Monthly Archives: February 2009

The company where I have been a manager for eight years has hit hard times, wages are frozen and heavy job cuts are on the way. A generous voluntary redundancy scheme has been announced and even though I don’t want to leave, and have a wife and children to support, it seems stupid not to apply.

If I am turned down, it will mean my job has been marked essential and I’ll be safe from future mandatory redundancy. If I am accepted, it is surely best to be one of the first out, before the market is flooded by all the other people who have been kicked out compulsorily.

Or am I missing something?

Manager, male, 42

Lucy’s answer

Yes, you are missing something. You are assuming that companies are consistent in deciding who to keep and who to chuck. Just because you get turned down for voluntary redundancy this time does not mean that you will be safe next time. It is perfectly possible to be deemed essential one minute and cast on to the scrap heap the next.

To offer yourself for voluntary redundancy as a tactical move would be madness. You say you don’t want to leave your job, and that you need the money. In that case, the only reason to put yourself forward would be if the pay-off were so large that it would more than cover you while you found another job.

But I can’t see how this could be. If you have been in the job for eight years you will probably get about a year’s money.

It could easily take you that long to find something else good. Most companies are barely hiring at all, so unless you want to work in the public sector you may have a long wait ahead of you.

I know two people of roughly your age who took voluntary redundancy a little over a year ago. Neither has found a full-time job and both are trying to keep busy with a bit of consulting here and there.

I also think it is a mistake to assume that you are bound to lose your job at some point. Unless the company is going to go bankrupt, some people will survive; I’d concentrate on making sure that I was one of them. That means keeping your head down and trying to look essential. This is quite tedious, as it not only involves working hard but being seen to work hard.

It may be grim busting a gut to look so keen but it is not as grim as touting your CV around companies that don’t want to know.

I have just applied to a leading business school,and have been called for interview. But instead of feeling excited, I’m getting cold feet. If I get a place I would have to leave my current job in a professional services firm, and would pay up the whacking £45,000 for a year­-and-­a-­half’s teaching.

However, thanks to the recession, there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it, and in taking up the position I would be losing a safe (if somewhat dead­-end) job. Is this one of the worst returns on investment going? Or is it worth it for what I would learn, for the long­-term career boost and for the hope that the economy will be looking better when I graduate?

Professional, female, 31

Lucy’s answer

Yes, it’s a terrible investment: if you get out your calculator and run one of those discounted cash flow calculations that MBAs favour, you’ll find it hard to come up with a positive number. Many people leaving business school now are not only failing to change career, they are crawling back to their old jobs with their old employers.

The odd thing is that MBAs still claim the experience was worth it. If you read the replies below you will see every single MBA is breathless with admiration: how stretching, how great the contacts, etc.

I find this a bit suspicious. I can think of no other form of education that inspires such fervent devotion from its graduates. Is it that, having parted with so much money, they are obliged to say it was good? More likely it is that being cooped up for 18 months with clever, like-minded thrusters means they all reinforce the others’ belief in the value of the qualification.

Lots of readers suggest you keep your job and do the degree part-time. This may be the most sensible way out, but I can’t sincerely recommend this as I once tried to do an evening MA in economics while working full time, and it was far too much like hard work.

Perhaps you are made of sterner stuff. But if you aren’t, there is another thing to make your cold feet colder: the value of the MBA may be changing. I fancy that the new fashion in business is to rate common sense and experience more highly than Swot analysis. So stay put and bide your time. If you are bored, try evening classes. I’ve always wanted to learn upholstery, and courses near me start at £130.

I run a specialist subsidiary of a large bank. The bank has got into serious difficulty and although my business remains highly profitable, I have been sent a cost-cutting edict from head office and may have to fire competent people whom I can still profitably employ. This will cause them financial hardship, while the former top management of the bank, who got us into this mess, walked away with millions. I find this so hard to stomach I am tempted to refuse to carry out orders. Would this be pointlessly quixotic – as I risk getting fired along with the people I am trying to protect – or would it be a comfort to know that at least I had tried to do the right thing?
Manager, male, 50

Lucy’s answer

Refusing to carry out orders would not only be pointlessly quixotic, it would be downright stupid. You would get fired, and so would all the people you are trying to protect. I very much doubt if the glory of moral victory would last more than five minutes in the teeth of practical defeat. Failure in his quests made Don Quixote so melancholy that in the end he abandoned chivalrous deeds altogether.

But that does not mean you should follow orders unquestioningly, or at least not at once. Instead, you should be invisibly obstructive and drag your feet. Let others make their swingeing cuts first in the hope that they will deflect attention from you.

Meanwhile, you should go on the offensive and explain to anyone who will listen that your department is profitable, and that your team is earning the salaries and supplying extra to fund your bosses’ bonuses. Back up your arguments with numbers, with Powerpoints, with anything to hand.

It is possible that your bank has taken the decision to cut costs across the board because it does not know what it is doing. In that case it might be grateful for a little guidance. More likely, however, it will not go back on the decision, because it may see dogmatism as a virtue. In which case you will have tried and failed, but you won’t lose your job as a result and you may allow yourself to salve your conscience a bit before doing the necessary and firing some of your team.

If I were you, though, I’d stop fretting about the huge bonuses paid to former managers. That is in the past and whipping yourself into a state of moral indignation does not help your team and does not buy you a place in heaven.

I am getting married in a few months. My co-workers know I am engaged and have asked about the date, but I have been cagey as I do not have the space, money or desire to invite them to my wedding. A recently married co-worker invited the whole team and it sets a precedent that others expect me to follow. I’ve thought about inviting my co-workers to the ceremony only, but friends warn me that it’s all or nothing. And if I invite the immediate team of 13, what about my management line? If I choose not to invite them, what sort of “consequences” should I be prepared to face?

Analyst, 25

Lucy’s answer

It sounds as if you are suffering from a common pre-traumatic stress disorder that affects those who are about to get married. Sufferers find themselves waking in a cold sweat fretting over seating plans and whether the floral display matches the borders on the invitations.

In this state your judgment is impaired and unless you seek treatment you will start making some really bad decisions.

One such would be to invite your team to your wedding. You probably do have to invite tiresome relations, but you do not have to invite tiresome colleagues. If any of your workmates happen to be real mates you can invite them, but not otherwise.

You say that your colleague’s ill-advised move to include the team at her nuptials has set a precedent. It has done no such thing. Even in the most slavishly copy-cat organisations people are allowed to choose their own wedding guests.

You ask what the consequences of not asking them will be. There will be no consequences. Your colleagues are only asking you about the wedding because they recognise that you are in a condition where you can think of nothing else and are trying to be nice. They probably don’t even want to be invited.

I have been to a couple of colleagues’ weddings and found them most awkward – the work contingent clusters in a corner not especially wanting to talk to each other but not wanting to mix either.

You ask if you need to invite management. This is more complicated. Tests have shown that inviting your boss to your wedding can help advancement.

But if such crawling does not come naturally, I’d skip that too and concentrate on trying to enjoy the day as much as is possible.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.