Goldi's Locks of Yarn

My place to discuss my raging obsession with yarn and crochet along with happenings in my life and the world at large

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Working-gal Blues, #2

For those who may have missed my opening post for this series, I suggest you read that before reading this one. I will include links for all previous messages in this series at the beginning of each post, in fact, to give people the opportunity (if they so desire) to read them in their proper order, since they sort of build on the prior messages and will make more sense if read that way.

So, to pick up where I left off, thanks in large part to our stability, our company managed to survive the effects that 9/11 had on the travel industry. Because the vast majority of the conventions we handle are of the professional and/or educational kind, there was little danger of events like this no longer being held, but attendance was down at many of them for a long time, especially in the aftermath years that also saw us in recession. Wider internet access for services such as hotel bookings also served to further dampen our volume. Those years saw us have the first ever lay-offs of employees, as they sought to trim expenses, which was very traumatic for us. Every department was forced to trim, even our own little accounting department. And, it was the beginning of the restricted overtime saga, despite the fact that we now had to take on extra work to cover the work of the folks that were laid off. If we had felt stressed before about our jobs, it was nothing compared to what it became, and it continues to this day. In fact, this is one of the major issues I am struggling with and that has prompted me to write this series. The unrelenting stress over a large period of time is finally beginning to have a major negative impact on my health.

After only 5 years, our venture capital owners decided it was time to bail. They put us up for sale. Granted, this had been the plan all along anyway, they were just accelerating their schedule. They had successfully grown us into a very profitable (despite the recession and it's effects) company, and our reputation as an industry leader certainly helped as well.

As so often happens, though, rumors began circulating among the employees that kept us all in a perpetual state of fear. Although I work in a very small department of a company that occupies nearly every floor in our office building (we have the whole fourth floor plus suites on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th, in a six story building), I have always managed to keep tabs on what is going on elsewhere in the company - by being a smoker! You hear all kinds of things in the smoking area and can learn a lot of things just by paying attention. It really is amazing how creatively negative our minds can become in the absence of communication from management! So I heard lots of bizarre stories, as well as the latest scuttlebutt on what was happening and who was ticked-off at whom, and why. One thing that proved to become a major issue, and which frankly surprised me as I had never encountered it before (except, perhaps, in our small air department, the "prima donas" of the company - but that's another issue entirely and not germane to this series), was a high level of favoritism being shown by certain managers toward some of the employees. This has caused the single most major gripe of all among them, and I can certainly see why it would.

In the meantime, our own department had been having it's own issues relative to the way our owner had organized our part of the company - remember we were no longer a stand-alone company, but a "branch" of a bigger company, with a sister branch in another state. They had, in effect, tried to eliminate our department entirely by merging it with the accounting department of the other branch! Because the vast majority of the checks we had to issue were of the "on demand" variety with a same-day turnaround, it just wasn't practical to have these payments issued from the other branch, so they couldn't eliminate us. I'm not sure how much of this was instigated by the head of that other branch's accounting department, but he had muscled his way into becoming the "head" of all accounting operations for both branches, with our accounting CFO being placed lower down in the hierarchy scale. This did not go over too well, especially since we viewed ourselves as the senior branch. We had been in business for about 50 years, while this other branch had only been operating for 18, and among our clientele, they were not liked very much at all, while we were known to be the best (this really isn't bragging, it's just the plain unvarnished truth!). And none of us liked this guy who was suddenly "in charge", me least of all, for he made my job a living hell for quite some time! Don't you just love office politics!

It took several months, possibly over a year (hard to remember now), but finally our company was sold, to yet another similar travel company. Although they merged the 3 different branches into "one" company, they did not, like our previous owners, try to meld the branches into a single unit. For our branch, this was good news, as the merging with the other branch that we had previously experienced had put us into a secondary position which we resented greatly. We were the ones with the high reputation, so from our perspective, this had been a bad idea, business-wise. Our new owners recognized and appreciated it, and wisely sought to capitalize on it unlike the previous owners who had no understanding of our field. Best of all to us, the guy who had tried to "lord it over us" was let go soon afterward, due to personality clashes with the new owners.

Now, I had mentioned previously that the job of processing refunds had finally been re-assigned to someone else. In it's place, I was given the assignment of handling client payments. We paid most of our reg clients on a bi-weekly basis, though we had a handful that demanded it to be weekly. The job entailed running several reports showing the total of their registration figures, then providing a spreadsheet summary of those figures with the activity for the payment period, then writing up the check request for that period's payment. When I took this task over, there were maybe about a total of 20 or 25 of these accounts over a year's time, and the reporting was not all that difficult, except for a couple of accounts. Despite that, the job is a bit time-consuming, especially the set-up phase prior to the first payment, under the best of circumstances. As we grew, the number of reg accounts began creeping up, and many of our clients began asking for more and more detailed reports, requiring a lot of customization, and more investment of time on my part to get their demands fulfilled. Previously, our normal procedure was to get the check written and the package out the door on the same day the reports were run and processed, but that proved to be impossible for me, hampered even more so by demands that I produce the day's checks and present them for signature by no later than 2 pm! And I am talking about ALL checks, not just the client payment checks!

This period of time, when I was responsible for the client payments along with all of my other accounts payable duties, was the peak of my stressful period, and it dang near killed me. It was around this point that I began to feel my health failing, I began to make the many stupid mistakes that had never been a problem in my entire life before, and I began to dread coming to work every day. When I complained of the work load, I got the litany of "shoulds" ("there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to keep up", "these are not that complicated" - yeah, right, why don't YOU try it?! - "you should be able to get these things done by the deadlines" "you need to be more efficient" yada yada yada ad nauseum). Technically, it was no different from before, when I was constantly cramming to get hundreds of refunds processed a day along with paying the bills and coding and balancing expense reports (oh, and I forgot to mention that we have a very complex coding system - some bills and expense reports will have breakdowns that can run anywhere from the usual one account code up to as many as fifteen and even more, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge, and yet another time-consuming process). I think it's telling that there is no one in our entire department that is able to do what I do. At one time, our CFO could, but now even she can't do much of it! I have no backup, which makes it "fun" to come back from a week's vacation, let me tell you!

If it hadn't been for the desire of my direct manager to step out of that position of responsibility (which had been hard for her too), I doubt anything would have changed. She had never really been good "management" material anyway, and lots of people had issues with her. Fortunately, I did not. But I did, and I still do, with her boss, who is also my boss, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of our company, who took over the management duties from that point on. The client payments were reassigned back to my former manager, who had previously been responsible for them, but by this time, they had grown into a beast, and she has had to rely heavily on me to help her through many of them, as she is not as skilled with working with spreadsheets as I am.

As is always the case, when they take a burden off of me, they quickly rush to replace it with another, and this time was no exception! I was now responsible for handling "unclaimed funds", those checks that had never been cashed... Still, it was not as much pressure as before, but by this time I had been so drained from the unrelenting high stress that I found it difficult to handle much of anything with anything like my former skills. And I just can't seem to recuperate, despite the fact that I have done everything I can to reduce any other demands on me outside of my job. I had taken up the crocheting as a way to do that, but was shocked and displeased to find that it had affected even that area of my life, causing me to struggle with even the simplest of projects! But the payoffs are so huge that it has been worth it to me to struggle on, and I am hoping that eventually I will be able to recover more of my former abilities. Some days are worse than others, and I cling to the "good" ones with a strangle-hold, taking hope from them that it will happen!

Okay, a bit of a lengthy "intro", but at least this should give you some idea of the issues I am about to address. I can almost hear you saying, "There's more???". Yes, alas, there's more. We will get into that in the next installment...

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