THE BLOG
08/01/2014 08:49 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 05:59 EDT

There's a Whole Lot of 'Cracy' in Bureaucracy

For the early part of my government "career", I took the "performance review" seriously. I actually thought that it was important to meet or even exceed my goals and that this would lead me to a higher position. Luckily, I eventually figured out that the whole exercise was an elaborate sham. Whether or not you met your goals, or even had goals for that matter, was totally irrelevant.

After nearly thirty years working in the Canadian federal government, I was happy to retire. Heck, I was ecstatic to retire.

Any veteran government bureaucrat who's being honest will tell you that after two decades or so of employment, it's difficult to keep plugging away day after day knowing that, at best, you're not making things any worse. And by the time you reach the end of decade number three, you've pretty much reached the end of your rope.

After more than four years of retirement, I thought that I had put my bureaucratic past behind me. But recently while walking the dog I overheard someone outside his house on the phone talking about changing the "org chart" and, like a PTSD sufferer hearing a car backfire, I was immediately thrown back into an anxious government mindset.

There are countless words and phrases that can trigger this reaction. "Org chart" is just one of them although admittedly it seems to pack a more powerful punch than others.

Short for "organization chart", "org chart" is not a phrase you want to hear. When it becomes the topic of conversation, that means some mid-level busybody is looking to rearrange your workplace with one of two results: your position is either reduced or eliminated.

A related terror-inducing phrase is "red circled." If the "org chart" busybody does nothing more than reduce some of the duties of your position, it will, in all likelihood, be "red circled." That means your salary will be frozen at its current level. You won't be let go but you won't get any more raises either.

Another linguistic trigger is "person year", that cold, inhuman expression used by management to describe what your presence in the workplace represents. Rather than directly talk about getting rid of your specific job, the boss can divorce herself from human emotion and simply talk about reducing "PYs."

In the same vein, the phrase "human resources" coldly reduces workers to inventory items. When the powers that be tell you that they value their "human resources", don't believe them for a minute. If they could run the shop with robots, they'd get rid of anything and everything human.

Then there's something called a "job description" or "work description." It's a lengthy, detailed, generally incomprehensible document describing an employee's job and all the qualifications and duties involved.

The "job description" usually bears little resemblance to the actual job you perform. Instead, it's a compilation of carefully chosen buzzwords, slogans and acronyms that just happen to give your position enough points in the "classification system" so that it is classified high enough to give you a living wage.

Which leads to the expression "performance review." This is an annual or sometimes semiannual exercise in which one's supervisor allegedly assesses whether you have met your performance goals and then sets new ones for the coming year.

For the early part of my government "career", I took the "performance review" seriously. I actually thought that it was important to meet or even exceed my goals and that this would lead me to a higher position.

Luckily, I eventually figured out that the whole exercise was an elaborate sham. Whether or not you met your goals, or even had goals for that matter, was totally irrelevant. Once the "performance review" was "signed off" by senior management, it was never again seen by human eyes.

If you wanted a promotion, it was a question of who you knew, not what you knew. In fact, it was often the case that the less you knew the better since management could not afford to allow anyone with any expertise to be promoted.

There are lots of other words, phrases and expressions that can set off my PBSD otherwise known as post-bureaucracy stress disorder. But I won't bore you with them here and if you're currently employed in a large public or private organization, you probably already know most of them.

Just remember; while it's true that there is no "I" in "team", there is a "rat" in "bureaucrat" and a whole lot of "cracy" in "bureaucracy."

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