Everyone reading this is probably well aware that I’m not what anyone would describe as a “party” person. In most cases, hell really is other people – especially other people crammed in a room studiously avoiding any topic that could even possibly be considered controversial (and therefore interesting). In most cases the Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Party is effectively a very long lunch in which everyone carries on the conversations we would otherwise be having over the cubicle walls.
These Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Parties are said to be morale boosters. For some, maybe they are. If you should ever want to perk up my flagging spirit all that’s really necessary is cutting me loose a few hours early to hang out with the critters. It has the added benefit of not requiring anyone to reserve the back room somewhere and order in a deli tray, so it’s kind of a win-win.
Still, though, if I’m honest, the $13 price of admission is a small price to pay for getting four hours away from the cube farm without burning off any of my own vacation time so it isn’t an utterly lost cause.
The Gods on Olympus are in the process of rolling out a new pay system. Right now they’re in the phase of that process where they’re going all out to sell it as a step ahead and “in the best interests of the workforce.” That means lots of memos and meetings about what we can expect to get out of this new system. They’re trying to get employee buy in – acquiescence if not consensus. In my experience the only reason anyone ever does that is because some special expert on management theory has told them it’s important.
I’ve been on the job now just shy of 15 years. Most of that time I’ve worked under the old General Schedule, the pay tables that have racked and stacked bureaucrats since 1949. The General Schedule is dull stuff. Movement through the pay table is predictable based on your grade and years of service. For a hot minute in the late 2000s, I lurked a while under the National Security Personnel System before it faded away ingloriously as a massively expensive but failed program. Since then, I’ve again been a creature of the general schedule.
I’ve been around long enough to come to appreciate dull and predictable when it comes to how your pay is governed. Fancy new systems with layer upon layer of review, no transparency about how your final rating is arrived at, and no way to predict from year to year how much money might be available in the pot to pay out “performance bonuses” make me all kinds of nervous and jerky. Experience tells me that if the big bosses are trying to sell something this hard, it’s a good time to put my hand on my wallet so I can make sure their’s doesn’t get there first.
When I see stories like the death of Malcolm Young at age 64, I’m even more convinced of the need to retire at the earliest available moment. All life is a gamble. Sure, your day is probably going to go without much trouble – or it might be the day you get run down by a bus. Malcolm was 64 – an age that I increasingly think of as “not that old.” He has the resources of a lifetime spent as a rock star to draw on to fight the disease that struck him down. He died anyway.
Just last week, someone in the office next door went to meet her maker. She left Friday afternoon, called out on Monday, and on Tuesday she was dead. She had four decades of good and faithful service under her belt. She died anyway.
Given my lifestyle – with its love of red meat and carbs – I can’t reasonably expect to be a centenarian. I’m under no illusions there. Still, I don’t intend to die in harness, although I understand random chance could have something to say about that. As of right now, unless Congress weighs in and changes the rules mid-game, I need to reach the magic combination of 57 years of age and at least 30 years of service. I’ll land on that milestone on June 1, 2035. It’s a date that still seems awfully far away, but not nearly so far as it was once.
The very fact that time is limited drives me to gather up what I can as fast as I can and then get on with enjoying that (hopefully) long, long final weekend. I’m determined that I’m not going to allow myself to be the guy in the office who sticks around until 70 out of fear that the money might run out before I do. At least I’m well served that my desired lifestyle in retirement is largely quiet and relatively inexpensive. As long as I’ve got coffee, a few books, a quiet place in the woods, and a handful of critters warming themselves at my hearth, my needs and wants are largely met.
Now I’ve just got to try to not drop dead before I can get all the pieces lined up.
When all other practical solutions fail our response is to launch a reorganization and add an extra layer or two of management. Actually, we don’t even wait for other solutions to present themselves. Reorg-and-add is the default solution to most every situation. It’s become as regular an expected as the tides at this point.
I’ve been with my present organization a little over six years now. In that time I’ve had seven different first line supervisors, sat in five different cubes, and have had at least three wholesale changes in what my job is actually supposed to entail. It’s all the kind of churn you learn to live with as part of the big, faceless bureaucracy. The cogs in the machine aren’t precisely interchangeable, but that never stops someone who’s been visited by the Good Idea Fairy from trying to cram the pieces in anyway.
I met my newest boss briefly today. He mostly said hello in passing and didn’t stop to chat. I like that in a boss. The only question, really, is will he stick around long enough for it to matter whether he’s one of the good ones or one of the bad ones. Most come and go with such regularity that the difference between good and bad is negligible. Old boss, new boss, it doesn’t much matter anyway; just tell me what you want and I’ll get it done.
I’m already hearing the rumors that in a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months, we’ll be on the move again. If the rumor mill can be believed, the next move is back to the set of cubes I first occupied way back in summer 2011. If you’ve got just the right amount of cynicism in your system, there’s something poetic about riding through six years of churn and turbulence and finding yourself right back in the same place that you started.
I’m debating on whether or not it’s even worth unpacking my office boxes this time, because surely in six months the Good Idea Fairy will make a return appearance and we’ll be adding another layer and shuffling about again. Past performance is no guarantee of future behavior, but experience tells me it’s an awfully strong indicator of what to expect.
Of the two interviews I went on in the last month, I’ve received one “we regret to inform you letter,” and one call back for another meeting. Based on my experiences with Uncle’s hiring process, that’s actually a decent result. The call back means I most likely was at the top of the list after the interview process and stood a 30 minute sit down away from getting an offer. Normally I’d feel good about that… though of course you and I know I always prefer to do things that hard way.
The first email out of my box this morning was a quick “thank you for the opportunity to interview, but I no longer wish to be considered for this position.” I was more flowery and diplomatic than that, but the end result was the same – I put a knife in what was just about a guaranteed path out. It’s an uneasy feeling, especially knowing that it may very well poison that well for a long time going forward.
Still, I know taking myself out of contention was the right decision. During the interview, the panel chair mentioned a two word phrase that filled me with an unholy dread – noting in his introduction that the position for which I was interviewing was designated as a “team lead.” Now I can tell you right from the jump that ol’ Jeff doesn’t like the sound of that one little bit. I’ve done my stint as an honest to God supervisor and the very last thing I wan to do is step foot back on that slippery slope. It’s doubly true when that lowest rung on the management ladder comes with all sorts of responsibility but none of the actual authority. Worse, it comes without even more than a nominal bump in salary.
More headache for the same money is bad math no matter what way you look at it. That’s what really drove me to put an end to it. It doesn’t put me in an better a position than I was in a month ago… but it also doesn’t make things even worse so we’ll just call it a draw.
“Sooooo… not many people have signed up for the pot luck next week.” Because I somehow managed to be anointed Keeper of the Pot Luck Sign Up Sheet, this fact wasn’t a surprise to me. The fact that a week before this kind of officially designated team building mandatory fun event, almost no one had signed up to participate shouldn’t have surprised anyone, really… but it does, time after time.
You understand going in to this line of work that it’s not Silicon Valley. We’re never going to have a water slide in the lobby and a full bar in the break room. Our bosses aren’t going to rent out a beach house or ski lodge. What we end up with, then, are events planned to “make do” with whatever minor leeway we do have in terms of building team spirit and morale. Of those, the pot luck lunch is the staple.
Maybe there was a time when this kind of thing was popular – make a dish, bring it in, pass it around. Smoke, joke, and relax for an hour or two. Now that we can’t smoke, no one can take a joke, and a long lunch is looked on as the ultimate form of slacking, I just can’t imagine why it’s not drawing a bigger crowd. Face it, I cook for myself in the evenings out of necessity – making another dish to carry along on the commute is just another layer of hassle I’m ok with avoiding.
The only thing I can tell you is that my morale has never been significantly improved because of a plate full of lukewarm and/or over crock-potted food offered up in some drab, windowless conference room. I’m willing to stipulate that the intentions here are probably good, but the execution is something between bland and ineffective. Sure, if it makes anyone feel better, I’ll send out another reminder, but you can go ahead and mark me down as a hard no.
I had another interview this afternoon. Different job. Different organization. Still in roughly the same geographic area I’m in now. It seemed to go well enough, though I may be a spectacularly bad judge of that sort of thing. I generally count not tripping myself on the way in the door as a personal victory.
What I’ve found in interviewing for positions in the local area is that you tend to run into some of the same people. Repeatedly. In both recent occasions, I’ve known at least one of the other people interviewing for the position. Some people would find that awkward. Maybe I should be one of them, but I’m not. One of the helpful skills I’ve developed over the last decade and a half is that I just don’t take any of this stuff personally. And for the most part it really, truly isn’t personal – because the bureaucracy just doesn’t have the time or inclination to care about you the individual. That may sound negative, but with hundreds of thousands of moving widgets it’s generally just a function of trying to find the one that appears like it would mesh best with the other cogs that are already in motion and then cramming it into the available opening.
Look, I’d rather get offered one or both of these jobs than not. I mean I wouldn’t have bothered putting on a tie if I wasn’t at least interested. What I’m not doing is giving these decisions a lot of life or death credibility no matter which way they break. I’d like the chance to do some different work and if neither one of these pans out it seems like I’ve at least cracked the code on getting my resume in front of the people making decisions. Having sent out hundreds of resumes in my time with Uncle, I’m secure in saying that’s easily 95% of the battle.
The other 5% is about selling yourself like a used car. If you’re feeling a little dirty when you’re done, you’ve probably done it right. Talk about life skills no one ever bothers to teach you.