I’ve been following a thread in a Facebook group for Salvation Army officers. The original poster was wondering about the normal working hours for officers. What time do we start in the morning? What time do we knock off?
A few officers gave a bit of an idea. Some start early—8:00, 8:30am. Others are responsible for getting children to school and don’t get in until after 9:00. Yet others said it depended on what else was going on. If they had programmes or other work activities that night or the night before they might start a bit later or finish a bit earlier.
That’s all quite fair. However, there was one assumption that seemed to go unchallenged: it seems to be assumed that ‘work’ for an officer happens primarily in an office. The work day, according to this view, begins somewhere between turning on the computer and making coffee.
For many that’s true. Officers in T/DHQ appointments, for instance, often have administrative roles and their work is primarily conducted from behind a desk. Even in a corps there’s always a lot of administrative work to be done.
What I am questioning is the fact that the default setting for a corps officer in the 21st century is administration.
What do you do on a work day when you have nothing else specifically planned? You go into the office. And do officey things. It’s as if our standing orders are to get to the admin block and look busy.
Why don’t we default to something else? Is it that we have to be seen to be working? Do we have to be seen by our employees and other staff to be putting in just as much, if not more? Are we worried that we’ll be setting a bad example if we don’t? I remember hearing one Commissioner say that the most important thing an officer can do is turn up to work on time.
Well, I question this. As I had to explain to someone once (on being questioned for not unnecessarily hanging around their workplace) my being an officer doesn’t mean I live in an office.
Now, I get that admin is important. There will always be another email to reply to and another form from THQ to accidentally shred. But why is it the default? Couldn’t we put something else in there instead?
There are always going to be corps folk who need visiting. There are always going to be books that need reading. There are always going to be biscuits to buy for the Home League. There are always going to be hospitals that need visiting. There are always going to be prisons that need ministry. There are always going to be homeless people who need a feed. There are always going to be kids at the local school who need help with reading. There are always going to be scales that need to be practised. There are always going to be Facebook posts that need to be made. There are always going to be weights to be lifted. There is always going to be furniture that needs moving at your thrift shop. There are always going to be playgrounds to take your kids to. There are always going to be people needing your prayers. There are always going to be sermons that need writing. There are always going to be assignments that need research. There are always going to be friends who need a chat. And yes, there are always going to be payroll forms to sign.
Is there an O&R that says we have to do these things in our office? Not that I know of. Some of them are most appropriately done in the office, but some of them can be done outside as well. Some of them should be. I cannot work on a sermon at the office. I can study at the office, but not with people around. Funnily enough, I spend most of my office time out of office hours.
Now please, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that corps officers shouldn’t spend time in the office. I’m not saying that admin tasks should be blown off. I’m not excusing tardiness and I’m certainly not condoning unreasonable laziness. I’m simply pointing out that officership isn’t a nine-to-five job and there’s no reason why we should fall into that pattern by default.