October 27, 2020

Why I can't be lonely

I read a really interesting article this morning.  It discussed a study which concluded that highly intelligent people prefer to be alone.  I agree with this and am fascinated that a study was actually conducted.  Personally, I have always preferred my own company.  I never considered that this had anything to do with intelligence though.  I just chalked it up to being an introvert and didn’t think about it beyond that.  However, on reflection since reading this article, there may be some validity to the study and its conclusions.   

The article states, “Highly intelligent people…use solitude as a way to reset themselves after socializing in highly stressful…environments.”  Only in solitude do I generally find the quiet that I need.  This was part of the problem in my first marriage:  my ex-husband could not handle silence and so constantly talked to fill it.  I found it to be fairly exhausting.  Now some people may be thinking, “but you listen to music all the time” and they’re right, but it’s different.  Music can be non-intrusive background sound.  When someone is speaking though, there is an expectation that you actually listen and respond, even if it’s inane noise. 

With intelligent people, particularly highly intelligent people, the mind works at warp speed.  For me personally, for example, I can read a book and watch a television show at the same time.  Or I can be reading a book while processing some complex computations.  It’s kind of like going through a long test booklet, where you fill in the answers to those quick and easy questions first and come back for the harder ones later.  But in my case, my mind can be working on one of those harder questions at the same time as I’m answering the quick and easy ones.  It really, truly is like having a browser with 11,845 tabs open.  I’m sure I’m not unique in this. 

Later in the article it says, “Just because someone likes to be alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely.”  I have said this so many times.  Fortunately, my husband is one of the few people who can appreciate that I need that alone time on a regular basis.  He is also pretty comfortable with silence. 

The dictionary defines lonely as “sad because one has no friends or company”.  Alone is defined as “having no one else present”.  The difference is (i) when you’re lonely you’re sad and without friends; and (ii) when you’re alone you simply don’t have anyone around at the moment.   The conclusion to be drawn is that for some people, being alone causes the feeling of loneliness.  For people who crave that alone time, they don’t feel lonely because they simply can’t.  If loneliness is a result of being alone for some people, then for those who seek to achieve aloneness “loneliness” simply does not exist. 

In the end, I figure for those of us who seek to be alone, the phrase “go big or go home” is an invitation we should accept and leave.

You can find the article here:  https://bit.ly/34xXvNR


April 20, 2020

How not to lose a job…

My best advice is to pay attention to the writing on the wall.  If your gut says “get out”, then make haste and find a new job. 

Approximately 18 months ago my agency amalgamated with two others.  In the two years before that actually took place there was much negotiation with four parties.  One decided to take the exit ramp about six months before the amalgamation date.  In hindsight this was my agency’s moment when they should have dropped the deal too.  But they didn’t.  As the largest of the remaining three agencies, mine could have easily backed out and subsequently absorbed the smallest one as it was very close to dying already.  The remaining mid-sized one may well have asked to be absorbed by us at some point as well.  We didn’t know it at the time, but they were in a very bad position financially speaking. 

So we soldiered on.  A search was undertaken to find a CEO to lead the new agency into the future.  My boss was one of the short-list of finalists for the position.  She had many advantages – already living locally, already familiar with the system and its players, already leading 80 of the staff pool which would total 140.  The guy who got the job won it based on his having the extra years of experience that the board of directors had established as one of their criteria.  Unbelievably, although he had the degree, he had no actual clinical experience in the field.  So my boss prepared to step into the clinical lead role which she had occupied before her promotion to executive director. 

The board hired the other individual.  This was probably their second mistake, the first being not getting out of the deal when the other agency left.  Well, because things happen in threes, their third mistake was the name they chose for the agency.  One of the three agencies (the mid-sized financially troubled one) was part of a nationally known organization.  The name chosen for the newly forming agency was identical to that agency with the only difference being the tag line.  To compound this mistake, the newly-hired CEO came from one of the other branches of that national agency.  Then, although my agency’s office was named as head office, he installed himself at the mid-sized agency’s offices. 

He was at their office and establishing relationships with their staff for a good two months prior to the actual amalgamation.  During that time he spent an hour at one management meeting with the managers from my agency.  He did make a decision too.  He went to lunch with my boss and told her that on the date of the amalgamation she would be out of work.  Believe it or not, it only got worse from there. 

By way of a little history between the agencies, my agency had a comprehensive set of policies that were followed by staff.  These policies were so good that the mid-sized agency had actually used them quite liberally when they wrote their own policy manuals.  In the year prior to the actual amalgamation, my agency’s staff group had voted in a union.  While I’m not typically pro-union, I do admit that in the long run this may be what saves most of them from the axe.  For some reason the other two agencies that were party to the amalgamation actively disliked my agency.  Maybe they disliked the very forceful person that was executive director when I joined.  It’s possible.  She could certainly rub people the wrong way.  However, she had retired a few years before.  Who knows?  What I do know is that one of our managers had words with a manager from the agency that had dropped out of the amalgamation.  That manager said to our manager that our managers had better watch out now.  The implied threat in the conversation was that she had been telling our new boss bad things about us.  I guess it was true because he came in with bias against us. 

On the day of the amalgamation he had had a large all-staff meeting event planned at a local arena, with delegates from the national agency and its provincial counterpart.  Although there are three main components to the work we do, their focus remained only on the one which the mid-sized agency does and ignored the other two services provided by my agency.  I knew we were in for some trouble when he was asked about his vision for the new company and he replied, “I prefer to let things happen in their own time and in their own way.”  Uh oh.  That did not sound like the proactive hand of a strong leader! 

As the executive assistant at my agency, I figured I would have to fight for my job because there was also an executive assistant at the mid-sized agency.  I was sure my skills would stack up very well, but she had the advantage of already working for him for two months.  It didn’t get any better when he spent four out of five days every week at their office instead of my office – which as you may recall was named by the board of directors as the head office.  After about six weeks of his not making a decision about who was his EA, I spoke with the boss and told him I felt he was being unfair to both me and the other person as we were being held in limbo.  Shortly after that he finally made a decision that I was it.  The other EA expressed an interest in moving in the human resources department and that was fine with me. 

In the meantime, one of the nine remaining managers with my agency decided to leave.  The boss didn’t fill the position, instead leaving it to a junior manager to run the department.  Several months later he fired a senior manager who was lead for one of the main divisions.  That manager was not replaced and the junior manager in that division was expected to step up.  I really felt for her as not only did she have her existing staff group of 25, but had the additional burden of overseeing the third (and smallest) amalgamating agency.  This was a staff group of ten, giving her 35 in all.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that she had to provide clinical support and oversight to these individuals, it is a lot.  In particular, the staff from the smallest agency had not had any real clinical support or management in a long time and it took a lot of her time to get them on the right track. 

Before our first year was up, that junior manager also left.  She was the third one gone in a year (not including my former boss who never actually got to start with the newly-amalgamated agency).  At that point I started keeping my eyes open for a new job.  I wasn’t actively seeking a position, but would not have looked the other way if I saw an opportunity.  By now staff from my former agency who were eligible were taking retirement.  At least two of them were not replaced.  One of the staff was promoted to “interim manager”. 

I had two large projects to complete.  First I had to convert signage at all the sites to the new logo.  It was a bigger job than I anticipated.  Most of the work was completed last summer as door and window decals stick better in warm weather.  Also, exterior signage needed to be installed when sidewalks were free of the obstruction of snow.  Permits were needed, permissions from landlords, and all organized by me.  Then early last fall I was given the task of organizing the logistics of moving three staff groups around.  One group was being relocated to the mid-sized agency’s site.  Their administrative staff (finance and human resources) was being co-located with my administration group into the space just vacated by the first staff group, and another small program was to move into my existing staff group’s space.  It was a big challenge, but I was up to it.  The biggest challenge was that the boss wanted it to happen within six weeks and the second biggest challenge was that I had a hell of a time nailing him down to make decisions about which offices would be assigned to whom.  It was as smooth as I could make it, with few minor hiccups, some of which involved his making different decisions after his “final” decisions had been made.  I got it done though.

We were barely unpacked when another manager gave notice.  This one was a real blow as it was an individual who had been with the agency for over 20 years.  They had a lot of historical knowledge as well as financial and policy knowledge.  This was the manager who was in charge of the finances for the agency.  They had come against the new boss a few times over questionable financial decisions he made without consultation.  I had suggested a couple of times to the boss that he not operate in a vacuum and that he could and should rely on the wisdom and experience of his managers.  Nope.  He regularly made major decisions without consultation, unless he was using his Magic 8-Ball. 

My agency had been very frugal and consequently very successful at growing a financial cushion.  He burned through that money in record time, using it to pay consultants for this, that, and the other thing.  He also used it to bail out the mid-sized agency’s deficit.  The manager gave 8 weeks’ notice of intention to leave.  During that time he never took a moment to speak with the manager privately to discuss anything.  It was only as he was leaving for a conference a few days before their last day of work that the boss actually stopped by to say he was sorry they hadn’t had time for an exit interview.  She had given 8 weeks’ notice, but apparently that didn’t leave him enough time to schedule an exit interview.  Since I maintained his calendar it would have been a simple thing for him to ask for me to book something in.  Instead, he waited a month before sending the notice to staff of the manager’s upcoming departure and finally posting the new position.  I think he was trying to figure out a way to not replace her.  The reality was that that manager and clerk were two people doing the work of four people (as one was let go and another was on long term sick leave).  I started looking more actively, although my husband suggested I wait for the inevitable moment when the board woke up to their mistakes and fired the CEO. 

So with the finance manager’s position finally advertised, the human resources manager handed in her resignation.  If you’re keeping track, this makes 5 out of the original 9 that have left.  She was not going anywhere, being financially secure enough not to need to work.  She just wanted out. 

One of the human resources manager’s last acts prior to leaving was to sit in on a meeting with me and the boss where he let me go.  That just made me sick and very angry.  I had sat in her office many times, with both of us complaining about the boss.  I thought she might have had my back and at least given me a heads up, even if only to suggest that I make sure I had any personal documents off the computer.  Nope.  He told me that he didn’t feel we were compatible and that I didn’t seem very happy.  I’d say that he was perceptive, but I think she fed him that information.  As for us not being compatible, that is because I tried my best, and butted heads with him, in an effort to keep him adhering to policies.  Not only that, but I knew he was regularly lying to the board of directors.  The human resources manager watched as I packed my office and she walked me out the door.  As I left I told her I wanted an excellent reference, beyond the usual “she worked here from this date to that”.  She promised me that the boss was not out to tank my career and she’d have him write one. 

I met a lawyer the next day and he reviewed the package offered to me, advising that it was an excellent package and I should accept it.  I called the human resources manager the day after that and reminded her that I was looking for an excellent reference letter and would be signing off on the package offered based on her promise to have one provided to me. 

When I followed up with her successor a week or so later, she didn’t understand why I wanted a reference in writing.  Since the world had come to a stop due to Covid19, she stated they were very busy.  I informed her that as I used to keep the boss’s schedule, I knew for a fact that he wasn’t that busy now because most of his days had typically been filled with meetings and these would have all been cancelled.  I finally received an envelope and inside was the standard “she worked here” information.  Not the reference I was promised.  I followed up and was told that was all I was getting.  The former human resources manager had returned to fill in at my position.  The new human resources manager stated she had checked with the former manager and amazingly she did not recall either of those conversations.  Yup, she has drank the koolaid. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the former finance person reached out to me indicating I should review my last paystub carefully to ensure that it had been processed correctly.  With her expertise, we figured out pretty quickly that this was very wrong.  The lump sum severance payment had been included incorrectly as income, and thereby taxed at the wrong rate.  My other deductions were also wrong as a result.  She helped me with a spreadsheet showing what was wrong compared to what it should be and I submitted that to the agency.  Hopefully they correct this.  In the meantime, my former boss has said she would provide me the reference I deserve.  

In retrospect, it was very obvious that he has a distinct bias against anyone in my former agency.  In any situation where someone from my agency contradicted anyone from the mid-sized agency, he always sided with them.  Even in the instance where we pointed out a safety concern, he went against this in favour of how the other agency's staff person wanted to do things.  When one of my agency's managers reported a breach of privacy to him (which was in turn reportable by him to the provincial privacy officer), he told her not to be a tattle-tale.  He never reported it.  Instead of hiring a person who would draw the three agencies together in a true amalgamation, this CEO works hard to keep the wedge in place and to grow it. 

The lessons I learned here:

  1. Trust your gut.  When it says go, you go.
  2. Be careful who you call friend. 
  3. Get legal advice, but also get financial advice.  
  4. Get all the promises in writing before you sign off. 

February 07, 2020

It's not just the journey, it's who you're with.

I belong to a motorcycle group.  Not one of those stereotype clubs, but a group of people who like riding bikes, who like fundraising for worthwhile causes, and who like hanging out together.  About three or so years ago I had backed way off from participating in most of the activities due in part to my husband’s PTSD, and in part to my own health issues I was dealing with.  Then about two years ago I got a call from one of my club-mates who was now the president of our chapter.  He told me that a lot of things had changed, and he needed me. 

So I went.  A lot of things had changed!  Over half our membership had dropped away, some of them to form a new club, and others just gone.  To my chagrin, I saw that some of the remaining members were ones I wished had left:  one being a trouble-making know-it-all, and another being a back-stabbing asshole.  I know this because it was my back that got stabbed.  I saw fairly quickly why the president needed me.  It was obvious that he was ‘alone’ after the departure of a number of established members.  He needed someone on his side and I was it.  Despite his being president, I witnessed overt hostility and disrespect towards him.  As the months rolled on, he told me he was calling it quits after the next elections.  He was sick of the fighting.  I convinced him to stay and told him that if he ran for president again, I would run for vice-president and that side-by-side we would rebuild. 

My husband, also a member, had started coming out again at my request, in an effort to bolster our numbers.  It was obviously a situation where we needed all the help we could get.  For example, years before I had been secretary to the club.  I regularly used my laptop to take minutes.  Being in that line of work, I’m well versed in minute-taking and in using a computer to do so.  On one occasion our secretary called to ask if I could take minutes since she wasn't sure she would be there.  As I started recording the minutes of the meeting, the vice-president insisted that his wife would take the minutes (by hand).  I responded that I had been asked by the secretary to fill in for her, but then the back-stabbing member spoke out saying that he didn’t want anything to end up on the internet. 

WHAT?  Has this guy been living under a rock?  I mean, I successfully managed to be secretary for a whole year without once posting our minutes on the internet.  Not only that but, as I now pointed out, minutes are a record of the proceedings, not a word-by-word recital of the meeting.  Finally, I just closed my laptop and gave in.  It wasn’t worth the argument.  A month later this guy ran for president, the vice-president ran again for vice-president, and both their wives ran for treasurer.  They were running against our sitting president, me for VP, and my own husband for treasurer.  So they both got voted in, but as I pointed out, neither of their wives were technically allowed to sit as treasurer since we prohibit spouses from both being able to access the bank.  My husband got the position of treasurer based on my one vote.  A few weeks later the new president called and insisted that my husband couldn’t be treasurer.  Since my hubby didn’t really want the job, it was easier to just give in. 

The trouble-making know-it-all was appointed as our sergeant-at-arms.  Meetings became a tedious exercise in accomplishing nothing.  I didn’t want to hang out with these people at all.  I was made to feel very unwelcome in a club that I had helped to build for 16 years to that point.  But I still went to the meetings and put in my time working on our fundraisers as I didn’t want to give the back-stabbing asshole any reason to oust me, as he had tried unsuccessfully to do years before. 

Time passed and I contacted my former president, wanting to know why he hadn't come out to any meetings.  Lo and behold he had not been informed of any meetings.  Interestingly, when the secretary sent notice of meetings, she somehow forgot him.  He told me he was ready to go with the other group that splintered off.  

As time moved forward it became painfully obvious that my chapter was disintegrating.  Our president called a special meeting wherein he claimed that several women had approached him to say that our vice-president was grabbing their asses and making them uncomfortable.  So, led by the president and the trouble-making know-it-all, the local group voted to remove that individual as a member.  This left a vacancy on our executive table, but before it could be filled…our president has been a tenant on the property of the VP.  The VP decided to terminate the tenancy and ordered the president to vacate the land immediately.  So while there was some personal arguing, posturing, fighting, going on (whatever word you want to use), the trouble-making know-it-all informed the group by text that as his president and vice-president are having some dissension, he will be taking over the group.  Well didn’t I laugh over that one!  Even if both left, the next in line would be the treasurer, followed by the secretary.  He has no real authority – it’s all in his head. 

The end result of the in-fighting is that both the VP and the trouble-making know-it-all are asked to leave the chapter.  Now the president needs a VP and a secretary.  He asked me to sit in on a meeting as secretary, which I agreed to do for one meeting only and that I would be using my laptop.  At that meeting, he asked me to take the VP position.  I can only imagine how that must have tasted coming out of his mouth considering how he tried so hard to get rid of me after stabbing me in the back a few years before. 

Meanwhile, our former president has had coffee with me many times to shoot the shit.  He has his ear very close to the ground.  He tells me that although planning is underway among the remaining, rapidly dwindling, members for our annual fundraising ride, all other chapters will boycott the event and word is out generally to stay away.  I told him I still had to go through the motions.  I helped plan an event for 100 people knowing full well that there would be less than ten people there, including me, my husband, my son, the president and his wife.  It was a sad event, with only two outsiders attending.

The week following that event, I met with the president.  I suggested that he take it as a sign and walk away from the club.  His refusal was selfish – he wanted to finish out his year as president and then step back into being just a member.  Oddly enough, he did empty his car into mine.  He had brought all the club possessions – beer, plastic cutlery, paper plates, cash box, briefcase with minutes, etc.  All of it.  He passed it and the keys over to me saying that he was scheduled for some emergency surgery and wanted me to have all of this in case it didn’t go well.  Now I’m not a doctor, not even close, but I know that emergency surgery by its very nature is not “scheduled”.   

At this point I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I called a meeting of the members (without him), and even had the former president attend.  At this meeting I gained the support of the members to ask our sitting president to leave.  As I was currently the appointed vice-president, I moved into the president’s chair.  My first act as president was to ask members if they knew anyone that would be interested in joining our group.  We soon had some old members coming back and new ones interested in coming aboard.  Hallelujah!

At our elections this past September, the club voted unanimously to elect me as president for this year.  I’m pleased to say that other members stepped up to the plate for the other executive roles.  I also told them that my clear mandate was to increase our membership, but to do so with quality members.  We want people that we’d like to hang out with.  I further said that any drama would be dealt with immediately and decisively.  We will not fall into the trap of letting someone in just because they represent another number.  We will be discriminating.  One last thing I said was that they had just elected a tyranny.  I don’t plan to make unilateral decisions, but I won’t committee things to death either.  There will be discussion followed by decisions. 

Now that I’ve been the president for six months or so, I’ve come to ask myself, “What was I thinking?”  Not because I don’t want to lead the group back to greatness, but because as president I am expected to (1) attend every meeting, and (2) make appearances at other chapters’ events.  Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ve got a good group with me on the journey. 

January 21, 2020

A Time to Flee

A bad boss can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.

When I saw this on Facebook recently, it resonated with me.  Here’s why:

A few years ago the health care agency I worked for started to explore the possibility of amalgamating with three other local agencies that provide similar services, the rationale being that we could provide better, more streamlined service to what was essentially the same list of clients.  So two years later things were almost complete and ready to be signed when one of the agencies decided they wanted out.  There were a number of problems that they could not overcome, one of the main ones being their staff were much higher paid and as a result would be “red-circled”, or held at their rate of pay until the rest caught up at some point in a few years. 

Hindsight always being 20/20, I wish my agency had also withdrawn at this point.  Instead, the remaining three agencies decided to continue and signed the deal.  The new CEO was hired and as of the “go live” date, we became one agency.  On paper at least. 

There were problems even before the official start date for the new agency.  The boards had opted for the agency to become a member agency to a national organization.  There were a lot of good reasons for this.  Unfortunately, one of the three agencies party to the amalgamation was already a member of that organization and the name the board chose for our “new” agency was pretty much exactly the same as that previously-existing agency.  Topping this off was the fact that the new boss arrived from having been CEO of another agency that was also part of this national brand.  Now, although my agency had been the largest of the original four agencies, it felt like this much smaller agency had taken over. 

The CEO, who was supposed to bring us together under one umbrella, has not really managed to do so.  On moving some staff (from my original agency) from one location to another, he told them that they were the visitors to the new site.  Other moves saw some of those other agency administration staff joining in with my staff group.  Despite our being the larger, more financially viable agency, and the fact that the Board had largely decided to use our policies for the new agency, he has managed to make us feel like interlopers on our own turf.  When staff from my agency have any issues, they are pooh poohed away.  When staff from the other agency even make a whimper, he bends over to kiss their asses and makes it better.  For example, with most of us not being able to see the reception area, there is a doorbell to alert us when someone comes in.  This is needed because our receptionist works only 4 days a week and because she does seem to spend a good portion of time away from her desk on the days she does work.  For the rest of us, the doorbell is not only an alert, but a safety thing so that we know when someone has come in, rather than simply being surprised when they show up at our office door.  But the receptionist (who came from the other agency) didn’t like the doorbell, so it’s gone.  In its place is a little bell that you have to tap.  I don’t think anyone has used this yet and instead they still walk down the hall and surprise us. 

Here we are almost 18 months later and it’s not improved – at least not for staff from my original agency, managers in particular.  Out of the ten managers we had at the outset, only four remain.  Sadly he’s managed to drive away or outright fire the very people who could have helped him manage this transition smoothly.  He seemingly operates in a vacuum, without consultation with any managers.  In fact, he clearly prefers to consult with individuals outside the agency.  I’m somewhat outspoken and early on even suggested that his managers would be invaluable in the transition.  Nope.  He bowls ahead without even consulting the accountant before making financial decisions that will have long-term impact. 

While I work in healthcare now, my background was in the corporate world.  What I’m observing is just blowing me away.  How could the hiring committee, the recruitment agency, and the transition consultant have gotten this major decision so wrong?  How has he managed to successfully pull the wool over so many eyes as to keep going?  I see bad decision after bad decision and it’s unchecked because he’s the boss.  His boss is the board of directors and they are not present on a day-to-day basis so they only see him once a month.  This would never fly in the corporate world.  Never. 

Also, unfortunately, I am in a position to know what I’m talking about.  I report directly to this CEO as I’m his assistant.  While my spouse thinks I should stick around to see what happens over the next few months, I’ve updated my resume and have started looking around because he is a bad boss and although I’m the best assistant he will ever have (in my humble opinion), I find I’m not happy coming to work each day.  I’m not motivated to do my best for this boss.  It’s time to flee.