Thursday, September 25, 2008

Advice Do-over: Carey Tennis 9-24-08

Can we all agree that Carey Tennis sucks? I think we can. He seems like a nice enough guy but his advice is pretty lame. So here i'll post what I would have said because i'm bossy like that. I'll also cut down the navel gazing to the bare bones of the problem. I guess that's why these people write Carey Tennis, he's as longwinded and navel-gazing in his answers as they are in their questions. (Also stay tuned for other columns I Do-over. But most of the others I read are better than Mr. Tennis so i'm not sure how often that will be.)

I work with about 10 other individuals at a local nonprofit social service organization...One day a community center employee discovered that to clean our offices we could engage the services of a work-placement center that employs individuals who have developmental challenges...Our cleaning services happen while we are open. This includes vacuuming when we are trying to speak to people on the telephone. We have endured personal items broken with no responsibility taken. I understand this is a job over which they have no control, but they are often intrusive and disruptive. Often they do not clean well. Pictures are left smeary, items are often not placed back as found. They do not seem to be trained to stay out of people's space -- they have even lifted people's elbows to wipe under them, and have replaced papers on a damp surface. When using paper towels, they leave shreds of the towel about, not cleaning them up. Moreover, the odor of the cleaning solutions has bothered many of us...They clean by doing a particular task in each room (all connected) one at a time, i.e., all the wastebaskets are emptied, then they come back to vacuum, then to dust/wipe, etc., so they are constantly being disruptive or distracting. When they leave they come back to say goodbye. They do not understand the meaning of a shut door. They will knock, and knock again, and even when there is no acknowledgment from the person involved in a private phone call from the other side, they will still push the door open to wave goodbye...We do not want to hurt these guys, nor do we want them to lose the work placement. I do not think there is any way for them to have access to the building when it is not open with staff, so night cleaning is not feasible. Their supervisor is rarely there, and as it was not our office that made the arrangements, but the community center, with which we do not want to create any friction, we feel unable to complain...Everyone seems rather spineless when it comes to discussing this with the director of the community center, who inherited the situation. The men also clean the rest of the building, which she is responsible for.

Oh dear. This is bad. No one wants to hurt the disabled guys feelings, but something has to be done. This is what bothers me about so many advice columns I read. No one wants to hurt anyone's feelings, which is good, but then they confuse being assertive and asking for what you need with being mean, which is bad. What makes this especially bad is that your work is being disrupted and that is just not acceptable.

So let's review: Yelling at the guys when they're cleaning and calling them names or making snide comments to them is mean. Calling, meeting with or otherwise talking with their supervisor about this problem is NOT mean.

You find a way to contact their supervisor and tell him/her that the guys are nice and work hard, but there are a few things you need to talk about. First, they need to be trained to not disturb people while they are working. Second they should be instructed on how to clean without leaving smears and debris. Third, the schedule should be changed to only have them do those sorts of tasks once a week, and to see if you can allow them into the building after business hours. If that fails then you have to find a way to tell them nicely, but firmly, that you don't want your desk wiped, your picture frames windexed, etc. You will also have to talk to them and again, gently but firmly, tell them not to enter an office with a closed door. Put a sign up if you have too. "Quiet please, i'm on the phone" isn't mean. It's honest and it's what you need to get your work done.

At the end of the day developmentally disabled people are still people and this is a situation where you can treat them as you would any other person who is disrupting your work. The only difference is you go to the supervisor first since they may be more comfortable explaining things to the guys. But if you do need to the remind them not to dust your desk be nice but firm, same as you would any other custodian.

This is a fixable problem that just takes some balls. Find someone to sack up and talk to the supervisor.

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