Job satisfaction then and now

I’d been in my job for about three years when we were given the news that we were soon to be surplus to requirements. For about two and a half of those years I’d been looking for something else.

It wasn’t just the red tape which wrapped itself around everything and everyone, stiffling any thought of innovation; or the ‘blowin in the wind’ management style that led to strategy after strategy falling by the wayside weeks after being proclaimed as the next big thing. It wasn’t even the fact I could do the job with my eyes closed.

What I found really hard to cope with was all these things and more being part of the same organisation.

So shortly after getting my feet under the desk I decided I’d rather like to leave – and back then it would have been on my own terms. I could have left with my gead held high, knowing I was moving on to bigger and better things.

But as the punks nearly said – ‘Apathy rools OK’.

So all my efforts to extricate myself from the job were somewhat underwhelming, consisting mainly of lazily emailed CVs to jobs I’d seen in the Guardian’s media section (online). The problem was although there was very little job satisfaction, the money was decent and it was fairly easy.

The major problems arose on the rare occasions one of the ineffective managers realised they should actually be doing something. This usually involved micro-management to the Nth degree or sweeping generalisations that were impossible to interpret and which invariably led to something being done three times before it was changed back to the way I’d done it originally.

Despite the fact my team were more or less all in the same boat – secretly on the look out for a new job – we all took pride in what we were doing and wanted to make the best of it. Largely we were successful, which allowed all those above us in the food chain to take credit for a job well done.

And so while I joined with the intention of leaving after six months (the bare minimum for a CV) I was still there when the restructure was announced late last year – somewhat forcing my hand. The only problem was swinging cuts across the public sector meant I was now in a much more difficult job market.

Looking for work when you are comfortable is never easy – unless you really hate your job you don’t have the motivation or the time. Filling in an application nowadays is a long drawn out process, and selling myself has never been a strong point of mine so it all feels a bit alien to me.

Job hunting is a full time job – it’s a cliche because it’s true. But I’ve been spoiled in the past – I’ve always been in employment in jobs I have liked and pretty much been able to follow the career path I’d chosen. I was prepared to play the long game and wait for the next step in my career to land at my feet – blissfully Ignoring the impending financial crisis and the fact that the media industry seemed intent on being the first into the abyss. (There is a whole other blog on how newspapers have lost their identity through under investment and poor planning – don’t get me started!)

Which all meant that once I actually did find myself out of work I got a rude awakening.

Firstly I realised that the recent wave of redundancies meant I was no longer job hunting as a hobby, I was involved in a cut throat game with increasing numbers of players.

Hundreds of people were now applying for the jobs I wanted (and now needed). I’m no expert in HR, but if I was on the receiving end of a few hundred CVs I’d shortlist from the first 20 and the last 20 (at best) – which means plenty will be filed straight under B for bin. No wonder so many jobs now come with the stipulation that you will only be contacted if you are successful in getting through to the interview stage – it’s not just the economy that’s gone down the pan, it’s common courtesy too.

The problem with my current job of job hunting is that there is even less satisfaction to be had from it. The only time I’ll get any enjoyment out of it will be when I find a new job – and by then it will be too late because I’ll have to give it up in order to take up my new position as an active member of the employment market.

Sugaring the pill

“It is with heavy heart that we have to tell you your jobs are under review” – and so the process begins…

For people with families to look after and mortgages to pay as well as those who enjoy eating food and living in rented accommodation, those are words you do not want to hear. There’s a lingering sense of insecurity around them – do you stick or twist?

The ideal situation is for a review to look at everyone and come to the conclusion that there is nowhere within the department that can be cut; efficiency levels are at a maximum; and the Free World would collapse if just one admin assistant was lost.

But in the environs of public sector communications departments that is never going to be the case. So when you are told that your job is under review you know there is a fairly high chance of it being reviewed out of existence. It has been impossible to avoid the hints from Government that the public sector would be hit hard under the austerity plans from the Coalition Government.

Reducing public spending has a two-fold effect – both positives for the Government.

1. It helps cut the deficit

2. It creates widespread worklessness a ready band of willing and skilled volunteers to help put the Big Society into place.

But before this new volunteer workforce can be created there needs to be some streamlining. Volunteers are no good to anyone if they have to hold down a 9-5 job to help pay the bills.

Telling someone they may soon be looking for work can’t be easy for anyone – which is probably why the issue was handed over to the HR team. A specialist crew who have been highly trained to avoid any emotion in such matters.

Having politely declined to do the dirty deed themselves, senior mangers were keen to be seen to be doing something. Missives were sent out and promises were made that they would be there for us and would do all they could to help us through it.

And behind the scenes, the powers-that-be  had been putting together an event that would be a helping hand for anyone who was facing an uncertain future – or to put it another way, everyone who wasn’t in the Department Head’s clique.

It’s easy to sneer about this type of event before you actually attend one and see what has been laid on in terms of practical advice and help for people facing the grim prospect of losing their job. And after having been to one it was even easier to sneer.

As a bare minimum I would have expected advice on how to spruce up my skills and knock my CV into shape. What would have been really useful is a bunch of representatives from employment agencies looking to cash in on a potential goldmine of 100s of trained workers who would soon be desperate for work. What we got was advice on how to make a fruit smoothie, the citizens advice bureau, a stall encouraging people to get active to avoid depression and heart disease; and a few leaflets on pensions and financial planning.

If I hadn’t been told otherwise I would have guessed that this event was the long-planned employee well-being fair with a few leaflets  on pensions and financial planning thrown in. But no, this was the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

The feeling that it had been hastily re-branded to fit the current climate was hard to avoid, but I did get something out of it. I signed up for a pedometer hoping that a bit of walking would keep me active and stave off depression – plus it’s cheaper than the bus and I have a feeling that every penny is going to count soon.

Restructures, savings and other euphemisms (Part I)

Where I come from we call a spade a spade – in the public sector it’s a human-powered earth moving implement. But after three years in an inner-city council and many more years covering local politics I have become fluent in the language. I may not be able to speak it yet, but I can certainly understand it.

So when senior managers stopped looking us in the eye towards the end of last year and dark murmurings of restructure began to float down the corridors of power, I was able to make a pretty decent fist of what was afoot. It was clear that the state of the economy, a new Conservative led Government and a New Labour ethos within this particular borough meant we were in for a round of restructures where, unfortunately the management team will have to make some difficult decisions in order to rationalise the workforce and secure back office savings job cuts.

The political weather vane had been spun by the wind of change when David Cameron and Nick Clegg walked hand-in-hand down Downing Street on 11 May 2010. It was clear that this latest “restructure” would carry more weight than the previous one I had been through.

Coming almost 18 months earlier that particular “rationalisation” seemed more intent on boosting managers’ responsibilities pay and getting rid of a persona non grata from the office. Although these weren’t the stated aims, they were clearly the desired outcomes. And it proved successful as a wave of managers were given a range of new responsibilities including making sure lights were switched off at night; milk and sugar for the tea club was regularly bought; and shouting across the office to make colleagues think they were doing something constructive.

The staff member that was no longer needed was promptly replaced by someone doing the same job on twice the money, so the whole thing had been a resounding success.

Despite the real world going through some pretty serious cost-cutting measures as the global economy went into meltdown, the public sector was still spending like there was no tomorrow. Staff numbers seemed to be ever on the increase, while productivity remained largely static. But to be fair, productivity has never been top of the agenda for councils, which is a shame when you think about the good that could be achieved by a large, well-mobilised, motivated workforce.

I blame the highly-paid strategic thinkers who have spent the majority of their working lives winning friends and influencing people to help perpetuate the  the myth that they are indispensable. Most would struggle to come up with an effective plan against a three-year-old in the classic game of strategic conquest (www.hasbro.com/shop/browse/?N=63+196).*

But back to the vague mutterings of impending rationalisation job losses and savings cutbacks. Rumours are all well and good, but I deal in facts. Unfortunately my Director’s unswerving desire to be everyone’s BFF (Bestest Friend Forever) meant he was unable to grasp the nettle and all meetings on the subject vaguely resembled a spotty 15-year-old virgin trying to chat up a bemused Pamela Anderson – all shoe gazing, sweaty palms and nervous giggles.

There was very little actual information and constant promises to tell us next time. Eventually the cold-hearted HR team had the decency to send us a letter and information pack and it all became official. Unlike the previous restructure, this one did not have a carnival atmosphere as senior managers nudged and winked their way to a deserved promotion. I think some of them genuinely feared they may be in danger of getting the axe – or should I say getting the sharpened tree-felling apparatus?

* This theory is impossible to prove as all senior public sector managers are RISK averse.