Lunch paper: the evolution of staff reports

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From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.
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[Quarterly returns of Work.]
Institute of Geological Sciences [Monthly work return.]
Institute of Geological Sciences [Monthly work return.]
[British Geological Survey Monthly work return.]

III Lunch paper: the evolution of staff reports[edit]

At what stage the Director decided that he must have periodic reports on his staff is not known, though no doubt it was at the stage when the organization became too large for him to inspect every man's work each year. Certainly the system of 'Quarterly Returns of Work' submitted by each geologist to his District Surveyor, was in use by Geikie's term as Director General and these three-monthly reports on 'number of square miles surveyed' and 'miles of boundary mapped' lasted into the 1960s. The author remembers well his introduction to that vital item of equipment, the map measurer, a small calibrated wheel used to evaluate the latter vital statistic!

Probably coincident with the 'Quarterly Return' was the 'Annual Confidential Report' which was certainly in operation by 1880 for we have, fortuitously, a copy of the ACRs for that year in the archives. Those for England and Wales staff were compiled by Bristow, then Director, while those for Scotland and Ireland are in the hand of Ramsay, the Director General.

Bristow's reports give details of the areas surveyed for the past three years (1877, 1878, 1879) — which averaged between 21 sq miles for Whitaker and 156 for Ussher — and a short and sharp comment on the individual concerned. In the light of their subsequent careers some of these are revealing and the lamentations of succeeding generations of District Surveyors and District Geologists can be anticipated in Bristow's sentences - "Careful but slow as slow can be", "Always in arrears with his office work", "Results difficult to get", "Can't be trusted to do solid geology", "Maps done very roughly"! Most surprising of Bristow's comments were those on Whittaker, who was shortly to become a District Surveyor: "Inadequate amount of work. Difficult to move. Obstructive and needlessly controversial, a kind of mutineer. Does not obey instructions. Makes absurd excuses for staying too long in one place".

Ramsay's assessments were much less critical. With the exception of a mild criticism of Kinahan — who as District Surveyor in Dublin had been 'at variance with his Directors, Jukes and Hull, to the extent of complete insubordination' — all Ramsay's geese were swans. Excellent, zealous and satisfactory were the most used words in his comments, though poor Leonard in Ireland had 'a fall whilst engaged in the survey of County Mayo. This appears to have ultimately affected his brain'. Leonard retired the following year at the age of 40, but lived for another twenty eight years.

The Annual Confidential Report is still with us.The current variety involves a complicated form on which the Reporting Officer grades the victim in a complicated series of 'Boxes' and the Countersigning Officer adds his comments which are as much a view of the Reporting Officer as of the reportee! The subjects are still not allowed to see the reports but may now ask about the recommendations on 'Suitability for promotion'.

In 1971 the venerable Quarterly Return of Work was superceded by a Monthly Work Return. This was designed as a management tool to enable Uhit and Divisional Heads to keep some control of their burgeoning staff. The new form was smaller but had entries covering a number of new activities — advisory work, conferences, training, etc. , but it was said that the completed forms were filed away without any analysis by the Directorate. They were of some value at unit level.

By 1974, however, the advent of 'Commissioned Research' and the need to assess the costs thereof, made it essential to have a Return which was quantifiable and a new form was introduced which lasted with minor variations for ten years. These returns had code numbers for every conceivable project and administrative activity and were collated by computer to give Divisional and Unit Heads a monthly printout showing the time and expenditure on each heading. For a long time these computer returns were so long in gestation that Divisional Admin Officers — a new post needed to cope with the ever increasing tide of paper — had to maintain their own manuscript records.

In 1984 the evermore intrusive activities of NERC into the financial affairs of its component bodies produced a new form, common to all NERC institutes, which is comprehensible only to computers and is virtually useless for management purposes.