In which the farewells begin transparently …

I’ve been to a coffee morning this morning to bid farewell to my excellent team. It was one of those happy-sad occasions. We chewed the cud over the funny incidents and accidents of our time together. And we talked about the future.

For a couple of my more mature colleagues redundancy has enabled them to plan for a future that sounds suspiciously like the Big Society. Volunteering in a local school. Working in a charity shop. Putting those years of experience and knowledge to work profitably to help their local communities.

For others the future is much less certain. My younger colleagues with larger mortgages, younger children and talents that no longer seem valued by society are in a different place. Modest pay-offs will not last long. So job hunting has taken on a feverish tempo.

I am intensely proud of each of them. They were a pleasure to lead and any organisation would be better for employing them. They bring warmth, good sense and practical know-how to any problem they encounter. It’s deeply depressing to think of them as redundant public servants.

But, of course, they are one team among many. Farewells are such a commonplace event now that they are barely remarked upon.

As we munched cupcakes our thoughts turned to the state of our professional world and the many organisations with which we had worked. We’d each kept in touch with our contacts and it soon emerged that the trickle of workers leaving employment is fast becoming a flood. Inexorably numbers creep higher as new individuals and teams join the flow. No organisation that we could think of was untouched at any level.

We talked too about the news on the radio this morning about greater transparency over public sector pay. Colleagues heading off into the sunset cited this as one of the reasons getting out of public service worked for them. If you’re characterised as lazy, incompetent and not worth the money you have somehow conned idiotic local politicians into paying you why would you hang around to be the public butt of taxpayer ill-humour.

Interestingly it wasn’t that my soon-to-be-former colleagues resented transparency they just thought it ought to go much further. How about publishing the pay details of staff over £58k in businesses whose turnover depends on public sector business. You could set a proportion here that was reasonable? Say 70%.

Hold on, you might say, these are private businesses. Well, they are. But their income comes predominantly from us taxpayers. So what’s the substantive difference?

And if the principle holds good for taxpayers why not extend the rights to shareholders in private enterprises. Excessive pay in the private sector means higher prices for consumers or lower returns for shareholders. Private sector pay is equally everyone’s business, isn’t it? If transparency on pay is a good thing let’s have more of it everywhere. Why not publish everyone’s tax returns? Wouldn’t that encourage an army of armchair tax inspectors? That will sort out avoidance and evasion.

Of course we’ve never been the sort of country that’s been comfortable with parading personal affairs – particularly financial ones – in public. Until now of course and only if you happen to be a public servant … perhaps there will be stocks or a version of Total Wipeout to help determine whether public servants are value for money or not.

Perhaps it is time to go after all …

Posted in people management, private sector, Public sector, Redundancy, value for money, war on the deficit | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

In which I revisit my Christmas wishes …

I suppose its my thorough indoctrination in public sector performance management that makes me want to measure progress against objectives. It seems a little like overkill to do this with Christmas wishes but I like to think I am a thorough sort of chap.

Here’s my progress report to date –

… public servants get the recognition they deserve for helping to keep society glued together …

Well, there’s not much sign of this so far really. The evil bureaucrat rhetoric was being trotted out again yesterday in the latest Big Society boost. Far from being the glue that keeps things together public servants are now often seen as the treacle that gums up the wheels.

Get rid of them and the machine can really get motoring. All I can say is watch out for the wheels flying off when it reaches terminal velocity. It will not be pretty.

… truthfulness becomes a defining characteristic of our national life …

As MPs and Lords begin to be convicted for their expense creativity you might think that truthfulness is on the up. Well I’m not so sure. As cuts begin to bite and threaten cherished projects like The Big Society watch the intensity of the blame game deepen.

The public will soon lose patience with endless repetition of statistics and claims of who is or isn’t to blame. My experience of electors is that they live in the now. Macroeconomic theorising means little if your valued service faces being closed.

One of the interesting things emerging is how attached people are to all sorts of public services that many of them never go near. People get misty-eyed about libraries, forests, community centres, leisure centres, museums and the like.

I cannot help but be reminded of the Not the Nine O’clock News skit by Rowan Atkinson as the vicar during a recording of Songs of Praise lambasting his suddenly very large congregation for all the years of ‘no-shows’. All rectified by the appearance of s few TV cameras.

Part of me cannot help but wonder why changes to welfare entitlements that affect many of our most vulnerable fellow citizens seem to attract less mainstream attention than a library closure. (And I’m a bibliophile.)

That’s the problem with electorates though. Whatever politicians may want voters get to choose what it is they care about.

… emotional intelligence becomes a valued trait in the workplace …

This has been a bit hit and miss in its delivery. Not through malice or any lack of interest but simply through the sheer pace and scale of events. The sense I have from talking with corporate departments and with other fellow travellers on the road to redundancy in other organisations is that people are close to being overwhelmed. Vacancies are being frozen. Outside help is being provided from agencies or short-term contractors. Organisations are beginning to lose their sense of self.

In these circumstances its easy to see how it’s hard just to keep up with statutory requirements let alone adding an extra dimension of humanity to these processes. And we’re now dealing with mass redundancies in public and voluntary sector organisations. The sheer logistics of doing these in a careful and thoughtful way is daunting just to think about.

Of course many of those having to manage the process are already on their own journeys to redundancy. It’s easy to forget that. I know I have been guilty of that myself. I cannot remember a time when I have met so many people who seem so physically and emotionally tired. Actually not just tired. They’re exhausted. Exhausted people make poor decisions. It’s hard not to be anything other than gloomy about the prospects for this wish during the rest of 2011.

… to be wrong about the prospects for the economy …

I’m not sure things look any brighter here really. The GDP figures for Q4 of 2010 were bad. My experience of being out and about since the start of the year is that people are drawing their horns in. And who can blame them? We certainly have shifted to an austerity household budget.

There is some evidence that manufacturing is doing well helped by a weak pound but overseas demand is pretty patchy. In the meantime planned public sector job losses here are already greater than organisations like the Local Government Association were predicting.

It’s hard to see where significant growth might come from particularly as the government has set its face against any public sector stimulus. Of course we can take some pride from the performance of our financial sector. Even our banks seem to be able to take advantage of relatively cheap money and a state guarantee to create profits and big bonus pools.

Makes you proud doesn’t it?

My final Christmas Wish was that al readers got to have a wonderful and joyous Christmas. Seems a long time ago though doesn’t it?

Still cheer up there are only 313 days left to Christmas 2011. Get Easter out-of-the-way and I’m sure we’ll begin to see Christmas merchandise hit supermarket shelves.

Posted in A Christmas wish, bad news, Big Society, bureaucrats, Christmas, CSR2010, Good Society, political debate, Redundancy, war on the deficit | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

In which there are two weeks to go …

First things first. Happy Valentine’s Day. May you and the object of your affections be blessed in a Readybrek-like warm glow.

Right that’s enough soppiness let’s move on swiftly.

Unbelievably the two-week warning is lit up. Where did those months and days go? Too late to worry too much now, of course.

I’m a strong believer in the power of visualisation as an aid to performance. I’ve even gone so far as to rehearse whole difficult conversations all the way through, swapping chairs to play both sides of the discussion. It greatly puzzled our office cleaner who caught me one evening leaping from chair to chair whilst arguing with myself.

I’ve been applying the same visualisation techniques to my departure. It’s not a dead-end or a brick wall or a terrible void yawning deep and cavernous at my feet. Not now anyway. Although that may have been the case at the start of this journey.

Nope, the images I am using now are all about transformation rather than an end to or suspension of development. I don’t plan to be like one of those plaster-cast victims of Vesuvius caught out of time in mid-flight. Instead, like Pliny’s uncle I am in my boat pulling for the open sea. (Albeit with better respiratory function I hope.)

So what are the most appropriate mental images for the final bend in the race to the redundancy line? Well I suppose there’s that one: the race. But this suggests everything stops at the line. Now that can’t be right.

I’ve played around before with ‘Geronimo’ and leaping out of trees or aircraft. This doesn’t seem quite right either. There’s always a landing.

A makeover? No, don’t have the legs for that. A re-birth? No, I saw the Lady Gaga pictures from the Grammies and that really isn’t me. A chrysalis then? Do me a favour, I’ve seen Spinal Tap.

Over the weekend I saw the perfect image. Something that perfectly embodies the ferocious struggle in its elemental vastness. Of course it could only be: the snowdrop.

It’s not an original thought – the romantic poets are of course there ahead of me – but I was out somewhere wild over the weekend tramping along and thinking. Walking is good for that. Anyway there’s not much stirring just now in the countryside. But there on a bank sheltered by a hawthorn hedge and dappled in the weak and milky sunlight were my old friends the snowdrops.

Back in November this spot was under a heap of snow and it felt like nothing would ever flower here again. But there they are. Tiny and fragile-seeming yet tough as old nails. And with an apparent boundless capacity to bounce back after the hardest frosts and the deepest snows.

That’s toughness. Resilience. Grace.

After the winter comes the spring. Of course it’s often hard to remember that when things are at their gloomiest. But it’s at least a cheering thought. The quiet strength of the snowdrop will always outlast the roaring present tempests.

The snow-drop, Winter’s timid child,

Awakes to life bedew’d with tears;

Mary Robinson, 1758-1800

Posted in bad news, Redundancy, success | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

In which my jaw goes thwock …

Sometimes you read something so extraordinary that despite re-reading it two or even three times you still doubt your eyes. I’ve just had that experience when reading a two-page piece in today’s Sunday Times – Time to Tackle Council Excess. What thoroughly bemused me was a story it told to illustrate the general non-jobness of council employees’ work. It concerned an unnamed person who, ‘… transferred from a FTSE100 company to a county council two years ago.’ This is what he told the reporters,

‘On my first day I kept asking my boss if there was anything I could do. He was irritated. He took me aside and said there was nothing I could do and there probably wouldn’t be for months.’

‘He offered me a wager. We’d pick up the phone if it rang and respond to any email that requested one, but otherwise we would do no work that we generated ourselves. Two weeks later I was £20 poorer.’

Thwock went my jaw.

I’ve managed people for 25 years or so in the public and private sectors. I simply cannot imagine any set of circumstances in which a manager of a new employee would offer such a wager. Seriously, can you? It sounds more like a script extract from Eastenders or Casualty. In fact I have a suspicion that I have seen or heard such an exchange in a drama or comedy programme. (And I will be looking.)

Presumably though the ST will have done some work to establish the bona fides of their interviewee.

Apart from the implausibility of the story my jaw went thwock for another reason. It’s what its inclusion in the piece tells me about how public servants particularly those in councils are characterised in the media. Saints or sinners. Halos or horns (to quote the great Dolly Parton).

The piece went on to lambast councils that, for whatever reason, had chosen to employ equalities officers or climate change officers or breastfeeding peer support co-ordinators. To paraphrase M&S, this isn’t any old localism it’s ST localism. Cut these non-jobs the sub-text runs and frontline services can be saved.

I was particularly intrigued by the targeting of a breastfeeding peer support co-ordinator. The article includes this job in a list headed Recent Jobs for the Boys (And Girls).

I know that science, evidence and empiricism are considered rather old-fashioned these days by many people but does anyone seriously doubt the benefits of breastfeeding? Or think that it isn’t a good idea to encourage and support mothers to breastfeed if at all possible.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence doesn’t. It has guidance (PDF) on its website outlining the benefits of such peer support programmes. And it reflects on the possibilities of joining up public and voluntary sector organisations like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers or the Breastfeeding Network. All aiming at giving support and help to local volunteers who want to put their knowledge and experience to good use in their communities. I thought I had heard recently that this is thought to be a ‘good thing.’

The job that so exercised the ST was advertised in NE Lincolnshire in July 2010. Here’s what a local LibDem councillor has to say about the scheme of Peer Support in his ward. Available evidence from the 2010 Health Profile for the area shows breastfeeding initiation in North East Lincolnshire is ‘significantly worse’ than the England average. Probably a good idea to find ways to increase it then.

So an effective local scheme, supported by the best available evidence and arising from a significant local need equates to a ‘non-job’?

Thwock …

Given the increasing role of local councils in public health and the fact that public health can seem ‘funny’ to some what’s the betting that there will be more stories in future about other health-related non-jobbery. Afterall human bodies provide endless scope for mirth at their sheer wibbly-wobbliness.

Now that might be a wager I would be willing to make …

Posted in people management, Public sector, Public service, war on the deficit | Tagged , | 2 Comments

In which the faceless bureaucrats strike back …

The following post first appeared in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog in The Guardian on line on 4 February. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Guardian.

There are many causes of redundancy. Business failure. Funding cuts. An exhaustion of available work. Bad luck too. And then we have force majeure or the tide of history. (There Is No Alternative says the government.) Whatever the cause of the public sector job losses I’ve been struck by the continuing stigmatisation of the worker bees – the bureaucrats – on which public services depend.
Everyone, it seems, agrees that bureaucrats are ridiculous, evil, faceless men and women dedicated to themselves, rather than public service. This attitude is so pervasive that it is hardly challenged. It is – to borrow a phrase – a truth universally acknowledged. And it is about as accurate as that earlier ‘truth’.
Monday night’s debate on the Health and Social Care Bill saw this lazy assertion of the worthlessness of NHS bureaucrats running wild. Hospital closures? Faceless bureaucrats. Not enough ‘frontline’ staff? Too many backroom bureaucrats. No democratic accountability for local NHS services? Yes, you’ve guessed it – those pesky bureaucrats at work again.
The constant drip feed of ill-informed observation about NHS bureaucrats ran like a gaudy ribbon through much of the debate. The many thousands of public servants – most of whom are not particularly well-paid – working in Primary Care Trusts might be forgiven for wondering what they ever did to upset the speakers in the debate. Whatever it was it must have been pretty drastic.
It’s bad enough to be worried about your job but worried about it while simultaneously being thwacked for evil – apparently beyond the bounds of imagination – seems gratuitous to say the least. No wonder so many are apparently voting with their feet. Who in their right mind would stay?
However much the government may dislike the idea it has some responsibility for the tens of thousands of public servants, like me, who are for the chop. In the front line of deficit reduction managers and organisations are trying their best to deliver staffing reductions in a rational, compassionate and careful way. Doing so against background music of: ‘public sector, rubbish’; and, ‘private sector, great.’
What price being able to move to the private sector as it takes up the slack? It’s like selling a horse in the market place while your partner gives a thorough – and inaccurate – run down of every fault and foible at the top of their lungs. Crossing sectors is pretty hard without your employer making it harder.
Public servants may be forgiven for having a wry smile at the source of some of this claptrap – professional politicians of all parties who seem to have spent a lifetime avoiding working in the private sector they extol for its virtues. Will this reticence hold good after the levers of power lose their lustre or the voters have had enough?
Of course at that point their particular public sector experience is worth a hell of a lot more to the private sector than the skills say of a prescribing adviser in a soon to be abolished PCT. Now that is depressing.

Posted in bureaucrats, political debate, Redundancy, war on the deficit | Tagged , | 3 Comments

In which I wonder where the frontline is …

Every now and then I try to run a self-diagnostic on how I’m feeling. Reading back over my posts is a helpful short cut into tracing my various moods. Yesterday’s post in which I took a swipe at a piece of internal communication tells me I am not yet fully past the ‘angry stage.’

The dignified comment from @paulpukka on behalf of all those corporate teams who have to manage the nuts and bolts of redundancy gave me pause for thought. And I have spent an uncomfortable night reflecting on what he said. My conclusion?

I’m still an angry man.

I’m surprised about that. But then, thinking about it more deeply I am surprised that I am surprised. Redundancy has been my constant companion for nine months now. I suppose I have just got so used to it being there that it’s very fact has ceased to be remarkable. I’ve learned to live with it.

But that’s different to being accepting of redundancy and all the changes it brings. However bright and cheerful my re-spray is below the surface I’m mourning still the many things I loved about my work. That loss and its random unfairness drives part of my anger.

But that cannot be the whole story can it? As I dwelt on this last night with the RPS household coming and going around me it soon became obvious what the other spring to my anger was: the impact of my redundancy on them.

All the time I’m conscious of the uncertainty and fear that has now arrived unbidden in their lives. You see the people you love hurting and you’re powerless to do much, if anything, about it. One of the foundations on which our lives was built is suddenly gone. No wonder they’re hurting. And small wonder this makes me angry.

But it’s wrong to give in to the impulse to take that anger out on folks who are equally caught up in this mess. There is no frontline here in this war on the deficit.  Attempting to draw distinctions between all of us who are embroiled in it is fatuous.

There is no frontline in this war on the deficit. The fact of that is becoming obvious with every new announcement of council budgets for 2011/12. And other public services are quietly following suit in setting their budgets. These will have their own impacts as the year unravels.

Our HR, IT and other corporate colleagues attempting to effect the orderly winding up of the businesses in which we work whilst seeing their own teams being made redundant do not deserve any sideswipe from me.

There is no frontline is this war on the deficit.

It is always good to lift up your eyes to the horizon and take in all that is happening around you. I have done so again these past hours and seen once more all the hurt and sorrow. The anger and the fear. They are no single person’s province alone.

Truly there is no frontline, there is only the poor bloody infantry of public service and their passing bell.

The trick of it is to use the way you feel to help achieve whatever new goals your family has set. Otherwise it’s just another piece of pointless self-indulgence. Now that is a waste …

Posted in bad news, CSR2010, kindness, Redundancy, rejection letters, saying sorry, war on the deficit | Tagged , | 11 Comments

In which yet another letter comes and we ponder our dongles …

Leaving your employer sometimes feels just as complicated as leaving a long-term partner. Some of the organisation’s behavioral quirks that seemed almost charming once upon a time now drive you rapidly into a paroxysm of face-twitching rage.

Of course leaving a job entails paperwork. I’m a bureaucrat so I’d be disappointed frankly if it didn’t. But it’s the painful failures to think the whole thing through that really begin to grate when you encounter them for the umpteenth time.

Let me give you a for instance on this. I got a very complicated set of instructions from someone in IT about my duties in relation to all the kit – not an entirely accurate list either – I apparently have. I like to think I’m an easy-going sort of fellow but really … On the third reading of the screed the only clarity I got was that whatever was to happen was down to me.

I couldn’t help but feel slightly like someone who is contacted by burglars a week or so ahead of a planned break-in. To minimise their inconvenience they ask if you wouldn’t mind jotting down the alarm code and the whereabouts of the valuables. Less fuss and bother, you know. Better all round and all that.

Of course the terrible truth is that my IT colleagues are also being ‘downsized’ and are doing all they can to cope with an ever-increasing workload with ever-decreasing resources. The problem here, as ever, is not with the people but with the system.

For all of us caught up in it … it sucks.

Of course as a manager I was also sent copies of the identical letters sent to all my wonderful team. My colleagues’ draft responses poured a soothing balm of collegiate consolation into my heaving, outraged bodice. They were funnier than anything than immediately leapt into my mind.

Here’s a sample – anonymised to protect the guilty!

One colleague wondered whether the computer that wasn’t on his list was now his to keep.

One was thinking of designating five separate locations across the length and breadth of the UK as potential collection points for their kit – redundancy geo-cacheing.

One – and this is my favourite – said that they would be leaving their kit in a cupboard in the office. She wasn’t planning to say which office and naturally all our cupboards are identical and none are labelled.

One planned to leave their kit with the Top Brass but only if they wrote to him personally and asked nicely.

One was even thinking of revealing that he thought he had had his dongle removed as a child and wasn’t therefore sure if it was something that now should be returned in the post even by registered delivery.

All very childish perhaps but sometimes profound moments call for levity. I’ve always been impressed by Danton’s quip to the men operating the guillotine. Notoriously ugly, he urged them to show his head to the crowd: ‘It’s worth it.’

But you do reach a point when all your instincts to orderly conduct and good behaviour rebel. Theoretically all my charges could choose to dump all their paraphernalia on me and skip off into the sunset. Quite what I should then do with all this flotsam and jetsam is not quite clear to me. Open a shop? eBay? Or simply find a cupboard of my own that’s large enough to hold it all.

We’ll see …

Posted in bureaucrats, HR departments, Redundancy, rejection letters, war on the deficit | Tagged , | 4 Comments

In which I get reflective and restorative …

‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’

I somehow missed Milton at school. Perhaps I was off that day. So I’ve struggled with him over the years lacking the easy familiarity that long afternoons in chalky classrooms has given me with other writers.

But my mother was particularly fond of the above line and used it to cover a multitude of situations. Queuing in a shop. Standing at a bus stop. Holding the line for a call centre. Anytime really when nothing much was happening. So I imported it into my repertoire of unhelpful helpful sayings deployed willy nilly when the going gets tough.

Over recent months I have deployed my full thesaurus. The boy has stood on the burning deck. ‘If?’ has been asked on numerous occasions. I’ve galloped into the Valley of Death. Refused to go gentle. And told a true song of myself.

After working at high velocity for years on end suddenly being thrown back on one’s own internal resources has been eye-opening. And not always comfortable.

Without giving you my full Myers Briggs or 16PF results I like a balance between order and creative chaos. So I am surrounded by various lists I have put together at odd times during this redundancy adventure.

There’s the ‘What do we think is important’ list giving details of what we want as a family. Over there is the ‘What am I good at’ list to help me work out the sort of things I should be looking for. Then there’s the ‘And in three years time it will look like this …’ sketch envisioning a perfect RPS world. (Scarily like Dorset with mountains.)

It’s been, in part, a restoration job. However hard you try to separate the professional from the personal, redundancy is always personal. Not getting shortlisted or interviewed for jobs is equally personal too. Rationally you know that it’s your skill set or experience that is lacking. But. And it’s a big but. There’s the slow erosive drip of doubt that plops ever louder on the carapace of confidence you’ve built. It can make a very empty sound indeed.

But I have been inspired by a friend of mine who rebuilds cars. A little while ago he was showing off his new pride and joy. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘it had to have a new chassis. Gearbox. Suspension – that was rubbish. Wings and rear body panels. Wiring loom. Passenger seat and recloth the interior.’

Then, without any trace of irony, he thumped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You don’t get true originals like that anymore.’

So I have been applying that childlike enthusiasm for ‘restoration’ to my good self. I’ve avoided a respray – I’d just look silly. And I’ve also decided against uprating my chassis in any way. But I have been trying to re-tune my engine.

De-greasing my mental apparatus from the accretions of years has been interesting. As has been trying to work out what sort of engine it is. A chugging Perkins diesel that can get anywhere but only at 10mph or a V8 gas-guzzler fit only for one-off parades and specialist shows? Or something comfy and mid-range that is very model of modern motor vehicle?

I’m not quite certain myself until I reassemble all the cogs and pistons, cranks and wiring that makes it go. I suppose it all comes back to what sort of expedition I’m embarking upon.

Now I’ve a list for that somewhere …

Posted in job hunting, personality testing, Public sector, Redundancy, rejection letters | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

In which there are three weeks left to go …

A physicist friend once explained the main elements of relativity to me. All I can remember now is something about time slowing down the faster a body travels. I’m not sure about the physics but it feels to me that the slower my daily round of workplace activity gets the faster I travel towards the exit. An inverse law of relativity of some sort.

Anyway the days slide past quickly now like the name plates on wayside halts as the express thunders through heedless of anything except there’s an appointed time and place where it (and you) have to be.

Despite the sickening speed some folks have got off safely. The compartments and carriages are emptier now. The few travellers who are left running through the checks of personal bits and bobs they will be taking with them at the terminus.

‘The train will terminate here. Will all customers please take a moment to ensure you take all your personal belongings with you.’

I have caught up recently with a few colleagues who have successfully left the train already. They talk with wonder about how quickly the rumbling train left them behind. Suddenly finding themselves somewhere new, somewhere they had chosen to be however strange and exotic. I learned from them the healing properties of perspective.

On the Redundancy Express all your senses are filled with the banging and thumping, jostling and shaking of the journey. All this crowds out everything else. My friends tell me that it’s only when you step off the train and it becomes a speck in the distance that the objects all around assume their rightful shape and size.

I hope so.

Yesterday I heard from one of my old team who had been offered a job they dearly wanted. It was a golden moment. Their joy zapped undiminished through the ether or the fibre or whatever it is that powers the net round our way. Suddenly, with the issue of employment sorted, a wholly different way of living has opened up for them. More modest perhaps but sufficient. They are more than happy they are anticipating being content.

When I was young and had more energy I remember a late night student discussion that touched on the difference between happiness and contentment. I think we rather grandly formulated that while happiness was the gratification of the senses, contentment was the satisfaction of the soul.

The things you pontificate about when you’re young and know next to nothing.

But my various catch-ups have suggested to me that we might have been on to something. My friends seemed to me to be much more than happy. They were on a path to contentment. And under their own steam. No hurtling express train in sight.

Reading over this post suggests to me that I may come across as unusually fixated by trains. All I can plead is a childhood spent watching movies where trains were almost characters in their own right. Perhaps it’s just a British or a bloke’s thing to adduce all life’s lessons from a train ride.

Hey ho.

‘All aboard …!’

Posted in contentment, happiness, Redundancy | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

In which I explore some language issues …

The following post first appeared in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog in The Guardian on line on 28 January. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Guardian.

What does the language of redundancy sound like? If they haven’t yet arrived, many unlucky public servants will soon be getting letters from their employers that will change fundamentally how they think and feel about work.

Perhaps the hardest thing to get to grips with is the tone of “at risk” letters. Sometimes the writer will beat around the bush before getting to the point. That wasn’t my experience, but others I have been in touch with say that it wasn’t obvious from the heading or the first few paragraphs that anything bad was about to happen.

“Shaping the future” is a tempting heading. Sounds faintly optimistic doesn’t it?

Then a first sentence that reads something like:

“As you will know the public sector is facing significant changes so I am writing to you to outline the opportunities and challenges our organisation faces.”


Still feeling quite cheery? Then work your way through, “Exciting ways of redesigning our service to better meet customer need,” and, “New ways of engaging with key stakeholders,” or perhaps even,”We can explore new ways of managing ourselves that make us fitter to meet the challenges ahead.”

Then it comes.

“Unfortunately the changes mean that we will have to reduce our workforce and I have to tell you that your job is therefore at risk.”


The sucker punch.

My experience was different. There was very little that could be done to sweeten my particular pill. Even so be prepared for the impersonal nature of the language which gets used. Making people redundant almost immediately makes HR people start writing to you in an English dialect called legalese. There’ll be timetables, regulations, minima and maxima and sometimes even a heretofore (if you are especially lucky).

Your “at risk” letter is just the start though. There’ll be consultation with your union representatives. You may even get offered the chance of an individual meeting with management. I took my employer up on this and enlivened an HR colleague’s afternoon up with a melancholy monologue of how I felt about it all.

Of course after the consultation period ends – assuming there is no change of heart – you’ll get the redundancy notice. Again there will not be much of comfort here. Instead expect a longish setting out of rights, responsibilities and financial details. There may be offers of help and support in the letter. Make sure you take up everything on offer and look more widely too as there are lots of great sources of independent information. Then get ready for the notice period twilight.

In many cases I’ve heard about employers show a staggering lack of emotional intelligence. You may well be being made redundant when there is an ongoing need for the work you do. Your managers will try to wring every last drop of productive time from you. You’ll increasingly face two tensions.

You’ll want to march out of employment with your head held high at remaining professionally committed right to the last. But you’ll increasingly hear a voice which says, “look after yourself and your family”. Don’t beat yourself up for becoming less committed to your employer’s cause and more committed to your own. That’s only natural. You didn’t ask to be put in this position.

Professional pride won’t pay the bills after you’ve been shooed off the premises at the end of your notice period.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments