Today marks the first anniversary of my starting my current job. For those of you who were with me throughout 2012, you will know that I lost two jobs and spent 6 months unemployed. This is a brief look back at the last year and the legacy that the extended periods of unemployment have left.
Having gone to a lot of interviews and been rejected from them, I finally got a job offer just before Christmas 2012. I chose to keep this to myself until Christmas morning when I showed mum the email confirming my offer; that was my Christmas present to her – and yes, she did cry.
I knew that as I started a new job I would be going straight into a busy period as the company has a year end of the 31st of December and so the finance department would be working on the year end accounts, with an announcement due to the stock market in late February. Though not afraid of a bit of hard work, I was anticipating quite a few days when one might be working until 10pm in the office and coming in on Saturdays and Sundays, as is usual for finance staff at this time of year. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the office gets locked up at 8pm and you get kicked out then. The front door is operated by a key rather than a swipe card so you can’t go in on a Saturday unless you have a key (and only a few people have these) so I ended up not working late once nor working at a weekend.
In fact, in the whole year I only worked twice on a Saturday, each time with several weeks’ notice and got a day off in lieu. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about the job has been the discipline we have as a team in terms of getting things right. The idea of “that’ll do” simply doesn’t occur; we operate by the motif “if it’s not 100% right, it’s wrong” and that suits my personality and how I work in a professional setting. In that respect, I really do enjoy my job.
Of course, being back in a work environment means having to work with people. In the past on this blog I’ve tried to express that I have some misanthropic tendencies – this is a touch further than a general introversion. There’s one chap in the office who likes to “work people out” and he will characterise them by certain proclivities or personality traits. After having been there for about 9 months he confessed to me that I was still a closed book to him. I don’t go out to the office socials and I avoid any hint of sociability wherever I can, including not going to the office Christmas party. To some, this may be seen as being unfriendly or anti-social, but in reality these are situations that make me intensely uncomfortable and which are best avoided. Just as, given the recent poor weather, one might look outside and see it is cold, wet & windy, you wouldn’t necessarily choose to walk out of the front door in shorts & t-shirt for a casual walk round the local park. But that’s the kind of level of discomfort I’m talking about. My avoidance of this, though not unique, is not necessarily the most common and so the more outgoing characters (who are those I get on with the least) cannot understand this, even if one tries to explain. Thankfully, though, there are other introverts in the department, even if they are not as extreme as I am.
But the year has not really been a resumption of “business as usual” as I had previously felt in my other jobs. Having been made redundant from one and fired from another, I am more aware of the tenuous grasp we have on our careers. Every time my line manager and the head of department had a private conversation, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I’d seen exactly the same happen in the days leading up to my dismissal from the 2nd job I lost in 2012. It physically hurts when that panic twang hits your chest. This was made all the worse as there was a major project going on at around the time my probationary period was due to be up. So my line manager and her boss were constantly going off into private meeting rooms and having conversations which I didn’t know about. Their calendars were blank so I couldn’t see any meeting agendas, so I got paranoid that they were discussing whether or not to keep me on. My probation was never discussed in the days or weeks leading up the date when it was due to expire and I was afraid to bring up the subject in case I came across as impertinent.
As it was, I passed my probationary period and I was “let in” on the secret which they had been discussing (which was a corporate transaction which is now a matter of public record). That put me as ease for a little while, though at that time my personal life took a turn for the worse. So with the combination of a “more secure” job in London combined with a very personal reason for wanting to leave Sussex behind, I made the decision to move, cutting nearly all ties with what had been my home for over 5 years. One or two of you know more details about why this was, but I don’t think I’m ready to put that into writing on the blog yet. In spite of wanting to leave that element of my life behind, I am reminded on a nearly weekly basis of that reason, which may stay with me, even if just as a curse on my lips, for years to come. If there’s anything I’ve come to realise more viscerally than ever before is that our past is not always something that can be left behind. When that past has painful elements to it, it leaves a psychological scar, but like Pavlov’s dogs, the pain can be reawakened at the right (or wrong) signal. So with the private conversations my line manager has with the head of department setting off my alarm bells, I’m not sure I can ever witness that without feeling like my job is on the line.
This is furthered by the fact that the company has recently undergone a change in the directorate. With change comes uncertainty; that much is true in any environment. In the business world, though, that uncertainty almost always surrounds someone’s livelihood. Having been through a redundancy process before, one cannot help but recognise the winds. It’s not a science; it is more akin to a farmer reading the sky. The storm clouds seem to be gathering. I don’t know much for certain; nothing’s been announced and if there were any private memos around, this would not be the place to disclose them.
A job for life is the thing of the past. In a society where are lawmakers try to make it easier to get rid of staff, those of us who might loosely be deemed the working class are constantly looking over our shoulders. I say loosely, because the traditional box labelled “working class” isn’t one I fit into well, especially as I have what one might deem a white-collar job. In this sense of working class, I mean those of us who are hired and fired, rather than those who do the hiring and firing.
The idea of joblessness is no longer a theory for me. I know to stay away from electricity substations (who could forget that public information film we all saw in school?) but only from theory. It is something I have experienced or witnessed. But joblessness is a tangible reality and one that is every bit as unpleasant as the reason I left Sussex. The difference between them is that having a job as source of income, I had the freedom to make the decision to leave, to take my life, pick it up and move it to a different location. Being unemployed has more repercussions; choice is something removed from you. You can’t just pick up and move on. Knowing what that means in the sense of breathing it every day, living with that helplessness, reliant on the decisions of others as to whether or not you will eat or have a roof over your head is a prospect I don’t want to face again, but if the past is something we must look in the eye then I know I can’t run from it forever. The chase will tire me out eventually.
For now, though, happy anniversary.