Thursday, August 09, 2007

Where do my feet go?

My company is going through some big layoffs. We already went through some last year so people are rather ambivalent about this situation. I can still remember last year as we all crowded together between cubes asking the status of each other and others down the corridor. It was sad to watch as week after week people sent goodbye e-mails expressing the mixed emotions, remembering the good times and wishing everyone luck finding a new job.

Many signals had been floating around signaling this new wave of layoffs. The size of the layoffs was the unexpected part. We still have a mini-wave this week that could directly impact the people (including myself) who I interact with regularly. A few people already know and are taking it well. Frankly, we've all been here for awhile and perhaps this is a good way to get some people off their butts to find a better or new challenge. As sad as we all are to see people go, no one's particular sad about going.

My feelings about possibly leaving are very mixed. You may remember that last year I was expressing a yearning for taking a break or quiting. I was unhappy with my life in general which made being at work rather unappealing. Now, I'm in a position where I'm comfortable. I have a job that's not incredibly stressful but still interesting most of the time, and I have an incredibly easy commute.

I sat down with my manager the other day as part of our "regular" meetings. The timing was so that he naturally wanted to ask me how I'm feeling about the situation. It was difficult for me to answer because there are several components to my feelings. He probably sensed my ambivalence about my job status.

The past year has been okay. In every job, I'd say there are phases of boredom and phases of intense interest as projects come and go. Unfortunately, those phases of boredom have been more frequent the past couple of years, partially due to circumstance beyond anyone's control. Still, I've learned a good deal, taking on projects that required me to interact with different people and try new techniques. In the back of my mind, however, I had been feeling an itch to leave. Working on the same product for five years is a long time. I want to learn something new.

When the company relocated, however, my commute became so easy and the work load required little overtime. It was perfect because it gave me more time to enjoy myself with after-work activities. I've been experiencing wonderful work-life balance. That said, it's made me complacent about wanting to leave for my career's sake. I haven't had much interest in developing my career because I just wanted to be happy. This is something I chose not to really bring up with my boss. Who wants people to know that you aren't working that hard?

The factor that I chose to bring up was that about being part of the team. Most of the people who are my equal or above are men. The people I must work most closely with behave with somewhat of a "boys club" mentality. It's subtle, it's probably not completely intentional, but it's there. One person in particular is difficult to read. I am only one of several people who have expressed difficulty working with him.

I'm no social butterfly, there are things I need to learn and practice. But I'd like to think that I've tried to have casual conversations to get a read on what's happening and make suggestions about initiating projects that could be supportive to the department's goals and strategies. With all the "fire fighting" that's been going on for the past year, however, I feel like I've been left to guess and get second-hand hints of what happens. Our monthly department meetings haven't been held since... November? It's difficult for me to contribute with projects and information when I don't know what's happening. I think my boss appreciated that I want to be more involved.

I told my boss that I've been feeling underutilized. My work has been valuable, but once I share my results with people, it seems the run off with it and never talk with me about it again. It's weird to have others mention they've seen my work but I've had no involvement in what they saw. I'm trying not to take this personally, my stance is more that, as a department, I'm not being consulted about things. How can I do my job when I can't see how people react and what actions or discussion arise from my work?

My manager acknowledged some of these deficiencies. I ever offered that if there was something I was failing to do that I'd appreciate some suggestions or pointers on how to improve. It was scary to say all this, but I knew it was important to voice my concerns.

He also asked me about my future plans. First, he asked where I see myself in five years. I told him that somewhere along the line that I'd like to try a slightly different career path to test my interests. If that didn't work out, then I'd come back to my current career. My answer didn't seem to give him what he was looking for, so he narrowed the time range and asked what I'd like to be doing in two years. The answer for that was easy, I told him I want to be working on a different product. The minute I said it, I wondered if I was putting myself at risk. Does this signal to him that it's not in his interest to keep me?

In terms of how I'm feeling about the layoffs, I told him of my ambivalence. I said it's hard no matter what because we went through this last year. Being in an atmosphere where people are scared and distracted, it's tough to be productive. He made it clear that I needed to tell him whether or not I want to be here. The implication in his tone and his facial expression implied to me that if I wanted to be laid off, he'd make sure I got the package. My response was that I enjoy what I do but that's it's difficult in this environment. Hopefully, he also understands that I won't stay if the communications issues don't improve.

It's all a little scary. As much as he hinted that he wants to keep someone in my position, I'm not willing to bet money that I still have a job. Our sister department knows all but for sure they will all be losing their jobs. It's weird to be so open with someone, you never know how much you can trust management. I think for the most part, my boss is a decent person. That said, I know there's a part I can't trust because he has to do what's best for the company (and his buddies). Perhaps I should more firmly express my desire to be here to ensure that I keep my job. But frankly, my ambivalence keeps me from making that effort.

Taking the package is tempting, I would have enough money from the severance to not work through Christmas. Gosh, it would be nice to have some free time eh? I've always wanted to be one of those people who spend hours at the library in the middle of the work day. Then again, what are the chances of getting hired during the holidays? And, sometimes, it's kind of nice to go out on your own terms rather than be pushed out. If I knew for sure what I wanted my next job to be, I would be more tempted to leave, but since I'm still trying to figure that out, I want to enjoy my comfortable position for now.

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