I was thinking about a place where I used to work where there was a big problem with malicious compliance.
It was an issue in a couple departments where assembly work was being done and was a source of friction with a couple of coworkers there but where it was worrisome was in the fabrication shop where I was one of three welders making aluminum pressure vessels.
There was a constant pressure to reduce lead times on these “tanks” and I was keen to do my part but where I kept butting heads with my fellow welders were with two things: Cold lap(incomplete fusion) and stop craters the robots left on the circumferential welds holding the tank ends on. Here is where we differed:
They argued that since the cold lap and stop craters didn’t leak in the subsequent proof test, taking the time to fill those craters and deal with the cold lap were a waste of time.
I argued that cold lap, even if partial, wouldn’t leak but would provide a stress riser and potential failure point in the future. I also didn’t want to leave the stop craters; they provide another stress riser. One of the first lessons in welding aluminum is that cracks propagate from stop craters, sometimes before the weld is even cooled, and they must be filled; my colleagues’ refusal to deal with it to save a minute of rework on each tank left me flabbergasted.
There was a slow-down and I was laid off from that job and wondered if my butting heads with my fellow welders over this quality and safety issue was a factor in my being chosen as the one who had to go. A while later a little birdie told me that one of the tanks had a catastrophic weld failure and the company recalled a bunch of the tanks. I have a pretty good idea why it failed and felt somewhat smug about it. The smugness was somewhat tempered by the fact a worker was injured when the tank failed.
I know a sawyer who drags his backside around at work like there’s a piano tied to it. He typically puts out .5-.75 as much lumber as me in a shift but easily matches me when the manager is on the floor.
Everybody takes it easy sometimes and a good boss can accept that provided that it’s not done in a way he can’t let slide but the production numbers eventually show a pattern…
It made me think of a story that came out of the bush near the village where I grew up. It was the about a rigging crew(logging) that was really taking it easy and, as we would say, effing the dog. In a surprise move one morning the boss came out with the choker setters and told them to sit down and watch him work. The boss set chokers while they watched. Turn after turn the tension mounted. The story goes that in an hour or two he had set more chokers than that crew had the entire day before. The story goes on to say that the boss lectured the crew about it being natural to take it easy sometimes but they were being too greedy and he couldn’t ignore it. He supposedly fired them all and, out of shame, no grievances were filed.
True or not it’s a good story with a good lesson for managers and underlings alike.
I was thinking about a time when I needed some help from a coworker. He was running by and I stopped him but he quickly said he didn’t have any time for anybody because our air compressor was down and work was halted because of it so this was his top priority. He needed to run out for supplies to complete the repair and only after that was done would he have time for anything else. Fair enough. There were a bunch of guys idle because of this so I had no trouble waiting.
I saw him after coming back with the parts for the emergency repair and he had an iced cappuccino in his hand. I was shocked. The emergency apparently wasn’t too important to stop for a fancy drink.
There are a couple teen summer students helping out at the sawmill. I was passing by one who was stacking lumber and noticed a couple of small knots on the outside of one of his stacks. I came over and flipped the boards around so the knots couldn’t be seen from the outside and explained that we should always try to stack our lumber with the good faces on top and the good edges on the outside of the stack so it looks as nice as possible.
I said that his parents and teachers probably taught him that inner beauty is what mattered, and I said that it was true…except for the lumber business. In a lumber stack outer beauty is what matters. I added that this wasn’t deceitful because the lumber quality is determined by a grade, or specification, and THAT was the level of quality we promised. Stacking the boards so no defects are visible is just a way of putting our best foot forward.