Working through change

September 06, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Change is everywhere. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace of the '90s. Whether in a library, computer lab or department store, this much is clear: Workers today are in transition.

That's what we heard from the readers who responded to our request for essays about change in their professions. They groused about newfangled technology and old-fashioned management styles. They praised themselves for working harder and smarter.

Rather than get all worked up about change, these essays showworkers are ready to face its challenges.

In more than 20 years of working, I have earned my living as either a seaman, tradesman or trucker -- that is, until I got into my present situation three years ago. It's not a glamorous job. Some people don't even think I work at all, but it impresses a lot of the women I meet and puts a number of men on the defensive. A lot of changes take place in my workday: I need to mediate disputes in the rank and file, do heavy lifting and cooperate in planning and administrative endeavors.

My job is staying at home with our two young daughters while my wife is out slaying dragons in the modern world.

Maybe that's a bit dramatic, but I've sailed through Atlantic hurricanes and driven through Midwestern blizzards, and I am still reminded daily how much it takes to keep change from being a negative experience for people who depend on me day and night. And that's something that never changes, whether I like it or not.

--John J. Snyder, 39, Columbia

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It was not a workplace, it was a joy-place! I was the librarian at a private school, in love with its marvelous children, wonderful families and fabulous faculty and staff. For a decade, my joy was unbounded, and my contributions received favorable responses. During the next three years, an unfortunate juxtaposition of stressors fell on top of an already busy job -- a physical expansion, a mandated study and a major increase in workload. The wheels on the cart turned more slowly, and some were threatening to fall off.

The solution? Replace the dedicated and devoted long-time employee.

With Labor Day here, I labor to deal with grief -- for the children I won't see grow up, for the faculty and staff who are no longer a part of my life, and for the work which was such joy.

We can send men to the moon, messages around the world in moments, but we can't mend miscommunication between two people in one small organization. How sad!

--Lois Zajic, 57, Randallstown

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My official job title is senior sales associate. Sure sounds important, huh? In reality, I'm the guy who approaches you while you stand, with furrowed brow and puzzled expression, gazing at a long shelf cluttered with toasters, waffle makers and salad shooters.

"Hello," I begin in a (hopefully) pleasant, nonaggressive voice. "Can I help you?" Silly question. Of course you need help -- why else would you be spending more than a millisecond staring at salad shooters on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon . . .

Welcome to the surreal world of retail sales.

The biggest changes I've witnessed on the job this past year? For starters, I'm beginning to feel like an endangered species at the major department store in Columbia Mall where I work. I'm a white male in a sea of women. Does this bother me? No, not really.

Another major change is my store's emphasis on customer satisfaction. I find it slightly ironic, however, since the sales staff has had its hours, pay and even jobs cut. To me, less staff means less attention paid to the customers who are the lifeblood of our business.

--John Orem, 38, Columbia

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Ever since I learned data entry over 20 years ago, I have been consistently evolving with the ever-changing computer workplace, trying to stay one step ahead of technology and keep a job . . . PERIOD. I was a data-entry operator. But after five years, I was replaced by the scanner and optical character reader. Then I learned to program computers -- and found out it was too much like rearing a child. I snagged a job as a secretary, thinking, "There's a secure job." But nope. Here I am two years later and the invention of the laptop computer or PowerBook has placed even this job in jeopardy.

So now I am planning on learning to fix the little suckers when they break. I figure that will carry me into retirement.

--Dana Owens, 39, Randallstown

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As the HIV coordinator for the Baltimore Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, I oversee the care of veterans with [human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS]. Our changes are reflected all over Baltimore and the country. New treatments and knowledge are helping to extend lives; that's the good news. But mostly our caseload is increased by more and more new patients. This epidemic isn't going away, and neither is our work.

--Kathryn J. Henderson, 49, Snydersburg

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