I worked very hard in and on my business when the kids were young. Too hard. Yes, of course I regret how much time I spent running my business. Yes I sometimes wished that I had someone at home to pick up the parenting and housework chores like my male colleagues had. Yes, too, that hard work gave my kids a decent life. And, really, that was the point. I worked hard so they could have what they needed – a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and clothes on their backs – and much of what they wanted. Everything else was a bonus. But it doesn’t mean I feel guiltless.
And because I was responsible for everything in the business, I was too often distracted. I didn’t have a business partner to share the load. Everything was my job and I was where the buck stopped. Customers depended on me to keep their businesses running and employees depended on me to provide them a paycheck and guidance and mentoring. And I worked that way until I went to work for someone else.
It was exhausting. I learned that those 80-hour weeks are toxic and stressful.
I had employees. I paid them generously. I gave them time off when they needed it. I only had to fire one person and it was because they weren’t doing their job. I never let someone go for the purpose of increasing my profits – in fact I took a pay cut at one point to make sure my employee at the time could continue working for me.
Not My Decision
Working for someone else is a different animal. Make no mistake – I was thrilled to be able to go to work for someone else, where my knowledge was valued, where I was respected, where my experience was trusted, and where my time away from work was protected. I would not have closed down my business and taken that job had that not been made very clear to me during the interview process. And so my stress level dropped dramatically.
Until I got laid off. No, until HR transitioned to a new organization that was barely recognizable. That was a few months before the layoff.
I understand that startup growth works one way and at some point strategies need to change. I get that. It would be great if organizations that claim the “family” moniker would be straight up and open with their employees. Explain that things are rough and let them know that you’ll have to be trimming some edges. Give them a freakin’ chance to find something else and lighten your load. Give them a chance to move to another job without having to deal with the stress of unemployment. Give them some respect.
I realized that bad times were headed our way when we went from a 4-point evaluation system to a 5-point evaluation system. It seems like a tiny thing if you’re not tuned in. After all, what’s 1 point? Here’s the difference – in a four point system you’re either learning, meeting, excelling, or ready for the next great thing. With a 5-point system it takes much more effort to reach the next great thing. Not that effort isn’t good – it is. But when the goalpost is moved, when the reward is pushed further away…..
With a 5-point system, you are meeting expectations at a 3 instead of a 4. You are two levels away from advancement or a raise instead of just 1. Put another way, you can be doing amazing work at a 4 in a 4-point scale. But in a 5-pointer, you have to be doing your promotion’s level of work in order to get that 5 rating (even though that work is outside your jd and your pay range).
Let’s look at this numerically. On a 4-point scale, if your review is a 4 (doing everything in your jd really well), you’ve got a 100% review. But on a 5-point scale, that same 4 is now only a mere 80%. The only way to move up, is to do someone else’s work – work that is outside of your job description; work that is (quite literally) above your pay grade.
And when you combine a change in the “grading” system with new leadership, you can plainly see that HR is driving the money train. Remember, HR’s purpose is to protect the company and find ways to have people do more work without having to pay them more. It is never to work for the benefit of the employee.
Regarding reviews, let me just say this: two reviews ago, I was happy with my review. Last time, I wasn’t. I’m not so obtuse as to not know how well I’m performing. I was absolutely doing more than my review “number” showed. In all my adult life I have never overestimated the quality of my work or service – me being me, more often I underestimate the quality or value of my work.
Just Sour Grapes?
I suppose it’s possible that I’m just feeling sour grapes at the layoff at the moment. It’s also possible that I’m feeling down because I can’t get past the stupid ATS even though I paid for resume help that was supposed to get me through the ATS. Or, maybe my eyes are just open more.
And, possibly, I shouldn’t even be publishing this. But I am who I am and today I’m feeling rather surly.
What I see in LinkedIn
I am doing a LOT of reading about jobs and employers and resume writing and job hunting, of course. Things are not good “out there.” Too many employees are unhappy – employed but unhappy (ok, that’s not new). People are realizing that work is not life. I’ve learned that an employer pays me for 40 hours of my week, the rest is my time and I should guard that “my time” ferociously – ESPECIALLY if they’re not paying me to do more.
There is one resume writer/coach (Robynn Storey) who I follow on LinkedIn who has all the right ideas, but is speaking to the wrong segment. She writes things like:
“It’s enough to just do your job. Nothing more, nothing less”
“Take your lunch break. Take those vacation days. Work your 9 to 5. Shut off your computer when your day is over. It’s okay to say NO to extra work without extra pay. Take a sick day when you are sick. Plan that vacation.”
But she’s speaking to the wrong people! Employees and job hunters already understand this.
I wonder what exactly she expects job hunters to do with that knowledge. I may ask her. Heck, I’ll probably tag her.
She’s really smart – she should be speaking with employers. She should be consulting with their HR departments to put the Human back in HR.
And she is, of course, right. I loved my job. My team loved me. My cross-functional teams loved me. The WIT group loved me. The Generative AI team loved me. I showed up to meetups after hours even though it wasn’t even remotely part of my job. I was asked to mentor not 1, but 2 women this cycle – people who are just average aren’t asked to do that. I could go on and on.
When push came to shove, laying off myself and my 6 colleagues was a function of some HR magic formula. It certainly wasn’t the choice of any of my compatriots and, in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe my manager thought any of us on our team should be let go.
The sad thing is that I was so happy there that I lost sight of the fact that employers don’t care how much you do or how much you work. Or maybe I just really wanted to believe that it was be different where I was, that this company was special; not like the others I read about. I didn’t want to believe that they have no emotional ties to keeping you employed. Truth is, they’re not in the business to make the world a better place for people, they’re in the business of making money. Us employees…we are a means to that end.
It all feels grossly unfair and dishonorable. Maybe I’m just lashing out. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.