This entry is for the second Blogging For Books contest over at The Zero Boss. This month the topic is servitude, with the directive to write about the best or worst experience you’ve had working for someone else.
I held my first non-babysitting job at the tender age of fourteen, and landed my first career job as a software engineer at twenty-three. During the intervening nine years I held a variety of positions. Two–vastly different–stints as a waitress. Tutor; teacher; camp counselor. Lab assistant. Library assistant. Assistant editor. Some of it was fun, some of it was awful. I was very clear, always, on the bottom line. Work = money. Money = good.
By the middle of 2002, it had become clear to me that my marriage was falling apart. I had two small children and had stopped working two years earlier to the admonitions of “you won’t work as an engineer again if you step off the track now.” I knew that I needed a job before I could ask my husband to leave. I considered the various employment opportunities that would allow me the flexibility to continue staying home with my kids–at least part-time–but would still yield enough pay to make it worth my while (read: pay more than the cost of daycare for two). I despaired.
And then, in January of 2003, we refinanced our house. The loan officer came over with all the paperwork and as we filled out forms and chatted, he mentioned that he was a single dad to a young son, and being a loan officer was great money but flexible enough for him to work around his kid’s schedule. That seemed like a pretty clear omen, to me. We talked a few more times and then I went in to interview with his boss.
I was hired on the spot. In February I began working for Big Mortgage Company as a loan officer, and I threw myself into learning this completely new undertaking. I was assigned to my local office, then after a couple of weeks the boss changed his mind and sent me to a different office, two towns over. That was… weird. But the original office was large, and impersonal, and the office I transferred to was smaller. The site manager there trained me herself and was very accessible for questions, problems, etc. What had originally been grumbling over my commute turned to gratitude that I found myself in a more helpful environment.
By late March I had a few loans under my belt, some of my confidence restored, and things at home came to a head and I asked my husband to leave. I went in to work and requested a meeting with my boss. I explained (as briefly as I could) that my circumstances had changed; while I was enjoying my work as a loan officer, I felt it too risky at this point to continue working only on commission. Did he have an opening for a loan processor, where I might be salaried, until I felt more back on my feet? I was surprised when my boss showed great concern. He said the last thing he wanted to have happen would be for the company to lose me, and that he would find me a spot. Give me a day to figure out where to put you, he said.
I returned to my desk feeling huge relief. And the next day he called me back in to say that he’d decided I could work directly for him. Business was good; his head assistant and processor had more work than they could handle. The pay was nothing to write home about (compared to my previous salary as an engineer, anyway) but it was better than I thought it would be.
For four months I reported directly to the boss, learned nearly every aspect of the business, and learned to like my job. I worked primarily with two twenty-something guys who reminded me very much of the little brothers I was glad I’d never had. But they were entertaining in their own way, and mortgage rates were down and we worked our tails off processing millions of dollars of business for BMC.
Then the boss called me in to tell me he had a proposition for me. He was thinking of starting a specialty division. How would I feel about being trained as the specialist that the loan officers could come to for processing? It sounded great. I went home with a stack of materials nearly as tall as me, and spent my spare time boning up on the ins and outs of financing “problem” loans. Not what I’d pictured myself doing… but spurred on by my boss’ constant confidence in me, I embraced the future.
About a month passed, with no word on the progress of the new division. The boss spent most of his time out of our office and at other branches. One day when he surfaced, I asked him what was happening. He kind of waved his hand in the air and said there were problems in another area; his time and attention was needed to deal with those issues before we could move forward. Then he seemed to have an idea, and said maybe I could help with the current crisis. Could I go back to my local office “for a few days” and help out with some things? Sure, whatever he needed.
Back to the first office I went. I found the person I was told to report to, was filled in on the current project, and set to work. The problem was with a particular lender refusing loans due to paperwork inconsistencies; it required an elaborate pipeline from us to them with our processors and various lawyers in-between producing everything in triplicate. It was intense, to say the least. Within a week I was permanently reassigned to that office (and someone from the other office brought me my desk contents in a box, which remained unpacked on the floor). I worked extra hours. I stopped in to work while my kids had dinner with their dad; I worked weekends when they went to see him. Two more people were added to our “swat team” as we waded through hundreds of files and implemented a new tracking system.
After a month of this, I asked my boss for a raise. I pointed out that I was no longer a processor, I was now carrying a lot more responsibility, and had been with the company quite a while. He told me he needed to think it over but would get back to me. A week later I had heard nothing. Another week passed. The third week, I dropped him an email to ask him if he’d had any more time to consider what we’d talked about.
The next day I arrived at work, and my desk had been reassigned. The apologetic girl working there said she didn’t know what was going on, she’d just been told to move.
I wandered around for about an hour, trying to track down the boss (there were five offices to choose from, and infinite highway in-between), before I was paged to the phone. It was the boss.
“Hey, do I still have a job or what?” I joked into the receiver. There was a long pause.
“I’m reassigning you to Little Title Company,” (BMC’s sister company, down the hall in the same building) he said. “For now. I haven’t quite decided what we’re going to do, but go on over there and see the supervisor, she’ll give you something to do.”
No explanation. None of the warmth or concern that had previously been there. I had a box full of stuff, and directions to head to a different company, to do… well… I wasn’t sure. I took my box and went to Little Title Company, and found the supervisor. I introduced myself, set down my box, and burst into tears.
Despite giving a soggy first impression there, the move to LTC proved favorable. There were four of us in the entire office. The supervisor loved me immediately. She confided that she really had no idea what was going on in the boss’ mind, but she was delighted to have landed me, and assured me I would enjoy their office more than that of Big Mortgage Company. She was right. The four of us shared plenty of work and great joy at no longer working for BMC (three of the four of us were prior BMC employees). Within a month I was the supervisor’s “favorite unlicensed paralegal.” (Thusly dubbed because I one day asked her what the difference was between what I was doing and what she was doing, and she’d laughed and said she had a license and made more money.) When I enquired as to the arrangements between the two companies, I was told that the boss and BMC still cut the paychecks, but we were a separate entity.
“And that,” the supervisor confided to me one day when the other two women were at lunch, “means that I am the personnel boss around here. And if he tells me to cut someone, it’s not gonna be you.”
So I’d recovered from the shock of being treated like chattel; I’d found a new, better working environment. I was appreciated, it seemed, for the first time in a long time. I gushed often about how glad I was to have been moved.
Thus it was, with great surprise, that I was called to see the Human Resources Director of Big Mortgage Company one afternoon. She pulled me into a conference room where my supervisor was already seated, and the moment my rear hit the chair, she declared, “BMC has elected to terminate your employment.”
I stared at the HR woman in disbelief. I turned to my supervisor, who was choking back tears. Tears. I asked why. The woman from HR smirked and said that the official reason was business slow-down. I was welcome to file for and collect unemployment, she said. “But off the record? You have a lousy attitude,” she growled at me.
The HR woman sat in the cubicle of BMC closest to the LTC offices. Apparently I’d been overheard complaining about my time there.
I was stunned. In retrospect, there were of course a million things I wanted to say and do. Right at the top of that list was telling that very ugly HR woman that her prized designer hat (which matched her purse) made her look even more desperate and cow-like than usual. Next on the list was asking my supervisor to speak up on my behalf… but it was clear, from the way it all transpired, that she’d pleaded my case and been told that if she didn’t put up and shut up, she’d be next.
The meeting was brief. I’d been hip-deep in a file when I was called in, and it was still spread in piles all over and around my desk when I went back into the office. The HR lady followed me as I started to pick the papers up, and reiterated that I was being dismissed immediately. I was to take my belongings and leave.
I had never been fired before. I went home and cried for the rest of the day. I was in the middle of a nasty divorce and I’d been fired. Someone who had nothing to do with my work and knew nothing about me other than that I was not a company pom-pom waver had been allowed to decide my fate. I’d worked my tail off and this was my reward?? What was the point of even trying? I was shaken to my core, for longer than I would like to admit.
If I ever run into that HR woman, I will tell her two things. First, I will thank her for saving me from turning into someone who is just grateful to have a job, because a job means money, and in drastic times money can seem more important than self-respect. I might never have quit BMC or LTC. I was overworked, underpaid, and disregarded… and I never would have left, because I was newly single with two kids and in my frustration and guilt I felt trapped. Being unemployed was terrifying. After a while, it was liberating. The world didn’t end. My priorities came into focus. My re-entry into the working world was a rough one, but I am so much better equipped, now, to find the job that will provide for my family without the proverbial bartering of my soul. Given the opportunity, I will first thank her for that.
Second? She needs to hear about that stupid hat.