. This momentary, but complete shirking allowed me to distress and regain sanity, although the return to real life after sometimes was a bumpy ride. For very obvious reasons, ignoring any aspect of your life even for a day, sometimes does come with consequences.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Principal-Agent Triangle

              I have witnessed a triangular principal-agent model in the workplace. I have a sibling who recently completed a Co-op internship with DuPont Pioneer.  My brother is currently an agricultural engineering student at Iowa State University, although his internship was located at the University of Illinois. He engaged in soybean research developing genetically modified strains of seeds working under the auspices of a professor based in Iowa. My brother was caught in a principal-agent triangle because he had to work on projects given to him by his professor back in Iowa, while following the direction of managers and other head researchers at DuPont.
                Frequently my brother would talk about how what you might call “serving two masters” can create a very stressful and hectic work environment for the middleman being pulled in both directions. He often had to complete extra work, juggling dual employers and different systems and standards in research procedure. My brother also discussed that his relationship with the supervisors in Illinois was much different and much more distant than the relationship between the supervisors and other interns, because he was conducting research for an out-of-state professor. He particularly emphasized that the supervisors would often favor their University of interns over those from other colleges.
                If the two principals didn’t see eye to eye on what counts for good performance, the research supervisors would have a phone or Skype conference to come to a compromise and resolve the issue, or what would happen more often than not, my brother was expected to uphold the performance standards of each principal depending on which research project he was working on a given day or week. There are definitely many “paths to the same mountain” as Buddhists would say, when it comes to resolving tension and some methods are better than others. In my brother’s situation the better, more efficient resolution mechanism occurs when the different supervisors compromise. As well, in my brother’s work situation it would be a failure if he chose to serve one master while ignoring the other. In choosing to favor one supervisor over another, my brother would risk losing his internship if he only sought to meet the needs of the supervisors in Illinois. As well, if my bother chose to meet the needs of only his professor in Iowa he may create an undesirable work environment or could threaten his opportunity to network with the researchers in Illinois at DuPont Pioneer and could estrange himself form making corporate contacts.