The working environment at the office had quickly turned nasty under the new owners, but recently it had become just plain toxic. I talked to my wife and some friends, and we decided to jump ship before the crash, but first provide ourselves with parachutes. Turned out to be the best thing we could have done.
Just gone nine. Great start to the working week. In to see my team leader to hand in my notice.
Josh’s facial expression showed clearly to any observer that he didn’t like what he was reading, but he quickly pulled himself round as he put my letter of resignation from MNO back down on his desk, almost putting his professional face back on as he spoke clearly and calmly.
“Thanks for ruining my Monday morning quite so early on, Strat. I’d love it if you would tell me that you’re joking? You’ve been here way too long to suddenly quit. Hey, I told you I’m sorry that we couldn’t give you a raise this year, but nobody in our section got one. Heck, my salary was frozen as well, you know.”
“I know it, Josh. Though I did understand that the wage freeze thawed somewhat further up the food chain?”
He grimaced at my response. It was common knowledge that while team leaders and section heads had shared the pain of the company’s foot soldiers, departmental managers upwards had received ‘compensation’ for ‘increased responsibilities’. Yeah, right. If you believe that one, can I interest you in a rare pre-owned bridge, guaranteed great investment potential?
“Yeah, so maybe that was not the best example of corporate motivation. I hate to lose you from the team, Strat, so I’m going to boot your resignation upstairs, see if they can swing something loose to keep you.”
“Okay, Josh. Thanks, but I don’t think they will even try to fix the problem. As I said in my letter of resignation, I’m more than happy to work out my notice, and naturally, I’ll leave everything tidy for you.”
He nodded sadly and rose as I got out of my chair, holding out his hand to shake.
“I know you will, Strat. That’s another reason I can’t afford for you to go. You’re one of my best workers, and I’m not all that sure I’ll be allowed to replace you. They’re talking about eliminating Ed’s position now he’s been fired. Jeez, this place is going to the dogs! How the heck am I supposed to produce the work when I’m down my best-performing two?”
I nodded my agreement. The work environment had soured badly recently, starting at the beginning of the year. The company wasn’t the place it had been when I’d started out when I’d left college nearly seven years ago. Then, it had been exciting and fun, and I’d thrived on the challenge. Old Mr Wesley had been a firm but fair boss. He’d run things the old way; we had a company picnic each summer when he’d pay for entertainment and we all brought our own baskets and shared the food and drink. The year before he died had been a good one; he’d hired a jazz quartet to play and there was a face painter and one of those balloon artists for the kids. There’d been a heavily-subsidized Christmas dinner dance each year when he handed out the bonus checks; they too were only a memory.
It had been a real sad day when he’d had the stroke and his family had sold the business to a big company looking to expand nationally, MNO Corp. Now? The work was much the same, still satisfying, but on a Venn diagram, the working conditions were midway between circles labeled ‘frustrating’, ‘slave labor’ and ‘toxic’, and rapidly getting worse. Back then when I started out, you saw the managers around the floor, senior engineers who were approachable and more than willing to share their experience. Now? Those guys were long gone; I’d be hard pressed to recognize most of the inhabitants of the top floor, even with their smug faces posted up behind the reception desk in gilded photo frames.
Under Mr Wesley, you were required to undertake continuous professional training and keep abreast of technological developments which would help you do your job better and smarter. Now? Every time one of us had put in to attend a course to update our skills or knowledge, we were told that the training budget was already overspent. Upgrading the computer software we now relied on? No chance. Replacing slow or outdated hardware? Forget it. We had just one printer capable of producing full-size drawings in our office; whenever it broke down (which was becoming ever more frequent) we lost our ability to supply our clients with paper copies for site work until the technician arrived to fix it again. From being a forward-thinking company, we were rapidly going backwards.
MNO Corp was a conglomerate which had lost its way. Badly. It wasn’t an organization I was happy to represent. Working for Wesley’s, I knew that if I promised a client something, the firm would help me deliver it. MNO? Sometimes it was genuinely a matter of achieving things despite the company – for example, we now had to order supplies centrally once a week within a fixed budget – no use if a printer cartridge ran out, or we suddenly needed more drafting paper. We all started hoarding, but I knew of several occasions when one of us had been forced to buy supplies at lunch hour without a guarantee of being repaid.
So, it absolutely wasn’t only the wage freeze that had sparked my resignation; it was more the totality of the fact that I was no longer enjoying working here. Yeah, I still loved my profession; civil and mechanical engineering had held my interest ever since I’d attended a work experience day at this very office in tenth grade, and had realized just how vital building services were. Trouble was, I wanted to do my job in an environment that fostered team working and bouncing ideas off of each other. We just weren’t allowed to do that any longer. One of my colleagues had been hauled over the coals for daring to talk about a project to a colleague in another department without having first obtained permission from the other guy’s manager! Talk about a silo mentality!
I’d had about ten minutes back at my desk when I got the expected call. Our section head summoned me. I hit the washroom on the way up to his office to check my tie was straight.
“Mr Wilcox, you wanted to see me?”
“Come in, Stratford, take a seat. Josh tells me you’re quitting, I just wanted to see if there’s anything I can do to make you change your mind? How about a special retention bonus, say five hundred bucks? I’m sorry I can’t make it more, my discretionary budget is going to be strained enough with that.”
I grinned at him. Old Wilcox was okay, just too nice a guy to be in management in our company the way it had gone since MNO took over. The other sections in the department kept rolling him over, and we all suffered. The guy just couldn’t say ‘no’. In Mr Wesley’s day, that had been entirely commendable, putting the firm first and contributing to the whole. Now, it was plain dangerous. My guess was that our fourteen percent of the staff produced forty to fifty percent of the departmental revenue. Yeah, in a way it was his fault for not standing his ground, but the real source of the problem was higher up.
“Sorry, Mr Wilcox, but that won’t cut it. I’ll work my notice, leave everything tidy, and then I’ll be gone. Thanks for everything over the last six years. I’ve learned a lot.”
“I’ll be sorry to see you go, Stratford.”
His handshake was genuine. Like I said, too nice a guy.
I’d been back at work for twenty minutes when Sheila from HR called.
“Strat, Ms Beyts wants to see you five minutes ago. She’s riled. Meet me at Kelly’s Bar after work, will you?”
“Okay, I’ll do that. Tell her I’m on my way.”
So, the Vice President for Human Resources was involved already? That was even faster than she’d moved on Ed Norton the previous week.
I poked my nose in Josh’s office and told him that Ms Beyts had called for me and I’d be away from my desk again. He scowled, but not at me. She wasn’t his favorite person. Actually, she wasn’t anyone’s favorite. Josh had once quietly (and in a safe place outside the office) questioned whether even her parents had ever liked her. He did risk a wink as he acknowledged my statement.
I went straight up, and naturally she then kept me waiting around outside her office. Part of her power play; I was expecting it. I stood where she could easily see me through her glass partition and took some enjoyment out of her pretending to ignore me. I used the time chatting to Babs, her secretary, about what we’d done at the weekend. Babs and I had always gotten on fine; although we hadn’t seen a lot of her downstairs since Ms Beyts had blown in a year ago to be the new VP on the block and had started shaking the place up. For our new alien overlords, it was clearly more important that Babs be constantly sitting at her desk, instantly ready to respond to her boss’s latest whim, than being out and about gathering information and keeping things running smoothly. She wasn’t even allowed to hand deliver stuff; it now had to go in the ‘correspondence out’ tray to be collected twice a day by the mail room staff, with consequent delay. She was now so bored that she’d arranged to do admin work for HR, just to have something to think about all day.
Ten minutes after I’d arrived, two big guys from Security finally came along. I tapped my smartphone and put it back in my shirt pocket. Babs gasped, immediately recognizing what was happening. Her boss’s door opened and Ms Beyts glared at me.
“In here, Meadows!”
I winked at Babs, and walked in. The two goons followed.
“Meadows, you’re terminated. You will be escorted to your desk and then off the premises. You will take nothing but personal items. You will not touch your computer or any office files. You will not speak with any of your former colleagues. If you attempt to re-enter the offices I will have you arrested for trespass. Do I make myself clear?”
“Care to explain why?”
“I will not have this company blackmailed by some loser trying to extort a raise by threatening to leave. I’m calling your bluff and firing you. There will be no recommendation. You will not be paid for today. Get out!”
I got out. I grinned at Babs as I passed her desk, making the ‘I’ll call you’ gesture, then led my escort downstairs to my desk.
“Okay, guys, I know that you’re only doing your job. I was expecting this, so I’m pretty much cleared out of personal things. Just my coat and coffee mug, and I guess you’ll need my badge and parking permit?”
They wouldn’t let me say anything to anyone. Josh tried to approach me but was warned off. I nodded to my friends as I walked out of the office for the last time. The goons took my badge and permit and watched me drive out of the office car park. I pulled over after a block, switched off the ‘record’ function of my phone, and called my wife.
“Hi, honey, it went just as I expected. Are you free for lunch?”
“It’s a little early, but yes. I’ll be downstairs in the lobby in five.”
I looked at my watch. Even with Ms Beyts keeping me waiting, it was only half past ten. Gee, time sure flies when you’re having fun. I drove over to Janice’s block and parked up; she was down in the lobby, saw me arrive and came out, meeting me in front of the entrance.
“Coffee, or home for a very long lunch?”
She giggled. Giggling always does interesting things to her chest, but sadly she was in a work bra and blouse, so I had to imagine the details.
“Honey, much as I’d like to celebrate by tearing up the sheets right now, can you try to restrain your passions until tonight?”
“Only if you give me a kiss that promises enough for me to be able to hold it in?”
She laid one on me that caused locational problems in my pants; I had to put a hand in my pocket and make an adjustment. Her eyes showed her triumph. We’ve been married four years now, and it certainly hasn’t yet gotten old and stale.
“Sheila said she’d meet us at Kelly’s after work. Then might you consider buying a poor unemployed guy dinner?”
“Okay, but you’d better not take the extra-special loving you’re going to get later as a mercy hump?”
“No way, honey, I’ll treat it as a gift from the gods, as always.”
We had a coffee over the road, then I picked up a couple of pre-made sub sandwiches for our lunch and accompanied her back to work. I kissed her as she left the elevator on her floor, and continued up to the fifth, knocking on a plain door with no business name. Ed Norton unlocked the door and grinned at me.
“Hey, Strat! I heard you were on your way over. Did she bitch at you for long?”
“Nah, she didn’t start on me until she had her two goons behind me, and they ran me straight out of town. She got as far as calling me a blackmailing loser.”
“Lucky you! I got the full ten minutes until even she realized that she was repeating herself. Come on in. I’ve got the coffee maker going in your honor, then we’ll talk.”
He ushered me in and re-locked the door behind us. We had gotten ourselves a monthly lease of a spare suite in Janice’s building; there were several vacancies and they were unlikely to be filled until the economy improved again. The building management company were happy to have some additional income, and had made us a very reasonable deal. We were keeping it all hush-hush until we had our ducks in a row, hence the anonymous door.
Ed and I went through a few papers and made a couple of calls; he went out for lunch with his wife, and Janice came up to eat with me. We had time for a little more making out before she went back downstairs. I drove over to meet with an old client and got back in time to join the gang at Kelly’s Bar for an hour or so. Sheila was grinning as she handed me an envelope with copies of all my past job reviews; they were without exception positive. Janice and I both hugged her as we all said goodnight and headed for home.
Janice and I decided to go with a takeout that could be eaten in bed, and picked that up on the way. Boy, that evening was a celebration. She sure knows how to make me feel better.
Tuesday morning, Janice and I showered together, breakfasted together, rode in together. With only one income, there was no point in driving two cars to the same place. We also got to lay another kiss on each other outside her office, causing a cheer from a couple of her colleagues who were waiting to enter. I got back in the elevator and let myself into my new workplace.
An hour later, Ed drove me over to our appointment with his sister Carol, I gave her the recording from my phone and the papers that Sheila had passed to me the evening before. Carol was smiling wolfishly as she listened to the audio.
“Boy, that woman is so fucking dumb! No due process, no warning, no paperwork, breach of contract not accepting your written notice duly given, the humiliation of being marched out of the building. We just need her to keep letting her ego make all the decisions a while longer.”