Monday, February 04, 2013

Back to Work

The Monday the week before Christmas was my first day back at work from maternity leave. This is part of why I broke my brief streak of posting more often, been a bit overwhelmed. I'm an Office Manager/Secretary/Receptionist/Assistant/Preschool Liaison at a church.

When most people think of what church secretaries do, I think they mostly think of the very physical, very obvious things (if they think about it at all): she makes the bulletins maybe, perhaps handles a church newsletter. Obviously she answers the phone. If they ever do anything in the office, they might notice she keeps supplies like printer paper stocked. Well, probably they won't, unless she doesn't once, but you get the idea.

In reality, I think of my work in two categories: physical stuff like the above, and "knowledge work." The way Wikipedia defines knowledge worker, I ought to have a more prestigious, creative job than I do, but I think a case can be made to include my job.

The way I see it, most of my work is knowledge work. Especially because even the physical work involves knowledge work -- not just training how to do it in the first place, which would indeed be a rather inclusive definition, but to put my particular church's bulletin together, you have to gather many kinds of information. You need to have a calendar you keep updated, you need to gather announcements from people, you need a current list of flower and candle memorials, and the readings for the week, and so on and so forth.

Communication is a big sub-set of the knowledge work category. Lots of emails. To answer the phone, yes I have to be physically present, but I also have to do the knowledge work to have answers to the questions I'll be asked, and I have to act on the information and requests I'll be given in each phone call. There are LOTS of messages to pass on, and it's rarely simple -- generally a whole chain of messages, of reporting back and forth.

All that information has to be organized. Every little request can't always be acted on right away, and the tasks to do later need to be kept track of.

That's just the tip of the knowledge work iceberg. Like I said, most of my work is knowledge work.

Coming back to work is always... interesting, even after a short vacation. "Catching up" doesn't just mean things like mailing the newsletter that should have gone out last week or even replying to emails. It means finding out what's in those emails, reading all the emails my sub sent out in my place. Finding out what people have requested that no one's responded to yet. Reminding people to turn things in that I need to complete a past-due project. It means people asking questions about events I didn't know existed until they asked about them, and then making the necessary follow-up inquiries.

This wasn't a normal vacation. I was gone for about two months. During that time, my boss retired, and one of the two linked congregations involved in our church left, for a new church plant of sorts.

It was busy. Crazy busy. And I didn't really have a chance to train my subs before I left, though I did manage to write up some instructions.

Oh, and this was the week before Christmas. Christmas is also Always Crazy. Even without maternity leave, there are so many extra things that need to be done at this time of year.

And that bit about my boss retiring? Well, as this is a church, "my boss" means the main priest, the Rector. As such, there's no immediate replacement. An Interim Priest started in January, but generally speaking, the old Rector's duties have been divvied up among a number of people.

You know how people have different work styles, and everyone brings different strengths to the same job? Well, that means no one fulfills those duties in exactly the same way as he did. At least not the more complicated ones. And the differences? Somehow, it feels like they always translate to more work for me. Sigh. At the very least, it means there's more adjustments I have to make in an already stressful time.

So that Monday coming back to work, I told a friend that I'd never been more baffled about where to begin than at that moment. And all of the above is why her response cracked me up: "I imagine so! Not like anything changed while you were gone. OH WAIT."

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