Life After Work

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In the space of two days, I got together with most of my old team. Thursday was the monthly lunch for current and former employees. I actually think I may have left an open thread since I mentioned someone had wanted to chat with me at the lunch. Turned out not to be the usual corporate stuff. Some deadline had to be met and there was pressure put on to come up with an answer and her new boss was on vacation for three weeks. That kind of stuff.

This is not uncommon in the corporate world. I think sometimes places prefer to keep people in crisis mode assuming that everyone will work harder if they are struggling to meet a deadline. What comes with that is when you put pressure on people, mistakes happen and sometimes people crack. I probably shouldn’t lump the entire corporate world into one entity since my experience is mostly limited to the place that used to employ me.

But it also made me see another strength I did have as a manager. There are some people who are just eaten alive by the stress and some of us who can keep our heads in a crisis. Mostly because if you can separate a little bit and realize that nothing is truly life or death and that people can really achieve more than they think but that gentle reassurance tends to work better than outright panic.

Like I think I talked about in the previous post, I was the one spreading calm. So when things got too crazy, I was the one telling her (and others) that things were going to work out just fine. That she’d get it done and we’d manage the other workload. And that even if she didn’t, the world wasn’t going to end.

Constant complaining is rarely productive and people who do that project the wrong kind of vibe. But I think a little bit of blowing off steam about some particularly stupid/stressful work situation is a release that some people need. As a manager, I was the one willing to listen and agree and then give the reassurance that everything was going to be OK. If it got chronic, I’d start to call someone on it but the once in awhile “work sucks” rant, I didn’t have a problem with.

As we were being dismissed and talking future plans to get together, someone said they were going to have a pool party one afternoon this summer and that was Saturday. It was funny because the group split 50/50 – the ones who came to the lunch didn’t come to the pool party. So this was a chance to catch up with the rest of the team.

And there is one who I’m worried about. She’s actually still working. She was on the original cut list but they realized that maybe getting rid of almost an entire department wasn’t a smart idea and they extended her until September to deal with some additional transition of things. She’s another one who really lets the stress of work get to her and she doesn’t have the network of support in her new team that she did in the old. Some of it is driven by fear – fear of losing the job and the unknown that comes with that. And some of it is the crisis mode that seems to be encouraged at work. But the stress is really getting to her and I hope she’s going to be OK.

I was talking with someone else at the end of the party and she expressed some of the same concerns. We also had the same attitude about our recent dismissal – that is was truly a gift.

It was funny because I was talking with Dad on Friday and he said something about how it was OK to be angry. And anger is supposed to be one of the first stages of this sort of process but I’ve never been angry. Well maybe a little at the unethical HR person who straight up lied to me so he could game the system and get the outcome he wanted but that’s about it. Maybe because I had already made my peace with it and maybe because I knew that you can’t expect loyalty from a giant multinational corporation.

The other thing that I find interesting is that there is very little panic among my team. There are three who have lots of work years left and family situations where they need a job and they are all looking but I wouldn’t say they are in panic mode and looking to jump at the first offer. They also all have a mindset that the right opportunity will come along. That might fade over time and it might sound a little naive but I think it is the right attitude to have.

For what its worth, I think there are a couple of takeaways from this experience.

  1. Accept that all jobs are temporary things. If you are lucky, you will have a nice long and successful career and get to leave on your own terms but that is the best you can hope for. At some point, you will leave.
  2. Never assume you are irreplaceable. How many large corporations can you name that went out of business because a single person left? Keep your ego in check.
  3. Develop a life outside work. Work should never be the sum total of your existence. Why? See point 1. You will eventually leave and the last thing you want to be is that empty shell of a person sitting around wondering what to do.
  4. Money is a tool – use it wisely. Money can’t buy happiness but if you make some smart choices and save as much as you can, then you may be able to get to a point where you don’t have to live in fear of losing your job. Part of the reason I’m where I am now is decisions we made along the way.

I guess I could have said that it is about establishing a healthy relationship between work and the other parts of your life. Which is really about knowing who you are and what you value. It is certainly not worth letting the stress and fear that can come with a job run your life.

And maybe this is a sign of a truly toxic work environment when the people who are still working are more stressed than the people who were let go and face a more uncertain future.

It was really good to see everyone again. I’ll leave it with that.

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