I don’t know how many people know this, but the Romans used to have a saying that when there was trouble up ahead their thumbs would prick.
I’m not sure what a pricking thumb would feel like, but what I do know is that at the start of this year I had a bad feeling that something was wrong with the company. Perhaps it was the fact that the empty desks hadn’t been filled. Perhaps it was the fact that one of the bosses vanished one day and the next thing we knew there was a general email winging its way around the office saying that her position had been re-organised out of existence and that she’d left. Perhaps it was the fact that the old head of HR left work on a Friday and was out of a job by the next Monday. Or just maybe it was the moment that I heard that the new financial bloke they’d praised to the skies just a few weeks before had left the company because his skills set didn’t quite fit the position (in which case why hire him in the first place?).
All I knew was that I sensed trouble ahead. So I did what I could – I raised my game, kept my head down and did absolutely nothing that could be construed as even skating close to the outer limits of the rules.
It worked – by the time that I had my annual review I had a better idea what the hell was wrong with the department than my boss in the US did. Not, perish the thought, that I had any intention of telling my boss that he was the problem as he was a spineless invertebrate who ran around in circles yapping hysterically at the first sign of a crisis whilst the rest of us did something more useful – like solving the fucking problem.
I passed my annual review anyway – and an odd one it was. I had a line manager in the States (my actual boss) and a kind-of boss in the UK (my titular boss). They both took me through the review – I was doing well, they’d noticed that I’d kicked my performance up a notch or two and whilst there were one or two small things to work on, I was doing well. I even got a pay rise and a pat on the head for being a good little flunkey.
The review was in April. By the time that May arrived that pricking of the thumbs hadn’t gone away though. I was right. At the end of my weekly meeting with my titular manager, when I briefed him on what was happening, he cleared his throat, looked keenly at the air above my head and then told me that the company was undergoing a review of positions and unfortunately my position was one that was potentially at threat, as the US office could do my job just as well. There was going to be a review process. It might lead to me being made redundant. Then he passed me a letter setting everything out in black and white and gave me the afternoon off.
I stumbled out of the office to my desk, sat down and read the letter, which was written in high bureaucratic bullshit. It said that the company was ‘identifying synergies’ (I challenge anyone to spot a synergy, even if it stripped naked, painted itself purple and danced on the nearest table) and that my position was one that had been highlighted for possible termination.
I didn’t stamp on it, spit on it or set fire to it and then blow it through the air conditioning, although that might have been fun. Instead the shutters came down on my face and I left the office, pausing only to call Kathleen and tell her everything. Her language in response was very similar to what I was thinking.
The ‘review process’ was, of course, nothing of the sort. They’d made their decision. My job was being moved to the US. I would not be going with it. I pointed out the fact that the press in the UK would not be very happy at the thought of the five-hour time difference and that the company would get fewer mentions. They replied that the press would be fine with waiting as the company was so important that the wait would be worth it. The moment that statement left the mouth of my UK boss I realised that a) it was pointless to argue and b) that he (and therefore by extension the entire higher management team) didn’t have the faintest fucking clue how the press worked. All my hard work at getting a fast response to interview requests from the press was about to go circling down the plughole. I kept the shutters down on my face and didn’t laugh at him and tell him that he delusional – if the press can’t get a fast response then they’ll just ignore the company and go with their rivals instead. It would have been a waste of breath.
No, there was just one thing in my mind – to get a good redundancy payout. To be professional, to offer constructive comments and to be polite – even if I wanted to tell them that they were a bunch of collective dipshits with the combined IQ of a concussed earthworm. The UK branch of the company was driving this, the part that had been split off the US entity. And I wasn’t alone – others were going, including a 20-year veteran, whose position had been similarly negotiated out of existence.
On the process ground until finally I was able to make it out of the company a week ago with the equivalent of three months’ salary and a gold-plated reference. And all during that time guess how much help and advice and support I got from my actual boss in the US? Yup, nada. The invertebrate stayed true to form. Oh, he was very sorry and upset – but didn’t raise a finger to help me.
So, here I am, a free agent. Possibly about to become the editor of a major UK financial magazine, touch wood, if things work out. And if I do get the position, hum…. Should I seek quotes from my old company about future stories? Could that be seen as favouritism?
Perhaps I’d better not. In fact I think that the knife should go into their backs as I smile in their faces. After all – I know where all the weak points are. I know where the bodies are buried - I am going to have some fun!