A sad day at work

Ross’s last day at work today, so it was a bit of a sad day for those of us who’ve become good friends with him. For many years, a good rapport has been built up between a few of us at work, as naturally happens between people who spend that much time together.

From our point of view, we’ll miss him on a personal, friendship level. From the business perspective, he’ll be missed on a professional level, although they can’t see past numbers at the moment. You can’t just throw away years of expertise like that to meet short-term demands and expect that it won’t have a very negative effect in the medium to long-term.

Ross’s redundancy is one of many (of just under 30 of us, we expect that 7 will be left after the ‘cleansing’) that are being made at our office; a place I have worked for just over ten years now, which was a beacon of progressive work practices when I first started there, attracting people and keeping them for years in most cases.

Under the old regime, people didn’t leave the company because they were unhappy there. It was a place where the boss demanded that staff take an hour lunch break and, in two sittings, we sat down for a full meal at lunchtime, including wine and cheese; in November each year, staff were given bonuses – sometimes equivalent to a month’s extra salary; the boss actually consulted people for their views on all aspects of how the business was run; on Friday afternoons, if there were few support calls coming in, the boss would announce over the phone system, "this is your captain speaking. Abandon ship!" and make everyone go home early; there were very good benefits (pension at 10%) for employees and generous holiday allowances for years of service. It was very much a family-oriented business and threw parties at the end of year for staff members’ families.

In return, staff were committed to their job and did ‘over and above’ what they would do for your bog-standard company.

Once we were bought out by a large company, we knew that things would never be the same again, despite the assurances of the new owners. Sure enough, over time, every single one of the above benefits went – cooked lunches (and the wine of course) went, bonuses went, staff consultation went and we became the last to hear of any changes, no calls to ‘abandon ship’ were made, employee benefits were cut, as were holiday entitlements. In short, we became like any other faceless, dour, drab, typical British company, with all its phoney shirt-and-tie brigade and the fostering of a ‘them-and-us’ mentality between staff and management, which had never existed under the old ‘flat’ organisational structure. I can’t honestly say that the company has become worse than average, but it is certainly average, and as such, has lost some very talented people in recent years.

On a personal level, this is all the more frustrating as my actual level of work-satisfaction is very high. I work in the context of a good team at work, despite large geographic distances. My boss and his boss are good people and we all ‘get the job done’ quite efficiently and with the minimum of fuss. This makes it all the more frustrating when morale is low because of what’s going on outside my immediate team.

In the current economic climate, and to keep the banks of our back, the Board is taking drastic action with the smallest and historically most profitable of the group’s companies and shedding even more talented people through redundancies, and Ross has been a victim in this process.

On a positive note, he seems quite upbeat. His interesting work was done and there were months of tedious work ahead from what he’s said, but Tommo and I will certainly miss our motorbike chats with him (we dubbed ourselves ‘The Three Amigos’, following our bike trips together) and other conversations on all aspects of life, the universe, and everything. There was a level of good-natured banter between the members of the development team, but we have always been professional throughout and got the work done.

He is the first of many to go under the current wave of redundancies and will, as stated above, be missed at work on both a personal and professional level. Ross didn’t suffer fools (or intelligent people who said foolish things) gladly and would happily tell them so, regardless of who they were, arguing his point succinctly, clearly and effectively, and much to the clear frustration of those who were senior to him in ‘rank’ but knew that he was right and that they had been outwitted.

Not one to ‘do things by the book’, Ross will never assume anything to be gospel, but will examine everything critcally and argue against any level of ‘received wisdom’, if he can see that the wisdom has been ill-received. He will be a valuable asset to any future employer. I can only hope that they realise it and I wish him all the very best for his future professional career.

Obama takes office

Barack Obama has taken office as the 44th president of the United States. He has brought to an end the Bush era and many people around the world will be celebrating not only the election of the first ‘African American’ President, but also the demise of George Bush. Recently, I even saw a flyer advertising a party in Birmingham (UK), which is being held to celebrate the end of George Bush’s presidency.

I too am excited by the prospect of an Obama presidency and the affect this will have on not only the United States, but the world at large. He comes across as a personable, affable, eloquent, and sincere man and I very much hope he can help to heal the world.

At the same time, I am a realist. As a work colleague put it, today at 17:00 GMT was when the ‘rainbows came out and the pixies danced’. Many are placing a lot of faith in Obama’s ability to change the nature of pretty much everything. It reminds me of the hot summer of 1997 when Tony Blair and the Labour Party took power in the UK and there was a feeling of complete elation everywhere. Then reality bit.

Obama, by his own admission, is not some kind of panacea. He will meet a great deal of obstacles throughout his term(s) in office. If the hardcore anti-Bush brigade expect big changes in foreign policy, I’m afraid that they’re being just a little naive. Obama’s big impact will, I suspect, be in US domestic policy.

I must admit, I did have a little wry smile on my face as the first words Obama spoke as he swore in were fluffed (having read the oath, it was Rick Warren’s mistake and not Obama’s) and he seemed to hesitate. Not the best start, but Obama dealt with it well. Let’s see if the satirists make anything out of that little episode – they would have lapped it up if it had been Bush.

In any case, it is great to see the investiture of the first black American president. It looks like the most powerful nation on Earth has indeed moved on a great deal from the dark days of segregation. I sincerely hope that Obama can live up to the expectations. By his investiture, he has already exceeded the hopes and dreams of a generation of people brought up under segregation. Martin Luther King’s dream has finally been realised.