Something was brewing around the office over the past few weeks. There was clearly something going on that was supposed to be kept under wraps, but a few odd circumstances raised suspicions in our small work community.
I really shouldn’t have had any idea. I’ve been known to be a bit clueless when there have been big changes on our corporate horizon in the past. This time was no different initially. And had it not been for the whispers of a few more attentive associates, I’d probably have remained blissfully oblivious until the formal announcement.
It was the approval of a coworker’s PTO request that prompted suspicions. Our very small department has specific rules about how many employees may be out of the office at any given time. Two of my peers had long ago scheduled vacation time for the entire past week. According to our vacation policy, in order to ensure adequate staffing, no one else could be approved for more than a single day off during the same week.
TK had previously worked for one of our vendors and held a pretty respectable position there. When TK’s company had a major layoff, he was out of a job. And when our small department of three was looking to expand last October, TK joined our staff. We immediately liked him. He brought a fresh perspective and good work ethic along with him, along with a unique set of valuable skills. And I suspected almost immediately that this job was just a placeholder until bigger things came along. I had no hard feelings about my suspicions. TK is a young guy, divorced, with children and a fiance he’d like to marry soon. Obviously, he would like to improve his employment situation in order to support his life goals. And I knew that coming in brand new, it was likely he had come in near the lower end of the pay scale for his position.
I was TK’s mentor for his first few months on the job and as happens with many of my coworkers, we developed a comfortable bond. We work well together. We share the similar passions about our work and have the same need for our work to be fulfilling as opposed to just a way to pass the days and collect a paycheck. In the course of our days, we’ve come to know a bit about each others’ lives and families. TK has a wicked sense of humor and he’s always making someone laugh. And whenever one of us veterans enjoys vacation time, he’s been sure to playfully remind us not to give a thought to him, the newbie with an extremely limited PTO allowance, slaving away at work while we’re away.
Still, if someone hadn’t pointed out how strange it was that TK was suddenly approved for a stretch of four whole days off during the same week two others would be out all week, I might not have questioned it. Even though he’d probably recently reminded me how few vacation days remained in his account until the end of this year, and even though if I really thought about it, I knew he needed to keep a few days in the bank in case of illness or family emergency. I guess as long as it’s not causing me pain, I’m just not that concerned with whether anyone is abiding by these types of rules. It’s summer time. TK said he had a chance to spend a few days at his uncle’s cabin on a lake. Seemed pretty normal to me and I was just glad he had the opportunity.
What finally raised my suspicions was when someone pointed out the fact that TK was approved for four days off, not only when rules should prevent it, but during the same four days when most of our management would be attending meetings at the corporate office. Maybe TK wasn’t going to the lake, and maybe he was going to the big meeting. I wondered about it for days afterward. Why wouldn’t the rest of the team be informed if TK was going to the meeting and not on vacation? Why lie about it? If there was something the rest of us weren’t supposed to know, there were better lies that could have been told. TK runs a particular pilot project. If someone had told me he was attending the meeting to present an update on the project, it would have made way more sense than telling us he was approved for a spur-of-the-moment vacation request for a stretch of days I knew he couldn’t afford, and wasn’t really allowed to take at this time.
You’re probably thinking that my coworkers and I are much too concerned about why TK was stretching his PTO limits. I mean, if he wants to wipe out his vacation account, why should we care? Well, normally, I might not. But there were other things that raised the suspicion that this was about much more than one employee carelessly using his PTO benefits. You know there is always a pot-stirrer in the office. Our office is no different. The resident pot-stirrer from another department – in our parent company actually, would wander over to us, the affiliate company, and find a person he knew he could stir up. He would say things like, “How can I ask you this without actually asking you this? … Have you heard any, you know… news? Anything about … I don’t know … some new collaboration or something like that?”
I was annoyed by him. He had a good friend of mine worried, telling her that if we were to possibly merge with his department, how did she think we might contribute. There wasn’t enough work for everyone to do as it was, to hear him tell it. My friend then worried she might lose her job.
Why do people have to create drama like that?
The lid was completely blown off for me when an associate in another department unknowingly let the cat out of the bag. We were on a conference call that Friday, casually talking with each other while we waited for our client to dial in. She said to me, “Now remember, I’ll be at the meeting at corporate next week.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s going to be pretty quiet around here.” I wondered out loud whether a particular other person was going as well as those I knew of.
“No, he’s not, but…” she proceeded to list those who were attending. And she ended by naming TK as one of the attendees.
“Um. I don’t think I’m supposed to know he’s going,” I said.
I explained that we were informed TK would be out on vacation. “Wow,” she said. “That’s really weird.” And then she was quiet for a moment before adding, “I’ll bet there’s some kind of announcement coming.”
And so was created the perfect recipe for office buzz. My friend continued to worry about her job security. She obsessed about perceived advancements for others that might leave her unfairly in the dust. We walk around the pond together at lunch time, and a frequent topic of conversation was what might be actually going on below the surface of TK’s vacation approval. I tried to alleviate her fears by reminding her of her unique contributions and value. Still, she continued to fret.
I have to say, I just wasnt’ that concerned. I’ve experienced a sort of transformation over the past year that has helped me learn to just accept that whatever will be, will be. If big changes were on the corporate horizon, it meant major decisions had already been made. Worrying about it now would do nothing but weigh on me. Sure, I gave it plenty of thought. It was hard not to, now that it was obvious we were all pretending not to know anything we weren’t supposed to know. Besides, I realized that I have confidence in my talents and capabilities. If some pending change was ahead, I was pretty certain it would bode well for me. And if it didn’t? I would just do the next thing. I’ve realized more often than not lately, that I live a pretty blessed life. I have a roof over my head and enough to eat. I’m in pretty decent health and am surrounded by family and good friends. We have everything we really need. And our income leaves enough left over to have a little fun now and then. If I was going to have to learn to do with less, I would. And if anything ahead meant that I was going to have to look for a new job, I knew that my years with this company had provided enough opportunities to learn and grow that I could confidently sell myself somewhere else. I could do something new and different if I had to.
I suspected TK was in line for some type of advancement. My boss is preparing for retirement, so I also thought some level of reorganization was coming that would ensure her position was filled. Unlike others, I wasn’t worried that the “new” guy might advance ahead of me. I’m pretty aware of where there is to go from where I’m at. My boss once told me that my next step is where she is. Management. The thought of supervising others is completely unappealing to me. And I’m really happy with where I’m at. In my job, I get to be creative. I get to write. I continuously learn more about technology, and still get to exercise my customer service skills. I’m just fulfilled in what I do most days. And when I arrived at work on Monday, I was ready to face a quiet, busy week while the big meeting went on at the corporate office. I was sure there would be an announcement when our company leaders returned on Friday.
I was surprised when I logged in to my computer Monday morning to see that TK was logged on. After all, he was supposed to be out “on vacation” through Thursday. I couldn’t help myself. I poked my head in his cubicle and asked, “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I got a text from (the boss) over the weekend telling me I needed to be here today.”
“That’s strange,” I said, shrugging, before I went back to my own desk.
I had just decided that all this game playing was ridiculous, and I was going to go to TK and say, “I know you’re going to corporate this week. I don’t care why. Someone will tell me what I need to know when it’s time, so let’s stop all this stupid pretending.”
And that’s when my boss came by, which was also a surprise because she was supposed to be on her way to the corporate office.
“Hey,” she said. “Do you have a minute? Can you come to my office?”
“Sure,” I said, realizing as I followed her that the news was coming sooner rather than later.
We sat down in her office, her at her desk and me in a chair across from her. “Do you want me to shut the door?” I asked.
“No, that’s okay. Let’s just leave it open.”
In a matter of seconds, I pondered and dismissed the idea that I was getting laid off. I’d seen layoffs happen at my company in the past and they didn’t work this way. But I was still surprised when she said, “I’m leaving for corporate at eleven, but before I go, I need you to know that you’re being promoted.”
I was momentarily speechless. During all of the days of whispering and wondering, this was not something that had occurred to me. My boss touted my abilities and explained how capable I was. I sat with a dazed smile on my face while she explained that we were reorganizing. We as the affiliate company were being slightly integrated into our parent company. She gave me many details but it all spelled good news both for me and for the company as a whole. This meant more job security and a whole new set of opportunities for all of us!
I guess the big secret was all because TK had to be informed of his promotion ahead of the corporate meeting. It required him to meet with some of his new associates at that meeting. But the reorganization wasn’t final and ready to be announced company-wide prior to the day the corporate meeting was to begin.
In my last performance review, I had possibly shot myself in the foot by telling my boss I had no desire to manage other people. In such a small company, I knew by saying as much, I had openly limited my ability to move any higher up the ladder. But there I sat in front of my boss on Monday, realizing she had found a way to advance me while still honoring my wishes. What more could I possibly ask?
I’ll technically have a new boss in the parent company. I’ve worked with him and come to know him in my time since our companies joined forces. I like him and am excited to build this new relationship. I love my “old” boss and my new boss will report to her until she retires sometime in the next year. So I’ll be able to maintain the connection with a person who’s played a big part in my growth and achievement over the past ten years.
The most exciting thing for me is that I’ve been promoted to the lead position in my department under the new boss. TK is advancing to a role that will still ensure we can work together regularly. I’m so happy and proud for him. My worried friend has retained her position and I’ll still get to work side-by-side with her.
There’s a support person we hired nearly a year ago, who has proven she wasn’t cut out for the job. She’s done little to contribute, but we all felt bad at the prospect of her losing her job. She was offered a position in another department that seems more suited to her abilities. It’s a slight demotion, but at least she’s not completely out of a job.
And finally, the person who has created the most stress in my work life for the past three years? Has made a lateral move to a different department. I’ve been learning to accept her ways and cope with her idiosyncrasies. I’ve long since realized that much of the problem stemmed from a sense of competition that’s unhealthy on her part. And she would never admit it, but she clearly has some underlying insecurities. I know I created much of my own stress by allowing her to impact me negatively and absorb my focus too much of that time. I’ve learned to rise above it, but I’m not unhappy that she’s making this move. I honestly think she’ll be thrilled with this change. We’ll still work closely, but her move should provide just enough breathing room from each other that we might just make something really good and productive of our working relationship after all.
I am so grateful and excited to see what these new opportunities bring!