A Plea for Slow Admin

It is time I allowed myself a little grumble, though whether it comes under the heading of ‘justifiable murmuring’ I am not sure. You can judge. The positive side is what I call a plea for slow admin.

During my ‘active phase,’ when the side effects of chemotherapy are comparatively few, I try to fit in a great deal: answering letters/emails, dealing with the garden and household maintenance, reading, praying and generally living monastic life to the full. Unfortunately, I often find myself drowning in a sea of peremptory demands and calls to action regarding matters other people think urgent. Sometimes, one just sighs and gets on with things, as one sees that HMRC has decided to change, yet again, the way in which our Trustees’ Report and Accounts should be presented. At others, one wonders.

Take, for example, the never-ending stream of requirements for Safeguarding. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that the community here is utterly opposed to countenancing any form of abuse, but the demands made of us as a cloistered community, with no chaplain and no direct contact with children or vulnerable adults, occasionally remind me of sledge hammers and walnuts. We have erected a six foot close-board fence to ensure that neither we nor any of our guests can have any ‘accidental’ unsupervised contact with neighbouring children; we have drafted and redrafted endless policy statements, attended several Safeguarding training courses, paid the annual fee demanded by the CSAS (though I’m not sure what it is spent on), and generally tried to ensure that we are scrupulous in observing ‘best practice’. It is not enough. I must now call our Trustees together as soon as possible so that we can pass a formal resolution adopting certain provisions I can’t see us implementing because they don’t apply to us (see above, the reference to having no chaplain, etc.) Why, I want to ask, why?

In the same week our insurers coolly announced, just a few days before the renewal of our insurance policy, a whole host of new conditions that I have scarcely got my head round. Suffice to say, they are going to involve us in more form-filling, and make the business of employing tradesmen to do various jobs round the house that we can’t manage (eg electrical work) more difficult. It didn’t help that, after thirteen years of doing business with them, they addressed us as ‘Dear Sirs’ and expressed doubt about some of our requirements although they were clearly stated in the pre-renewal questionnaire we filled in.

I am sure you can add your own examples to the above. What genuinely worries me is that all the box-ticking is not only time-consuming but also a way of opting out of responsibility. Our insurers inform us that if we haven’t done certain things, all our insurance is immediately voided. Equally, I could argue that so long as we have ticked the boxes, we bear no further responsibility. But, of course, we do. Prudence isn’t optional, and one would have to be remarkably silly to think it was. However, the time constraints imposed are often unrealistic. Fine if one has a staff with nothing better to do than fill in the forms and trustees with no private lives to live, but the truth is, we all have many demands on us and do the best we can. We get by, but only just. Those who fill in their tax returns at the eleventh hour each year will understand.

Just as there is a movement for slow reading and slow living, I wonder if we could start a movement for slow admin, allowing us all time to think before we return those forms and adopt those recommended practices. Perhaps the very slow Broadband hereabouts is a help in that direction, but it is not one I would choose. We all want a world that is safe for everyone, where there is no corruption and no mismanagement of resources, but I’m not convinced that the proliferation of demands for instant responses and tick-box conformity is the way to go. What do you think?

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14 thoughts on “A Plea for Slow Admin”

  1. I used to work in government, and was involved in disability improvents for the building which obviously had ramifications for accommodation matters and the dreaded ‘Health and Safety’ tick box syndrome.

    It strikes me that health and safety started a lot of the box ticking that now pervades life. Every school trip or Scout activity involves risk assessments but no one could legislate for an accident or some stupid action that could lead to one – a child throwing a stone into a camp fire for example.

    Now tick boxes are used by insurance companies to avoid paying out for any number of reasons and teachers and doctors spend more and more time on administration rather than teaching or making people well again. Ticking the wrong box on a tax return can have economic consequences for the poor form filler.

    I wonder if we will ever get back to those happy days when things were simpler and less box ticking and careful thinking of what one writes on forms gives way to just being truthful, fair and reasonable to others.

  2. I support the slow admin idea, perhaps an initial reply to those making demands, such as ‘All of our sisters are busy at the moment but your correspondence is important to us so we will endeavour to respond within 26 weeks. If your matter is more urgent, please pray that it may reach the top of our in tray sooner’.

  3. Bureaucratic red tape is the bane of many people’s lives. I am sorry it is a barrier preventing you from practising your true calling. In the States, there is a Paperwork Reduction Act. We need one too.

  4. What distresses me about the mountains of paperwork is that nonbody actually reads what has been written. We have recently been involved in helping a friend whose landlord has been bullying him. Vast Everests of documentation have been duly submitted to the relevant Courts but it is perfectly obvious that they have been unopened. The other reaction have to the ‘safeguarding’ rules is that any well organised criminal or pervert is well capable of circumnavigating the rules. It is those like yourselves, where there is no relevance, who suffer!

  5. I must confess total frustrated agreement. I try to ignore it all. Many decades ago when in teacher training a lecturer who had spent the 1950s in a one classroom school had to fill in the classroom dimensions each year in a form filling exercise. Convinced that no one cared or read them over a period of five years he reduced the size of the classroom to that of a matchbox and fitted 40 children into it. No one ever commented on it.

    Maybe I am cynical in my old age but it is all so much nonsense, a true Kafka nightmare.

  6. and they seldom allow the time for a ‘wee sit down’ many of us require after every apparently easy task. However, that may be the only opportunity to have a wee think!

  7. Not all change is progress. Things have been slipping down this particular slope for quite a while now, fuelled by an unhealthy combination of (a) what I call “defensive admin” in a world in which litigation and other mechanisms of challenge can make an admin.job all but impossible and (b) the “computer says no” mentality behind which too many are tempted to shelter in order, I suspect, to save themselves the bother of having to think things through properly on their own account.

    As Safeguarding governor of a special school which covers a vast spectrum of need, includes profound multiple disability, I not only have to take my turn on this benighted hamster’s wheel of bureaucracy myself but see that others do likewise. If I and they don’t, the school will fail its OFSTED even if judged Outstanding in every other respect. I’d mind less if I really thought the children were benefiting from it all, but at times I actually think the opposite. Quite how we get this kind of genie back in its bottle, I don’t know. Not for the first time in life, prayer is the only option I can think of!

  8. Yes, I concur. Our local community music groups have to take out liability insurance when they gather at a church to play. At the University, we now have endless forms for each student, documenting their progress through the program. (Right foot first, check, left foot next, check). Accountability is important, but we are atoning for the sins of others in many of these requirements.
    I try to collect these admin tasks in a pile, and then do something pleasant, along with ticking off tick boxes. Cooking something nice is a good distraction. Baking bread? Or having a nice coffee or tea.

  9. Totally agree..as a layteacher I have had to take numerous tests/video recall/ and more to assure our sunday school is SAFE…it continues in our non-profit..being given 5 days to quickly read and return forms re insurance. Unreal…I agree with your perception and your excellent share.

  10. Slow administration or minimal administration or only what is necessary. Lots of paperwork and lots of activity often has an inverse relationship to reaching the desired goal.

    All the best to you as you plow through things

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