Work and Road Etiquette

February 6, 2019

An old saying has become popular where I work- “stay in your own lane”. I work at a college, and lately there seems to be concern sweeping the campus that those of us that work in the administration are trying to do other people’s jobs. Employees in the registrar’s office are giving tips on how to navigate IRS data retrieval. Advisors are giving students pointers on their algebra homework. The head of student life is telling liberal arts majors that clubs are a waste of time and they should be preparing for the TEAS test.

Of course, none of what I described above is actually happening. I’m not really sure why this phrase recently became part of my work culture. I just know that someone way, way above me on the food chain sent me an email recently with that very phrase in the title line. This person was actually wrong in making this particular accusation. I had made a mistake, one I’m not going to get into detail about here, but it wasn’t because I was rewriting my job description. I had been asked to help out in the office I was told I was infringing upon. My critic wasn’t aware of the situation, so I let it go.

But it got me thinking. What kind of wisdom for a college, or even corporate culture, is “stay in your own lane”.

How many times have you been driven mad by the words- “that’s not my department..” “I need to transfer your call.” “You need to email this person between the hours of 11:02 pm and 11:04 pm, the night after the moon is the fullest, during a month that is only four letters, and, only then, will your questions be answered.’

I work with people, students. When they come into my office, many of them are scared. A lot of them aren’t sure they fit in, will ever fit in, or figure out how to find their classroom, pass a math class or figure out the portal, (yes, for those of you not in academia, it is a portal. It is on your computer, and figuring out your portal is the key to everything. Really.).

I check on their financial aid. I do not work in financial aid, but I explain the difference between a loan and a grant, and remind them, every single time I see them, to do their financial aid.

I talk to them about the learning center, and point out how important it is to stay ahead in their classes, and take advantage of the free tutoring, online and on campus.

I tell them where the nearest Starbucks is, where to find cheap indian food, and when Dunkin Donuts has the discounts. I don’t work for yelp.

At work, I have a job. My title is Outreach and Dual Enrollment Specialist. I am currently lucky enough to work in our Advising office. All day long, I tell students that want to talk about which schools to transfer to, to make an appointment to see an advisor. I tell students that want to know how to fill out a master promissory note, to check in with Financial Aid. If someone wants to drop a class, the only person to see is someone in the Registrar’s office, and, quite often, I will walk them over and show them the form.

I know there are limitations to what I know, and what I can do. I know that bad advice can cost someone hundreds of dollars. I know that each office where I work has an amazing team of professionals trained to answer all questions related to just about anything.

I also do have a lot of answers. I received my Associate’s degree where I work. I’ve spent time in Career Services, IT, Mission Support, Admissions, administered placement tests and helped out on FAFSA day.

I don’t know it all, but I know a lot. And I know when to kick the ball, or make the call, or take a student by the hand and bring them over to meet with an advisor.

I work with people, students, and my job, no matter what the description is, is to help them. If there isn’t anyone answering the phone, or I’m the third person they’ve been sent to, I’m going to do my job. I might not be able to resolve their issue, but I can offer them a seat. I can listen to how their day is going, hear about what they hope to do with their degree. I can share a little of my story, not much, they aren’t there to hear my story.

They are at college to learn. I work at a college and am privileged to help them, from time to time.

Stay in your lane is a term that is useful when you are driving down a highway. I’m not on a road trip at work. I’m the person on the side of the road who is there to help people find their way back to school. For many, it’s their first time in college, and it’s the first time someone in their family went to college. It is a privilege to hear their stories, and spend a few minutes doing whatever I can to make sure they come back tomorrow, and next semester, until they’ve moved on.

Cliches and credos should be avoided, at work, at least. There is no one size fits all phrase that applies to everything. The customer isn’t always right. Do more with less is sometimes just not possible. And circling back later isn’t always effective as getting things done now.

So let’s say what we mean to each other, and avoid warnings that come from too much time behind the wheel.

I’m not good at staying in my own lane on the high way, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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