Most of the time I like my job. I get paid reasonably well, I finish on time, and I don’t take work home with me. It can be stressful sometimes, the workload is often uneven from week to week and from month to month, but generally speaking it’s okay. I’ve worked in far worse conditions before and I appreciate what I have.
When times are good I get complacent. Work’s not bad, I feel secure, and I get into a routine. Maybe I treat myself, go out a little more, spend more on meals out, participate in expensive activities. Maybe I decide to take a month off unpaid, thinking hell, I can delay FIRE by a month right? That would be good for my sanity.
And then there are weeks when I’m reminded of why I need to FIRE as soon as possible.
This was one of those weeks.
Bizarre Management Logic
I work in a team of around 20 to 25 people – it fluctuates from month to month. We have 3 managers in our team. Well, we did. When I returned to work in March after two months off I discovered that a big new project had started and two of the managers had been taken away to work on it.
It’s quite an exciting project and could revolutionise our data platforms, the way we interact with customers and so on. However, it didn’t need two senior managers to go and work on it. They could have taken two of the more experienced members of the team and kept our management structure in place. They could have hired an extra body or two, maybe contractors if they didn’t want more permanent staff, although I’m not sure why they’d be concerned about having too many staff as we’re a team that is always in demand and there is nearly always a high churn of staff.
Anyway, I got back to work in March to find our team only had one manager. And that remaining manager had split out all the different activities he and the other managers would normally do and spread them among the team. Hence why I have now been given the responsibility of integrating another team with ours – this is normally a management type role that I wouldn’t do. We now have someone looking after the resource of the team and the holiday tracker, someone looking after improvements, someone looking after citizenship activities, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a little extra responsibility, and I think the new project that our managers are working on is a great project for the company to embark on. The problem is, those two managers haven’t been replaced – not even by two new staff or contractors, and so we’re now all struggling to continue with our usual workload and do all the extra management activities required of us.
So my question is, what was the logic behind this decision? Why did they decide to take two (out of the three) managers out of the team to work on the new project when any our more experienced staff could have done it?
A Fraught Meeting
Yesterday we had a team meeting – not the whole team I should add, just a subsection of 6 of us – and I posed the question to our manager.
Our manager skirted around the issue for a while. Firstly he suggested that I didn’t think the new project was important enough, to which I replied that was not my thinking at all, I agree it’s an important project and that’s why extra bodies should have been brought in to support. Secondly he asked why I wasn’t more excited about the responsibilities I’d been given. I replied that I was appreciative of those responsibilities, it’s just that I don’t have the time to do those and do my job that I’m actually paid to do within the hours I’m given.
I pointed out that we were all under significant resource pressures with our workloads officially at 125% of capacity. I explained that, whilst I appreciate the extra management type activities because they’re interesting and good for our development, they are also a big strain and it is very difficult to try and do everything within the time given to us.
At this point my manager said this:
“That’s interesting, because our manager – XXXX XXXX (name redacted) – says that when he walks around at 5pm everyone has gone home. So clearly you are all able to do everything in the time, or you’d still be working past that.
In other companies, and even in other parts of our company, people regularly work long hours to get everything done and that is expected of them.”
It took a moment for this to sink in.
Now, the first thing to say here is that my contract explicitly states that I work 35 hours a week. The second thing to say is that I usually start at 8am, I usually take a lunch break of around 45 minutes (sometimes less, sometimes more), and I usually finish just after 4pm, again sometimes a little later if I have meetings or things I need to finish off.
The point is, I shouldn’t be expected to stay past 5pm, because that doesn’t take into account the fact I start quite early, and if I did that I’d be working 8+ hours a day, well over my 7 contracted hours. I’m already doing more than my my contracted hours, not necessarily by much, but probably at least a few hours each week. And I’m one of the faster members of the team, I know some of my colleagues who are logging in after they get home to finish off pieces of work and set code running overnight.
And look, I understand there are people out there in other companies who work way more hours than that and don’t necessarily get paid overtime. Indeed I’ve worked in jobs before like that. I remember working in a supermarket and regularly starting early and finishing late. I remember when I worked in Italy I nearly always started before 9am and finished after 6pm, sometimes staying as late as 8pm or 9pm to get something finished.
But this is the thing – I’ve stayed in my current job for a long time (about 6 years now) because I’m aware it’s a good deal. I’m aware that I have a good work/life balance and I’m appreciative of that. If I’m going to lose that, if the culture is going to change such that we have to work long hours every day to get everything done and that is what is expected of us, well then maybe I need to start looking for another job where I can get my work/life balance back or where I can get higher pay.
My manager asked me if I was unable to complete my workload and I stated that I have a long list of activities that I’m having to prioritise and that sooner or later I would have to work longer hours to catch up. He seemed oddly satisfied with this response, as though that was what he was hoping for.
I asked how long this would continue and he didn’t answer – it seems they don’t really know how long the big new project will take. The truth is, it’s probably going to take a long time, definitely several months, possibly years. The implication being the long stressful hours are here to stay.
Is it a test?
It struck me today that this could be a test by the higher management. Take out some bodies from middle management and see how the teams cope. It’s not just our team that is adjusting to this new reality.
I wonder if our managers are aware that if we get by perfectly fine without them then their jobs may disappear?
It has been a while actually since the last round of redundancies, probably a few years now, and I’m pretty sure they normally take place every couple of years. When our current CEO came in a couple of years back he immediately put in a hiring freeze, and so we watched as our team got gradually smaller as people left and weren’t replaced. That was an interesting one – it wasn’t in the news (not as far as I recall) but it did result in our workforce significantly shrinking.
I remember as well a few years back when the number of managers in our team was reduced from five to three. Is it about time to see if that number can be reduced further, from three to one? There is a certain ruthlessness in companies such as mine, even the mild mannered ‘nice guy’ managers up there make some hard nosed decisions from time to time.
Time to FIRE
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
– Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner
Sometimes I think us working folk are a little like the replicants in Blade Runner. Hunted down. Constantly looking over our shoulder. The CEOs and shareholders don’t really like us – salaries are expensive – and so they try to weed out the staff that aren’t adding any value and pick them off, regardless of whether they have a family, a mortgage to pay, or a pet cat to feed.
Now, I like to think I add value to the business. The fact that I am constantly in demand seems to suggest that is the case. But if they can extract some extra work out of me for the same pay, or if they can get the same amount done with less staff, then that is what they’ll try to do, and I can see the logic to that. I don’t like it as I’m on the receiving end, but I understand it.
Which I guess is why I was happy to see my manager explicitly say that that’s what they were trying to achieve – to get us all to work more hours for the same pay. At least now I know where I stand.
But it’s weeks like these that remind me of my overall objective – FIRE. FIRE being the point at which I can turn around and say actually, you know what, I don’t need your annual bonus, I don’t need this job. In the meantime though I will keep looking over my shoulder.
What can I do to get to FIRE sooner?
Well firstly, I must kill my complacency. I’ve got lazy recently. I need to go back to cooking my own dinners and bringing in packed lunches. I need to go back to constantly checking for better utility deals, better mortgage rates, and so on. I need to keep saving as much as possible each month so I can invest more and escape the world of work as soon as possible.
I need to start doing some matched betting again. I saw TheFireStarter and EarlyRetirementGuy both made over £3k each last month, tax free. That’s more than my annual bonus was after tax was deducted.
I need to possibly consider other roles within and even outside the company, better paying roles that will bring me to FIRE quicker. I need to get a new lodger in soon to help cover the costs of my house.
I need to get fit – mentally, financially, and physically. Now is the time to sort shit out.
Thanks for reading,