Four hours, 3 minutes and 39 seconds — that’s how long I was on the phone recently with the State of Oregon Employment Department.
I totally understand they are overwhelmed with the number of claims because of the global pandemic. However, after more than a year, a system should be in place to eliminate long hold times.
Last year, between May 22 and July 24, I attempted to call the employment division on five different occasions. And when I say that, I don’t mean I dialed the number five times. I tried to connect numerous times for anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours — exasperated each time, I finally opted to fill out a form and mail it.
However, when I recently received a letter directing me to call, I wasn’t given the option to fill out a form. As I prepared myself for a dialing marathon, my husband sensed the tension and jumped into action — topping off my Pepsi and providing a bottle of water.
I was pleasantly surprised that only 11 minutes passed when the busy signal stopped. Although, (note sarcasm) there’s nothing more sincere than a droning recorded voice apologizing in advance for an extended wait time.
After 5 minutes of robo-voice suggesting possible ways to resolve issues online, I was faced with my first choice: Which option do I choose? After listening again, I whittled it down and had a 50-50 chance of picking the right one — unfortunately, Lady Luck wasn’t on my side.
Thus, “Nightmare on 11th Street” began with an estimated wait time of 3 hours and 52 minutes. And if that wasn’t enough, I was thrust into a holding pattern accompanied by sounds that in good conscience cannot truly be called music.
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, playing pop music instead of instrumental “elevator music,” aka Muzak, may reduce a caller’s level of anger when someone finally answers. The Employment Department might want to consider its own Pandora playlist. Of course, they would want to omit such tunes as Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It,” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”
A few minutes shy of 2 hours, I was finally greeted by a human voice. After hitting a roadblock, the representative said she needed to transfer me to a claims specialist. And just like that, I was catapulted back into hold hell — but not before hearing the robotic rigmarole about the call volume with an expected wait of 5 hours and 5 minutes.
If it hadn’t been for John, who provided a Pepsi refill and a turkey pot pie, I might have cracked at that point. After nearly 2 more hours on hold, I spoke to a human again.
I’m happy to report things didn’t play out like “Nightmare on 11th Street, Tammy’s Revenge.” I recognize that the two employment department representatives that I spoke to aren’t responsible for their understaffed situation and have no control over the flood of calls.
Rather than just airing my complaints, I offer some potential solutions for the employment department woes:
• Hire more employees. I hear many Oregonians are still out of work.
• When sending a letter telling people to call, include the option number they should choose so it’s not a guessing game.
• At the very least, eliminate the audio assault by changing the Muzak.
Tammy Malgesini, the former Hermiston Herald community editor, enjoys spending time with her husband and two German shepherds, as well as entertaining herself with random musings.