This post wasn’t going to be this post.
It was supposed to be just me and a couple of anonymous internet readers, talking about having unexpected guilty feelings related to quitting and retiring early. (In just two months, in April of 2015, I’ll be leaving my job forever.)
Because, up until a couple of days ago, that’d been the emotion I’d been grappling with most intensely: Guilt.
Gosh, I work with nice folks, I had been telling myself. How can I possibly up-and-leave them? Somehow, my plans felt wrong. Selfish.
So I carefully prepared a blog entry about how I’ve been working to overcome these ridiculous emotions. I picked out a few images, made a couple of bad jokes here and there, and described the techniques I was using to battle my idiotic, irrational foe. I thought the sharing might be potentially useful for people working through the last stages of an early-retirement plan. Maybe it’d help them push through the guilt and quit.
That all changed today, when my manager kindly decided to take care of my little guilt problem by being a colossal fucknut.
Thanks for resolving my issues, Mr. Manager.
I feel much, much better about leaving you now.
So instead of writing a potentially useful post, it’s turned into a full-on rant.
Sorry about that.
We got a massive blizzard earlier this week. Two feet of heavy white stuff accumulated between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning in Massachusetts.
As luck would have it, I was out of the office for the entirety of the event, taking some scheduled vacation. (I’ve been burning my available days in attempt to make the last few months before quitting move a little bit faster.)
So I didn’t have to worry about commuting through the snow on Monday. And I didn’t have to work from home on Tuesday, trying to juggle digging out with handling work-related obligations. Instead I shoveled, attacking the snow like a madman. I don’t have a snowblower so I used good old fashioned people power, creating 5′ high mountains of white to border the black asphalt on my driveway.
Wednesday my employer was closed, due to town cleanup efforts.
So today, Thursday (as I’m writing this) I returned to work. Again, I’d been off since the previous Friday. I made an effort to arrive a bit early and immediately took care of a few important tasks that’d been delayed a bit due to my scheduled absence. Then I sent my manager an update email just to give him a heads-up that I was in the office, cranking away. I’m a good employee — well liked, good reviews, conscientious — and I’ve made it a goal to continue this responsible behavior through to the end.
So far so good. It’s a perfectly acceptable day in the office.
At noon, my wife called to inform me that we’re getting more snow tomorrow (Friday). Three to six inches — enough to make the commute a giant pain in the ass, and dangerous besides.
Immediately I dispatched an email to my manager to ask if I can work from home for safety reasons. He’s been agreeable to this request in the past, and he knows that it doesn’t impact my productivity: I don’t just sit on my ass and watch Netflix all day.
In the same email, I also asked for a compensation day for some upcoming weekend work.
He responded: Not sure. We need to talk about this in our 1:1 later today.
Every previous time I’ve asked, he’s given approval immediately, so I was surprised.
And I wondered what, exactly, had changed.
In our 1:1, my manager wasted no time giving me the scoop: There’s a new crackdown on working from home.
Upper management got pissed because practically no one was in the office on Monday. It’s a visibility thing. When CIO Joe goes to the effort of driving into work through snow and ice and slush, he damn well expects all of his subordinates to have done the same.
So Joe patrolled the offices and saw that only 10% of staff was present: most cubes were empty cells. This guy fancies himself to be a commander with a big sack, a modern action-hero against an office backdrop, a leader who sacrifices himself for the company. Yet today, he’s got virtually no troops to command. Joe got mad, and started digging to figure out why no one was around.
Turns out that:
A) Lots of people gave themselves a work-from-home day on Monday in order to avoid the storm
B) There was significant server-work the previous day (Sunday.) Dozens of systems got patched and rebooted. When this happens, the majority of IT staff has work to do: starting up services, health checking applications, generating reports and ‘sign-off’ that everything is functioning A-OK. The work started at 5AM and didn’t end until noon. Practically everyone involved in these efforts sent email to their managers saying: Fuck you, I’m not coming in on Monday. Call my cell if there’s an emergency. Because: Weekend ruined, need sleep now.
CIO Joe didn’t like these reasons. When staff isn’t around, he feels cheated. What is everyone getting paid these massive salaries to do, anyways? Sleep on Mondays? I think not, lazy bastards!
So emails are circulated to mid-tier managers: No more work-from-home. Every work-from-home day must be approved by a director-level contributor or higher. And no more comp time. If you work a few hours on Sunday, that’s not enough of a reason to ask for a day off the following week. Workers need to tow the line.
After emails are dispatched, followup meetings were scheduled early Thursday to discuss the new policies. Every mid-level manager in attendance realized that, moving forward, they had to make sure everyone under them was in the office, present at all times. If they didn’t, their careers would be at risk.
So there I was, sitting across from my manager with a desk in between us, getting ready to have a little chat. I didn’t know anything whatsoever about any of these so-called issues regarding employees dodging work.
Yet, just that morning, I’d asked for a work from home day and a compensation day. I’d unwittingly pressed the two hottest buttons on his dashboard, guaranteeing a spectacular response. I was the kid in the elevator running his finger down the entire selection panel, lighting everything up.
So now you know in advance that it wasn’t going to go well. But, at the time, I sure didn’t.
My manager starts our discussions by delivering the backstory I’ve provided above.
So, you see, that’s why you need to come in tomorrow. I need all hands in the office for the foreseeable future so upper management knows I’ve relayed the message: People need to be here during business hours, period. We’re righting the ship.
Okay. I don’t agree, but I understand where you’re coming from.
I still need a day off in return for the upcoming Sunday morning work.
Were you listening to me? I can’t grant that.
I’m not an actor. I don’t intentionally control my body language or facial expressions in order to elicit any specific responses. But I found myself becoming genuinely incredulous. My eyes widened and my lips parted in surprise.
Are you kidding me? That’s a joke, right?
Of course not. It’s just not something I can do right now.
I’m instantly indignant. My back stiffens and I realize there’s no way I can accept this. It’s impossible to plan my response. Filters have been removed. Words spill out of me.
Well, there’s something I can’t do right now either, then. I won’t be doing Sunday’s work. Maybe we need to push it off for a few months until this incident blows over and you can reconsider.
There’s silence for literally half a minute. It bakes in the room, the heat of it turning my manager’s face red. Finally he breaks it.
This is a bad career move for you. I already sent the notice to our department saying the work will be done. If you aren’t going to do it, I will have no choice but to escalate your decision to the highest levels. I’m not sure what the outcome of that will be.
It’s a threat. I know it is, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I have just two months to go before I quit anyway.
That’s fine. I’m willing to talk about this issue to anyone. People who are getting up at 4:30 AM on a Sunday to do work on systems should get a full day off in return, period. If there’s no willingness to be flexible on the part of management here, I see no reason why I should be flexible with my personal schedule, either. Do you want to call CIO Joe down to talk about it right now?
I can’t believe I’m saying these these things. The sentences are just popping out. Even so, I do feel relatively in control. I’ve had confrontations with management in my past that have left me shaking and breathless from excitement and anxiety. But this time, I find I’m steady. I want to have these discussions. I want to talk about expectations and work-life-balance and the importance of flexibility on both sides.
No, that’s not necessary. But this work needs to be done.
I completely agree. It does need to be done.
Then you’ll do it?
I need a day.
I’ll compromise. A half-day. Come in the following Monday and leave after lunch.
Why are you being so disagreeable?
Because you and I both know that when you wake up at 4:30 on a Sunday for a major event that your entire weekend is ruined. You can’t travel that weekend, and in fact, I canceled a visit with my family in order to accommodate the needs of the business and do this work. Saturday night I will be trying to go to sleep as early as possible. And after it’s is done, my day is forfeit — I will be a waste-product. I will not be exercising. It’ll be tough to do anything of substance due to my exhaustion — I’m gonna be a zombie. Also I’ll be edgy, waiting for a page-out to inform me that something isn’t working as expected and I’ve got to log back in and join a conference call.
(Post-publish date update: As predicted, I got that page-out at noon and worked for two hours to rule out my change as being a source of a reported issue.)
So, if anything I feel that working these sorts of schedules should entitle me to two days off instead of just one.
And you know exactly what I’m talking about. You used to be an individual contributor. You used to have my job — you lived my life. Don’t pretend that you don’t understand, because I’m certain you do.
While that’s true — I do understand — my hands are tied. This is policy. I need you to understand the policy. And it is required for people in your job description to work off-hours as per the needs of the business.
This is a good opportunity for me to remind you that — also according to company policy — employees are only supposed to work 35 hours a week. How do you reconcile the conflict between the two policies? If I work on Sunday and report into work, 9-5, all week, then I’ll be far over 35 hours. That’s no less a violation.
We need visibility in the office. I’m in a difficult position and must enforce the policies. But we also must get the work done.
Look, you can have one of two things with me. Real production — where I do the work that needs to be done, wherever and whenever, off-hours or no — or Visibility, where I’m in the office eight hours every day like a perfect little order-taker. One or the other. You pick. Production or Visibility.
He sighs. There’s another lengthy pause. I realize he’s battling two intense urges: the desire to do what upper management has instructed him to do — to be strict — and the desire to do the right thing and grant my request. He emerges with the correct decision.
Fine. You can work from home the following Monday. Be sure to not tell anyone else, okay? It’ll be our secret.
I rise from my seat, turning around to exit his office — I want to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
Anything else to talk about?
Yeah, I say, rotating my upper body around and casting him a sideways glance, even as I’m opening the door to leave.
Like I said before, I’m working from home tomorrow.
On the way back to my cube, all I can think about is quitting.