Many of us come to discover the concept of Financial Independence due to dissatisfaction with our work. We might be dreaming about the Retire Early component of FIRE, or we may be yearning to find a way of making a self-directed living aligned with our values. In the meantime, generally our jobs are the primary driver of our journey to FIRE.
You can see in my older posts that I’d become frustrated with the job I was in. I’ve discovered over the years that if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, if I don’t see value and benefit, then my commitment drops. Obviously it’s harmful to me, but it’s also unfair to the business to have a staff member who isn’t fully onboard. Having said that, I am a conscientious worker, so I do what I can not to let it affect my performance. I believe in fair pay for fair work, but it also applies the other way around. If I’m being paid to do a job, then I commit to that job. The consequence of this is that when it’s no longer viable, I leave for something new.
Mr. ETT and I made the move to regional NSW because the “perfect” job for me came up. After writing so gushingly about the new job when I moved, what’s happening 3 years on?
What I Didn’t Know
Even thought this work was well within my skillset, I hadn’t done the specifics before. I came in when an important report was due. My new manager was attempting to complete the report with some handover from the outgoing staff member, but it was chaos for a few days, being thrown right in the deep end. After we finalised it, I settled in to meeting all of the staff in the office, and learning as much as I could about what was required of the role.
I came up against resistance from a few colleagues, which was strange to me! Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never encountered a workplace before where people refused to help each other. I would reach out for help via email, and the reply would be a single sentence: “XX used to do that,” with the metaphorical equivalent of a door slammed in my face. I tried to solve it myself by speaking to them, but didn’t get any further face to face. Eventually I went to my manager because it was getting ridiculous.
After about 6 weeks when they’d decided I was going to fit in, the story slowly came out.
A Spill and No Fill
There’d been a spill under atrociously managed circumstances. Staff received the news at the staff Christmas party, of all things! There was a restructure, with the incumbent staff either accepting a redundancy or having to reapply for their own jobs. It turns out that morale was so low, all six staff in the team decided to accept a redundancy. They’d been slowly finishing up in the months before I started, with the last person leaving the week before. For some reason (sarcasm), the business neglected to mention at interview that my position was to replace the work of six staff. Yes, you read that right. They devalued the work those staff did so much, they thought that a single person could replace them.
Not a spoiler: they were wrong.
Finding My Way – Year 1
The six staff who left essentially looked after six different streams. There was a handover document for the stream that had the report due, but nothing for the other five. Even so, you can never encompass your entire job in a Word document. This stream had monthly reports, so I settled down to learn all about it.
Unfortunately, this stream was also in the middle of a multi-office project to change from one IT system to another. Part of my role was to be the representative for our office. I soon discovered that this project in itself was a full-time job. Luckily someone from another office took me under their wing and supported me for the first 12 months. This project was so complex that’s how long it took me to finally understand the language and concepts, and get my head around what they were trying to do (we are in the third year, with another projected three years to go!)
Settling In – Year 2
I settled in, trying to do the work of six people and not surprisingly, failing. Once I’d found my feet and developed a good relationship with my manager, I began pressing for another position, regularly and fairly forcefully. It was obvious there was a huge body of work that wasn’t being completed. I was trying to dip my toes into all five other streams but barely scratching the surface. Needless to say, it was a stressful time!
When there were repeated knock-backs for recruitment, I asked for a pay rise. I figured that if they expected me to do the work of six people, I deserved better remuneration than where I started. Even this took three attempts, with my manager fighting for me all the way. At one point it had been signed off by C-Suite, only to be knocked back by HR. I have no idea how that happens.
While I was satisfied with the pay rise, it didn’t change the reality, and by this time our office was shown to be consistently underperforming in the other five streams. Once management noticed (and grudgingly acknowledged) the numbers, we received agreement to recruit. For one position. Still woefully inadequate, but I was happy to take what I could get!
By this time I had met a wider circle of colleagues from outside my immediate unit, and there were several that would have been perfect for the role. I reached out to let them know a new role was coming. Having built a good relationship, I received frank responses. As much as they liked the role, they didn’t trust the unit I was working for, so wouldn’t risk leaving their current positions. That spill and no fill had left my unit with a terrible reputation even two years later. This cost us some amazing potential staff members.
In the end, though, I was lucky. We got a fantastic candidate, and every day I am grateful to be working with them.
Owning the Job – Year 3
Now we have two staff trying to do the work of six, and we are on to our fourth manager in three years. It is so much better to have a colleague to share the load. Still, on average, I receive one email every 10 minutes of my working day. This drops to every 5 minutes when we suddenly seem to get rushes of work. I spend 30-50% of my working week in meetings. I went to the doctor with chest pain. She attributed it to stress. Luckily, since having seen the doctor, it hasn’t happened again. Maybe I just needed to talk about it?
With that as a background, earlier this year my unit advertised a permanent part-time job in another team, 32 hours a week. Perfect! Just what I’ve been wanting for years now. It crosses over with my skillset. I knew I could do the job and it would be interesting. It’s also better resourced than our team, so hopefully a reduction in stress. I spoke to one of the incumbents, and to the manager of the team. I then spoke to my manager. She asked whether it was the role, or the reduced hours that made me interested. To be honest, it was a bit of both, but the reduced hours are what sucked me in.
She went away to the director of our unit, and within 10 minutes I had permission to drop my hours for a 12 month trial. Unbelievable, I never thought that was possible. Granted, I’ve been complaining that we don’t have enough staff, but the consequence of this is that it doesn’t matter how many hours my colleague and I work, we can’t complete everything. Dropping six hours a week won’t make that much difference in the scheme of things. I still work five days a week so I can cover any meetings that come up, but I have flexibility and am trusted to manage my time. If I need to work back, I can take those hours at another time.
With our workload growing, I also made the decision that we would no longer actively support one of the streams. It is not our fault we can’t do it. It’s the business’ fault for not prioritising the work and recruiting appropriately, and it is completely unreasonable to expect us to cover it. The great news is we have just had recruitment to this role, hooray! They have also found 8 hours a week to cover another of the streams that was being neglected. Not ideal, but better than the minimal my colleague and I were able to devote. We also have promises of another full-time recruitment next year. If that happens, we will have four staff covering the six streams. Not ideal, but definitely better.
I Still Like My Job
Three years has flown. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for three years already. While it’s turned out to be almost nothing like the advertised position, it does incorporate elements that were the favourite part of my older jobs, and the other tasks also suit me just fine. Does it have its stress and frustrations? In the words of our beloved Magda, “Oh my, wordy, lordy, yes.”
But I have great colleagues right across the state. I’m learning new things every week. I have flexibility in my working hours, and have been able to work from home in COVID, which I love. The work I do will never go away, so I have a “job for life” if I want it. And with our FIRE plans, perhaps that will be shorter than they are expecting!