On a fast escalator

After I had been in the office for a few weeks, the head called me down and said that I seemed to be in a hurry for a promotion. I explained about my age, the substantial drop in salary I had taken to start with his agency, that I would need two promotions to catch up with my private sector salary … I also explained that I was happy with the area I was in but that I was working well below capacity and was very bored.

We talked for a while, as he was interested in my background. He was aware that I had applied for a research job in agricultural economics, and that the head of that agency was going to promote me (that was news to me). He asked if I would stay. Gladly, I said, since he had the power to block the promotion, but I hoped he would match any job offer I received from elsewhere. He said he would try. He turned out to be a friend and proved it over the years.

… … A couple of years down the line, to keep me and compensate me for denying me a promotion elsewhere, my position was upgraded. This took time and I had to convince the appropriate regulatory agency that my work-value was higher than my current classification. Then the chief asked me to wait for a while, so that the office could use my position to transfer a highly regarded employee from interstate. The preferred pea took my job and promptly transferred to a sister agency and, from there, to a politician’s office. That was a waste of tactics for the office and a loss of income for me. It also said something about the ethics of the highly regarded.

On a later occasion, I went on leave for a few weeks, dropped into the office halfway through, and found that a colleague … ranked below me, had been jumped two positions higher. I rang the “tough cop” who had recently told me that I was on top of the waiting list. His reply was that he had to do it. When I came back from leave, I was summoned by the deputy. He noted that I had lodged an appeal based on relative efficiency, before going back to my holidays. I said that he had broken a promise and asked whether his action should not have given me cause for concern. Nothing more was said. I then talked a friend at the intermediate classification to appeal too – and he naturally won. Because another agency wanted me at that stage, I got my friend’s job.

In my first few months, I was sent to a regional office to assist in completing a statistical survey. Working at three levels above base. … I learned how statistics in some areas were compiled. My job was to talk on the telephone to people who had refused to respond to a survey. The objective was to get them to talk and to infer from what they said the information we needed. It was yet another learning exercise.

The main difference between my public service job and all the previous ones was that, in the latter, I was either filling time or treading water, waiting to move on. Now, I was a permanent member of a large workforce with opportunities everywhere, with only the problem of a very late start to overcome. Here, I was treated seriously as an integral member of a team, with equal opportunities and prospects for progress. It was a nice feeling. But, there would be queries in later years as to whether junior staff would accept me as a manager – this happened more than once.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ suggest that the tide had come in to take my frail sampan onto the open sea of competitive sailing. My normal practice is to accept the waves placidly but to paddle as best I could; I do not believe in an interventionist god. But the sharks would always be there.

Years later, the fellow who had cost me a higher income while he used my position to obtain work with a politician – which had tremendous implications subsequently for the nation – denied me the promotion into the Senior Executive Service previously promised me by his predecessor, the head of that agency. The latter had invited me to join his agency, with a view to promotion; and I had completed two difficult projects most successfully since joining him.

The new head, who had slipped down the totem pole, no doubt for good reason, bit off my career future like any good shark, and with total indifference, while gazing at some hoped-for vista in the distance.

The lesson from such experiences is that a wheel or two on one’s life-chances cart can fall off for reasons unknown or through chicanery, especially when one is on a fast escalator.)