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.