Enjoy Personal Finance content? Then you will love Sovereign Quest!
{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Retreat

The C-suite exec prowled the floor of the convention centre meeting room. Wild-eyed. Veins bulging. Flecks of spittle flying. A torrent of venom and vitriol sprayed over the reluctant assembled audience.

Remote working is a failed experiment. Everyone must be present in the office! Hot desk bookings and security gate logs are being monitored. Noncompliance will be penalised at bonus time.

Nobody had the heart to remind the exec that more than half the team were now based offshore.

Our colleagues in facilities management have reminded us that hot desk bookings are essential. The time motion survey conducted in 2021 reported that the majority of the desks and meeting rooms were unoccupied. Consequently, for the good of the environment, the firm decided to reduce its real estate footprint in the City. This has resulted in a staff to desk ratio of 2:1.

Nobody had the heart to point out the study and its contrived greenwashed conclusion had been conducted during a covid lockdown. Nor that trying to fit two bums onto one seat was a surefire route to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Offshore workers must attend all conference calls. Cameras on. Present and participating, not distracted or multitasking. Time zones are no excuse! If they don’t like it, millions of others would jump at the chance to take their place.

Nobody had the heart to remind the exec that the outsourced back office workers, mostly located offshore, benefited little from witnessing self-important executives exercise their egos. Compliance, payroll, procurement, programming, and software testing were all commodity skills regardless of geography or industry. Those performing them had little interest in company propaganda or their client’s industry gossip.

There will be no listening to music or wearing headphones in the office! It discourages communication and interaction with colleagues.

Nobody had the heart to observe that working in the office was like trying to work in a call centre or train station during rush hour. Those wearing headphones were for the most part on conference calls, attempting to communicate and interact with the suppliers, vendors, or colleagues offshore.

Work social events and offsites are mandatory. You will attend. You will interact. You will enjoy. On your own time!

Nobody had the heart to point out the inherent contradiction. We were currently trapped in a draughty hotel conference room, located hours from civilisation. Attending an offsite scheduled during school holidays by a self-indulgent exec, who made sport of disrupting the family and social lives of his minions.

Anyone who is under the impression they are special is sadly mistaken. This company operates a flat and high-churn staffing model by design. Staff are expected to commence, contribute, and be consumed within two years. Long enough to exploit their experience from elsewhere. Not so long they become key person risks.

Nobody had the heart to observe that this staffing model lessened the retention power of golden handcuffs. A worker will put up with a lot to secure a 20-30% annual performance bonus. They will put up with a lot less if they know they will be screwed over and discarded short of securing that bonus in their second year of employment.

Annual leave must be used or lost. None may be carried over. Leave requests will be approved only upon demonstration that suitable cover will be in place to avoid disruption to projects. Utilisation will be scrutinised for any personnel who believe they can simultaneously cover their own role and that of a colleague. In such cases, there are clearly efficiency savings to be found.

Nobody had the heart to point out the hypocrisy of offering a generous benefits package, many of which were protected by employment law, and then operating a predatory working environment that actively prevents those benefits from being used.

Staff are expected to continuously grow their skills and invest in their careers to maximise their value to the firm. Anyone failing to do so will be penalised at bonus time. The firm will pay for training, but staff must complete this on their own time. Should a staff member depart within three years of attaining a professional certification, the firm will claw back those costs on a pro-rata basis from their final pay or redundancy payout.

Nobody had the heart to observe that no matter how many times the exec harangued his staff for failing to take the initiative or assert control, whenever somebody did they invariably had their legs publicly cut out from under them. Shortly afterwards, they were invited to an early morning meeting with human resources, at which point they vanished and were never spoken of again.

I have made my instructions perfectly clear. Those of you who are line managers or team leaders are accountable for imposing them upon your teams. Failure to do so will come out of your bonus.

Nobody had the heart to observe that in the current buoyant job market, any one of those policies would result in staff members resigning. Choosing to reset their salary levels in line with demand and inflation, rather than remaining at a site where dinosaur-era working practices eroded morale almost as fast as economic events eroded the purchasing power of their wages.

With that, the exec dismissed the assembled collective of long-suffering middle managers. He had detained them just long enough to ensure that those on public transport would miss their trains home.

Prior experience had taught me to order a taxi for half an hour after the scheduled finish to the offsite. As I descended the hotel stairs, four of my colleagues barged past and leapt onboard.

Mr Indeedably?” asked the confused taxi driver.

Yes, yes. Take us to the station!” shouted one colleague, the C-suite exec’s favourite toadie.

The taxi sped off in a cloud of dust, leaving me somewhat gobsmacked on the side of the road.

A car rolled to a stop in front of where I stood thinking uncharitable thoughts about my coworkers.

The driver’s side window rolled down to reveal the grinning visage of the devil. My boss shook his head in amusement at the behaviour of the taxi pirates, before wishing me luck getting home and hooning off in a spray of gravel as the rear of his car fishtailed across the hotel’s circular driveway.

The devil’s home was located five minutes from my own, a two-hour commute away.

I headed back inside to request another taxi from the hotel receptionist. It would be half an hour.

The voice of the C-suite exec boomed out of the hotel bar. He laughed as he instructed the barman to bill drinks to the room of one of our long-suffering junior team members. Lacking in confidence and drowning in lifestyle costs, the lowly peon needed their job and would be unlikely to complain.

Drinking beside him was the exec’s recently recruited designated successor. After pitching a half dozen department heads against one another in a six-month corporate game of thrones, the firm had proceeded to pass over them all in favour of an external hire. It had always been planned that way, having colleagues throw one another under the bus and assassinate each other’s characters had merely been for the exec’s gratification and entertainment.

An hour later, the replacement taxi dropped me at the train station. A depressing place located on the edge of a soulless commuter town surrounded by bland office parks. The peak hour platform was rammed with defeated-looking suits crammed in shoulder to shoulder. They listened in unsurprised resignation to the station announcer making excuses for the late running trains: “squishy leaves on the tracks”. Marginally more inventive than the wrong type of snow.

I spied the taxi thieves further along the platform. They chugged cans of Stella, obnoxiously jostling and insulting their fellow commuters like the gang of schoolyard bullies that they were. I moved down the platform in the other direction, optimistically searching for a seat in a different carriage of the overcrowded train as it pulled in.

On the long journey home, I stood in the aisle and eavesdropped on the conversations around me.

Suits discussed the growing range of remote worker visa options on offer in exotic locales ranging from Bali to Portugal. Trying to figure out how to make the geographic arbitrage play work for them. Earn high American, Australian, or English wages while living in a low cost paradise.

Fearing becoming trapped should the remote work dry up and local wages prove insufficient to finance the move back home.

Migrants animatedly planning their exits from post-Brexit England. Their hard-won British passports worth a mere 1/28th of what they once were in terms of employment rights and travel opportunities. The career and educational prospects they had once sought for themselves and their progeny looking less certain with each passing month as Britannia unravels.

Accidental landlords worried about rising borrowing costs. In more normal times, their properties could be readily disposed of to greater fools, should the landlord find themselves unable to pass the higher costs onto their tenants. In the absence of migration or outperformance of economic growth, it was far from clear where exactly that next generation of greater fools would come from.

Worries abounded about what the immediate future would hold, with talk of recent 10% price drops in metropolitan Australian markets, and a similar downturn forecast for the frothy US residential market.

Whether a similar outcome could be experienced domestically was a shared fear, but anyone’s guess.

By the time I eventually arrived home, I was eternally grateful my life choices hadn’t resulted in my living or working at the end of an epic daily commute. The corporate retreat had given me time away from the ever-busy daily grind to assess how I was investing my scarce time, and the relative levels of bullshit versus satisfaction I was subjecting myself to. There was a noticeable imbalance, one that will require addressing in the new year, once my golden handcuffs loosen their grip. Assuming of course that any performance bonus received is more reward than recommendation to seek alternative opportunities.


Featured by
--- Tell your friends ---

Next Post

Previous Post

12 Comments

  1. Gentleman's Family Finances 30 October 2022

    Really good read.
    Every paragraph could be a novel!

    I got a bit of the everyone now will Work From Office – luckily it didn’t come to pass but I did say that I’d rather not work than do the 2h commute you describe here. Not an idle threat to demand more money, or I’m irreplaceable or whatever.
    There’s leverage and there’s being a pushover – and I’m no pushover.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 30 October 2022 — Post author

      Thanks GFF. It is great you were able to afford the luxury of standing up for yourself and saying no to unreasonable demands. This is one of the true benefits of feeling financially independent.

  2. JBL 31 October 2022

    A great read. This is exactly why Id recommend aiming for financial independence if its at all attainable at some future point. There will come a time for sure when the freedom to say no, without stressing about the outcome, will be priceless.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 31 October 2022 — Post author

      Thanks JBL.

      Being able to divorce the financial imperative from time investment decisions was one of the things I loved most about semi-retirement.

  3. [HCF] 31 October 2022

    I was really looking forward to your next post and this business noir style made my day 🙂 I hope everything goes well at your ends.
    Is the outside world really this cruel? Maybe the fact that I am just working away from my basement ever since covid started makes me enclosed in my bubble. Making me thinking that our company is just like others which chalks up remote working and flexible working schedule as a great success which brought an increased satisfaction for the employees and an improved work/life balance while made no change to the productivity levels and delivery rates. Visiting the office is encouraged but not mandatory in any way. I am pretty happy with how the situation unfolded and really hope that we will not fall back to that dark dystopia which you described.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 31 October 2022 — Post author

      Thanks HCF.

      There is a lot to be said for a nice comfortable bubble. Sounds like you’ve got things figured out, a very reasonable commute and a work/life balance that works for you. Well done!

      The beating the drum for returning to the office is (from what I’ve observed) driven by insecure/incompetent/lonely/political managers or those who have a vested interest in not appearing to waste the sunk cost of expensive office building leases.

      That said, the post-covid traits of brown nosing and “being seen” has firmly reverted to to type, once more becoming normalised institutional behaviours.

      For mine, needing to be in the office is mostly a fallacy, not least because the outsourced/offshore teams are at the other end of the same video call regardless of whether I take it from the office or at home.

  4. David Andrews 1 November 2022

    That day sounds like the stuff of nightmares. In most of my jobs I’ve been asked why I’m not seeking promotion or progression especially into management. The key reasons are that I’ve long ago learned to live below my mid level techie earnings and that I’m acutely aware that “sewage flows downstream”.

    I’d simply be unable to summon the required enthusiasm to convey such messages to anyone who reported to me. I’d also be unable to keep my mouth shut to avoid potentially career ending responses to higher management.

    Our regional office is being closed on November 30th and we’ve all been designated remote workers. I’ve put off having the health and safety assessment which is required in order to procure company paid for desk and chair. I’m not sure what the returns policy would be if / when I exit the current employment.

    My large corporate employer also made a distinct point of providing no funding towards domestic costs of home working beyond a desk and chair if required. I plan to plunder the office of all useful items before it is handed back to the landlord.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 2 November 2022 — Post author

      Thanks David.

      There is a lot to be said for recognising the happy place on the pecking order where you experience the optimal mix of enjoyable/challenging work while enduring the minimal institutional silliness, corporate bullshit, and political chicanery. Even better if you can do it before climbing that one rung too many up the career ladder.

      Unfortunately, for many that happy point is only identifiable in hindsight, and by that stage hedonic adaptation has seen their lifestyles expand with their additional remuneration, making any downward shuffle an uncomfortable one.

      • David Andrews 2 November 2022

        There comes a point where the things you thought you owned actually own you. Of course, we are all prone to lifestyle creep and the lure of the next shiny gadget.

        However, many find the excitement of the purchase wears off quickly or the anticipated improvement in happiness from the purchase is eroded by the time that has to be sacrificed in order to pay for the stuff.

        I value the knowledge that I can walk away from my employer at any time and not starve or be homeless more than anything I’ve purchased.

  5. Steveark 2 November 2022

    What a Halloween horror story! I try to empathize, but even on its worst day my career was something I was very grateful to have. Sure the corporate world isn’t ideal but if my days ever went like the one described I’d be out of there and on to a much better environment. Nobody should have to work for such terrible leadership. And nobody has to.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 2 November 2022 — Post author

      Thanks Steveark.

      I share the sentiment about nobody should have to work for insecure or incompetent managers. Alas, I fear that competence, compassion, and common sense are all rare enough leadership traits to be considered superpowers.

      This particular exec may not win any prizes for style or substance, but he doesn’t make the cut for being ranked amongst the worst 10 managers or clients I’ve endured over 20+ years trying to deliver value in “professional” workplaces.

      Of course there have also been some good ones, a couple great ones even, but for the most part folks get promoted for being good at one thing and then expected to magically acquire leadership skills without any experience or training. A tall order that unsurprisingly very few manage to successfully carry off.

What say you?

© 2022 { in·deed·a·bly }

Privacy policy

Subscribe