I’ve been retired for two years now and I couldn’t be happier. There are days when I stop and think, I am so lucky. I finally get to spend my time the way I want to. Well, mostly. I do still have to do laundry, clean the house, and other assorted chores. But at least I’m not working and trying to fit all that in too.
As I ponder my former working life, I can’t help but think about the things I don’t miss. I celebrated some of these when I did them for the last time. There was such a sense of freedom in knowing I wouldn’t have to do this or that anymore, or even think about it.
I hope the length of this post doesn’t keep you from reading it all the way through. I do include some things I actually miss at the end. (But not enough to go back to work) 🙂
When you work for a larger corporation, there are many things that come into play. Many are simply part of that environment and can’t be changed. But it didn’t mean I had to like them, right? If you’ve worked for a larger company, I’m sure you’ll recognize most, if not all, of them. And maybe they aren’t limited to a larger company.
This has to be number one on my list. After 38 years of working, I’d endured several different versions of performance reviews. I disliked giving them almost more than receiving them. I could probably write an entire post on this subject alone!!
Early in my working life, I felt my reviews were not personal to me. For improvement, I’d see things like “more networking”. Come on – do you even know me? As you’ll see later in this post, I abhor networking simply for the sake of networking. There would be other generic types of improvement suggestions as well. It seems a review is not complete without something in the improvements section, so let’s insert something unoriginal!! And I knew there were things I could do better, so why didn’t you tell me about those?
With each new iteration of the performance review, there were attempts at making them less subjective. I’m sorry, but that’s impossible to achieve. There’s still a human completing each review and his/her biases are bound to show. So for a while, we had a number scale with each review. Then someone decided numbers were too much like grades so we switched to words like exceeds expectations, meets expectations, etc. As if people can’t see there’s still an aspect of “grading” going on?
Performance reviews were endured but not embraced. I’ve read articles about how reviews do more harm than good. They can demotivate as opposed to inspire. Even a good review can be meaningless if there’s nothing concrete to back it up. When I’m doing something well, I need to know specifics or how can I continue to do well?
Giving reviews required gathering feedback, completing the review form (in various systems over the years), and then sharing it with the employee. Towards the end, this became a five month process. We’d gather the feedback in November, complete a draft in December (for calibration and compensation decisions), finalize the review in January, meet with the employee in February or early March (this way it was tied to merit increase timing, which of course was supposed to be based on the review). If you had several employees, this was quite time consuming. And the five month process tended to make it even less meaningful when you finally delivered the review.
Calibration and forced distribution
I have no idea if this is common across companies, but you may not be familiar with the use of the word “calibration” in the context of performance reviews. It involves comparing review scores across a group to determine if, as reviewers, we’ve been consistent in our assessments.
Not surprisingly, this is challenging and full of tension. Of course, everyone thinks their employees are the best. Some people are better debaters than others, so they tend to dominate and get what they want. I did stand up for my staff and even offered opinions on my peers’ employees. However, I didn’t want to get involved in a discussion that became personal. And sometimes they did.
Another aspect of calibration was the forced distribution. I had all kinds of issues with that. We had to have so many people in the upper tier, the middle tier, and the lower tier because this would help us make compensation decisions. I realize you have to differentiate between people when making compensation decisions, with performance being a big factor. However, I shouldn’t have to manipulate a review in order to achieve that.
I thought we were supposed to strive to be a high performing culture. If we’re achieving that, everyone should be performing well, right? So then, how do you give someone a review they don’t deserve, either worse or better than they’re actually doing, simply so you have the right percentage in each tier?
It’s sad to say, but you were almost glad when you had an obviously bad performer. It kept others from being forced there.
Hiring and firing
Hiring is such a gamble. Resumes can give just about any impression. I even read a resume of someone I knew and noticed he’d left off several years of his early experience. He didn’t even mention his former employer. My guess is, he wanted to appear younger to the recruiter. It’s sad the games we have to play. And one-hour interviews can’t tell you much more as to whether that person will be successful in your position.
Firing is definitely worse. Fortunately, this was a small part of my job over the years. Most people that weren’t performing were smart enough to know it and eventually left, saving me from the dirty work. I even let one guy resign to let others think it was his idea to leave. But I had one person that wasn’t getting the hint. And in this day of litigation, we had to document everything very thoroughly and provide many opportunities for her to show she could do the job. Honestly, I got to the point where I was waiting for one slip-up so I could get it over with. It finally came, and it wasn’t pleasant.
I can’t speak for small companies but this is definitely something to contend with in a larger company. I am not political or a game player. I can be very pleasant with someone I don’t like, but I can’t be a fake. And I don’t like doing something just because it’s someone’s pet project.
Sure, I know I benefited at times because of who I knew. But it was because these people knew the kind of job I did, not because they were my best friends. I was very careful about letting any personal relationships at work affect my job options. I didn’t ask for favors.
And by this, I mean the wrong kind of meetings. Is there a difference between a good and a bad meeting? Yes, there is.
Good meetings are those where you’re working with others to get something specific done. You have a common goal and you plan to end the meeting by accomplishing it, or at least determining how you’ll get there. Calling them meetings can be misleading; they’re actually part of doing your job.
Bad meetings are those with no specific purpose, no one taking charge, and that leaves you with a sense of frustration.
Unrealistic goals and deadlines
We always had lots of projects in the works. Many of them involved the implementation of new systems. And many of these new systems were purchased. (Don’t even get me going on software suppliers.)
We also had people who thought we could do everything at the same time and we could do it quickly. These were the same people who wouldn’t provide the money or the people to do it all.
Many times, when estimating a project timeline, I’d have a realistic schedule and the one others wanted to see. No one ever liked the realistic schedule so we worked from the other one. And you know what? We didn’t meet our deadlines. What a surprise!!!
Throughout the year, as new issues or opportunities arose, we’d pretend we were adjusting our priorities. Behind the scenes, however, we were being pushed to still get the original work finished. We’d work on everything but we never finished anything. So frustrating!!
When I started with the company, I was one of two people who worked on our annual budget process. I had to gather numbers from all departments across the company and compile them. Then we’d issue reports. That was it. No goals set, no reviews of any sort, at least from a corporate perspective.
Over the years, our budgeting process changed. It became more frequent, as well as a rolling budget instead of a calendar year. Oh, we still paid attention to the calendar year numbers, but we were updating them now. We also started allocating the budgets to identify how the numbers impacted our products and services. This resulted in lots of analysis and nitpicking over immaterial amounts.
There were also expenses that weren’t tied to budgets, or I should say they weren’t tied to business areas. Corporate areas had expenses that were allocated to the business areas. Over the years, so many considered something “free” if it didn’t show in their individual budgets. To counteract that, we tried chargebacks, which resulted in even more nitpicking.
From a budgeter perspective, especially in my later years, I was so frustrated with the games people played with the process. Many times our goals were based on prior year results. It didn’t take long for people to realize that spending more this year would help them next year. There was always a mad rush at the end of the year to spend, especially if it was “in the budget”.
And then there were expense reductions. Our results aren’t what they should be, so we all have to cut back. You can only cut so much travel, training – the piddly things – before you have to cut systems and even people. It seemed very shortsighted at times. And of course, there were games played here as well in terms of how much your department had to cut vs. what another one had to do.
There’s nothing worse than networking events. I am not a small talker. I will not get to know someone this way. It will not improve my working relationships.
I found working on projects with someone new to be the best form of networking. It provided the opportunity to understand another person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as learn something about their part of the business. Most of my lasting work relationships started this way. Those same people also knew what I could add to projects, and would sometimes ask me to help.
That’s the way to network – working towards a common goal. Not attending a golf event or some other gathering, where everyone hangs out with the people they already know anyway.
They are everywhere. You can’t do anything in this world without running into them. But at work, you can’t always ignore them.
I’ve never understood what anyone gained from being difficult. Being collaborative and understanding goes a lot farther. In the short term, that person may get what they want. But in the long term? People will avoid them. People will work around them.
Are difficult people insecure and puff themselves up by being demanding? Does it make them feel better about themselves? Do they even know they’re being difficult? Whatever the reason, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
Working with offshore offices
Over the years, we worked with various locations around the world. Meeting the different people is fun. But it can also be very frustrating.
Time zone differences are a pain, especially when you’re talking about 11 1/2 or 17 hours. It means either you or they have to work at odd hours. We had many early morning and early evening conference calls. I never had to do this, but I know some people corresponded during all hours of the night.
Language and accents could be a problem. Conference calls aren’t always the best quality and that made a different accent even harder to understand. Plus the technology wasn’t always the best and we’d have trouble staying connected. We’d even use different terminology at times, which affected the quality of our communications. And they didn’t always interpret instructions the same, which meant sometimes they wouldn’t recognize a problem during testing.
The other thing I found frustrating was how the distance allowed them to do whatever they wanted. You’d end your call thinking we were all on the same page, only to find out later they weren’t doing what they said they’d do. And there’s no easy way to monitor what’s going on.
I am definitely one for process and rules. Without that, you have chaos. And we sometimes did, because people don’t always follow the rules.
However, what I’m talking about is the amount of red tape we sometimes had to go through with the countless review committees. We had people with no clue making decisions about our projects, simply because everything had to go through a committee for approval. Every change had to be reviewed by a committee before it could be made. It was impossible to make your own decisions about spending money, getting support, or even hiring people!!
If you’ve read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, you’ll learn that if everyone is doing the right thing, you don’t need bureaucracy.
“The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline.”
― James C. Collins,
Jargon, especially the endless number of acronyms
I have to believe every company has this issue. Everything had to be turned into an acronym. I got so tired of it that when we were implementing a financial data warehouse I made sure it was named with one meaningful word and not something that could be turned into an acronym. (Sad to say, the warehouse failed, but not because we lacked an acronym. I think we were ahead of our time.) 😉
Department names became acronyms, as did project names and databases. And of course, everything that has to do with technology has some type of acronym, right? (Unfortunately, you can’t entirely escape this. Some of these acronyms don’t go away with work.)
There were even acronyms that meant two different things!! Sheesh! How does anyone new to the company pick it all up?
Working in general
Getting up early
Over the years, it seemed like I was getting up earlier and earlier. At the end of my working days, I got up at 5:30 AM, in order to start working at 7:30 AM. I hated getting up so early. I’m definitely not a late sleeper but that’s way too early, especially in the winter when it’s cold and dark.
I haven’t missed using an alarm at all. In fact, when I do need to set it, I have to check the manual because I can’t remember how!! My sweet spot for getting up now is between 6:30 and 7:00. I usually awaken naturally about that time, and that’s when Tim leaves for work. (I turn off the TV around 10:45 at night.) I love getting up without an alarm all the time and not just on weekends.
Driving in bad weather, walking from parking lot/ramp to building
My first winter of retirement, the weather wasn’t that bad. However, I still didn’t miss having to drive in snow and rain.
It wasn’t so bad in the morning; I went to work early enough that I beat the traffic. But it was often terrible at night when everyone was trying to get home at the same time. I’d sometimes work later simply to wait out the traffic. There were still nights when it took me hours to get home and I felt lucky when I finally pulled into my garage.
Over the years, I had to park in various lots and ramps. Sometimes, that meant walking outside. My last year I had to walk outside. The company was going through a major renovation and most of our buildings were no longer connected by skywalk or tunnel. And given my location, even when we could use the skywalks, it was a long walk. I usually reserved it for the really bad days.
Now I can sit inside and not go anywhere on the nasty days. It doesn’t seem so bad when you can watch it from the inside.
Sunday night depression
You all know about this, right? I know my friends experience this. Sometimes I felt it was easier not to have days off because I got used to working and doing it again the next day didn’t seem so bad. Mid-Sunday afternoon, I’d start thinking about having to get up the next day for work. It can really make Sunday nights a drag.
I don’t think it was the job (although sometimes there were things I was dreading that week), but more the feeling of not having had enough time over the weekend to do the things I wanted to do. I’d do what needed to get done and hope there was time for what I wanted to do. Or feel guilty if I piddled the time away.
I always thought we should have a two day workweek and a five day weekend. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Fitting in non-work appointments
I always had a hard time when it came to scheduling non-work appointments because I hated missing work. I’d try to get the first appointment of the day or the last one. It was easier to get to work late and leave early than try to leave for a while during the day. Coming back to the parking ramp after leaving for a while meant driving all the way to the top to find a new spot.
And those “window” appointments were the worst. Those became easier when I could work from home.
Even simple things like picking up a package at the post office were a pain. Now, I can go whenever I feel like it.
It’s so nice to schedule appointments in the middle of the day now. I don’t have to get my hair cut or have a massage at night anymore. I do those things in the late morning and early afternoon, leaving my evenings free. If something needs to be delivered or picked up, I’m home, and it doesn’t matter when they come. If an emergency need arises, I can take care of it without stressing about how it will affect my work schedule.
Some things I do miss
Despite the numerous things I don’t miss about working, there are a few I do miss. I spent more than half my life at the same company, and I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been a positive experience overall.
I still see several people that I worked with. We get together for lunch or dinner. I do more with those that are my close friends.
The people I miss are those that I would only see at work. Not someone I became close friends with, but those I simply enjoyed working with and running into. In my job, I met so many people throughout our company over the years. I also made many friends through other work-related activities, like our bowling league in my early days with the company.
I saw a lot of these people in late March when I attended a retirement party for a friend. It was so nice to see them and chat for a while.
When you’re with people every day and work for a company that strives to stay current, you are naturally exposed to many types of information. I would hear about insurance products, new laws and regulations, new technology, cybersecurity, among other things. I credit my work life for my use of technology, even the confidence to create this blog. Would I have, and be using, all the MS Office products on my personal laptop if I hadn’t been exposed to these applications through my job? At my age, doubtful.
And besides the work exposure, there was people exposure, and what you could learn from them. I had the opportunity to work with people from all over the world, which was fascinating at times. I learned a lot about diversity issues and how to be more tolerant.
My identity was never tied to my job. I knew I wouldn’t feel that kind of loss when I retired. But working does provide you with a connection to something in the outside world.
Fortunately, retiring doesn’t sever that connection entirely. I can still say “I’m retired from Principal Financial Group” when people ask me what I do. I can still order PFG products like sweatshirts and feel that connection. I now get a Retiree Newsletter and can access a retiree website. I could also go back to work as a temporary employee if I wanted to.
But there’s something about having that badge (even though they were a bit of a nuisance) and knowing you’re a part of something bigger. I no longer get to experience the changes taking place in the organization. I can no longer access the parking garage, even outside of work hours, to attend a downtown event. I can’t walk through the building without having an escort, unless I sneak away once I’m inside. 🙂
That Friday night feeling
As much as I don’t miss the Sunday night depression, I do kind of miss that wonderful feeling I had when driving home from work on a Friday. It was the start of the weekend and it felt so good!! I was usually completely pooped out from the week, however, so all I wanted to do was get home and stay there. But the promise of two whole days to myself was so exhilarating. I guess now I have that feeling every day!!
And a paycheck
I’m fortunate enough that my company has a pension plan that has allowed me to still get a “paycheck” each month. It’s not what my salary was, but it also doesn’t include all the deductions and withholding that my paycheck did. I was so used to “building the pile” (as our financial planner says) over the years, that it’s strange now when I can’t save anything.
Once I was asked how I made the transition from working to retirement. My reply – “what transition?” Don’t get me wrong. I was proud to work for my company and I did the best job I could do every day. But there was no transition. I was ready for a new routine.
The other night at Book Club, we were talking about not working, and I was again asked the transition question. I repeated my answer. One person said she thought she it would be a tough transition, and another said: “then you’re not ready to retire yet”. So right!!
Are you ready to get out of the rat race? It’s a whole new world you’ve been missing!!!