Are you productive when working under demeaning circumstances?

May 15, 2017 § 1 Comment

Dear Colleagues:

Occasionally we all must work with difficult clients. These individuals make an already complex and delicate job more difficult because of their ignorance, rudeness, greed, and sometimes due to their tendency to micromanage everything.  If they only knew that all they are achieving is to diminish interpreters’ productivity by distracting them from their task, and creating an uncomfortable environment that interpreters want to leave when they can. I cannot believe that people do not realize that interpreters do a much better job when they feel respected and may flourish in a place where they like to be.

It is a job we are talking about, not a social club, but respect is a must in all human relations and it should never leave the building. It is more puzzling, infuriating, and insulting when this horrendous environment is created by our peers.

We all have received from some agency emails, letters, work orders, contracts, and other documents where they impose dozens of rules, describe dozens of procedures, and include dozens of warnings and threats. We dislike them. They wake up a negative feeling that instantly predisposes us against that client. This is only worse when an interpreter micromanages our assignments and delivers these litany of requirements, warnings, rules, and so on, every time they retain our services.

Recently I got to see one of these monuments to totalitarian control. An obsessive-compulsive communication of 736 words containing nothing about the assignment. They were all rules conceived by this strange mind. The email covered topics such as when to report to the assignment, times for arriving and leaving, even when there was no assignment left to interpret; it had some prohibitions such as telephonic interpreting from this entity’s office, even if the job you were hired to do had been completed and there was absolutely not a chance that your services would be used again. If this is not enough for you, the document repeated many issues already covered between the parties and therefore already enforceable, such as payments and reimbursement of expenses. The long email talked about running late, dress code, and get this: “standards of performance and professional responsibility”!

After reading this 2-page long “small print” to the email where the assignment information took only 2 lines, I was furious, offended, and saddened.  It was clear because of the client this was, that the email is sent to every interpreter they assign to a job. For the same reasons, it was also crystal clear that most interpreters getting this email every time they worked with this client, would receive the same despicable communication over and over again.

It is insulting and inexcusable that a client who knows you professionally, and knows the level of commitment and excellence of the interpreters they are hiring, may address us this way. After reading the email I felt more like a laborer and less like a professional. It was disheartening and very telling of the opinion this client has of the interpreters they hire (sometimes) daily.

I brought this up on the day I worked for the client. I got an apology from an individual different from the one who decided on the contents of the insulting email, and I was told that in the future all communications addressed to me would not include such demeaning rules. I was not told that the practice of micromanaging other interpreters and treating them as laborers who need the foreman looking over their shoulder would stop.

I understand there may be some new interpreters, or even some colleagues whose language combination does not allow them to be full time interpreters because of the lack of work. I know of the fact that some may need a refresher on the rules and policies. The problem is that, even in that case, the communication should be worded in a way it shows respect for the dignity of the interpreter as a professional and as a person. It should not include the repetitious recitation of the terms of the contract already signed and agreed to by the interpreter, and it should not be included in every single email. Whether an interpreter is a rookie or a veteran, regardless of how often they work for this client, they are not stupid, one communication reminding them of these matters should be enough.

It saddens me so many colleagues are too afraid to express their feelings about these communications, which are delivered by many clients every day all over the world. It frustrates me so many are so used to this mistreatment by the client, that they do not recognize the insult anymore.  I am also convinced that interpreters cannot do their best when they must work for a client who appreciates their work so little, and thinks of them so low.  Now that you know how I feel about this despicable practice, I would like to hear what you think and feel about these micromanaging personalities who run some organizations and institutions we often work with.

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§ One Response to Are you productive when working under demeaning circumstances?

  • Tony, thank you for your thoughts on this topic. I totally understand your frustration with this issue, as I have had similar experiences and irritation dealing with particular interpreting agencies who use condescending language to express their rigid rules and regulations pertaining to policies that interpreters working with their agency must adhere to. I was particularly taken aback when I starting working for a particular agency where I live that deals mostly with court interpreting assignments in the downtown metro area of Minneapolis. At first I avoided working for this agency because of this. But then I came to understand some of the inherent reasons for their rigid rules. It’s the county’s rules (Hennepin County). And if I fail to adhere to the county’s rules, then the agency doesn’t get paid, and therefore cannot pay me. Yes, it was insulting the number of times I read the phrase, “If you do not _____________, it will result in non-payment. If you do not do X, Y, or Z, it will result in non-payment.” There was way too much focus on “the payment” and not enough focus on clear expectations stated in a respectful manner.

    But I have come to appreciate this particular agency (which of course I will not mention by name here) because of the large volume of work opportunities I am offered and because of the respect they give the interpreters in other ways. I am grateful for this agency and I blame the county for all of these rigid rules I must adhere to. And, believe me, there are many ridiculous rules that are a complete waste of time (such as calling to report my arrival in addition to signing in the book at the front desk of the courthouse, calling when I leave the courthouse to sign out, and some other even more unsavory protocol).

    So I just wanted to add that in some cases, demeaning language is used (which should be removed and replaced with more clear, respectful language) but it is because of certain questionable practices of the counties we work in that enforce their rules on the agency and the interpreter. Granted, being threatened repeatedly with “non-payment” is disrespectful and demeaning (and some may say inexcusable, even), but I understand the reasons why their rules are imposed so forcefully (even if it doesn’t need to be stated so rudely)…

    Michael C.

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