And with a single bound, he was free

Well, this feels weird. It’s Monday morning; I’m not on holiday, I’m not off ill, and I’m not “working from home” euphemistically or otherwise. But neither am I in the office or with any intention of heading in that direction. Instead, for the first time in nearly eleven years, I find myself without an office to go to.

COI’s downsizing programme has been well publicised for months now – as a result of the Coalition’s freeze on marketing expenditure, the government’s communications agency has to shed 287 jobs or 40% of the workforce, and this week sees the final stages of that process. Although it’s been a three month process, the fact that I’m one of those to leave – by choice – still comes as rather a huge surprise to me.

Up until about three weeks ago, I was content in my decision to stay at COI. Of course, I couldn’t know or have much control over whether I would be made compulsorily redundant, but at least I had made the decision that I wouldn’t be applying for voluntary redundancy (VR) – there was almost no difference between the voluntary and compulsory terms, and no difference between going this year or next if a further round of downsizing were to be required.

And I was secure in that decision almost to the very minute when I did in fact hand in the application.

What changed, quite simply, was the terms under which VR was offered. Up until three weeks ago the government was unilaterally imposing capped terms on redundancy payments, even going to the extraordinary lengths of introducing legislation in the form of a Money Bill (an expedited process intended for times of national emergency) to do so. Then all of a sudden, just a week before the deadline for applications for VR at COI and just three weeks before all the redundancies would be announced, the government came to a deal with (five of the six) unions involved: suddenly the cap was gone for 2010, and new terms were in place for 2011. The upshot was that for someone of my age and length of service, the amount I would get now went up by a far greater amount than I had anticipated; while at the same time, I would get even less than the previous capped terms if I were to be made redundant next year. All of a sudden, the maths for staying simply didn’t work.

Of course, it’s not all about the money by any means. By instinct I’m a creature of inertia, happy to stay where I am far longer than is actually good for me, and especially where there is the daily reward of working and playing with a great group of people (colleagues, clients, the various agencies, that I’ve been privileged to work with over the years). In order to prise me out of that comfortable niche it took a big stick of dynamite to even contemplate the possibility, and that’s what the money did – shook me violently enough that I had to go into full decision mode.

That involved talking with various people, both within and without COI, and getting their perspectives; producing the clichéd two-column for/against lists; pouring over the finances. All the advice seemed to be pointing one way; the ‘for VR’ column was way longer than the ‘against’. (I’ll go into more of those for-and-against considerations in future blog posts, if you’re interested.) Once contemplated, the case for leaving COI became irrefutable – to my intense dismay.

The one thing I do rather resent about the whole process is that what should have been a three month period to consider options and get used to the idea became compacted into a matter of just a week, of feeling hustled into the decision far faster than I deserved to be. Ending an 11 year career with a company is a big decision, and that’s why there’s a three month statutory period for this kind of thing. I can’t help but think the spirit if not the letter of this provision was roundly broken when the terms were in flux and changing so often and so late in the process.

But then, if I had had that full three months to consider my options, I’d have almost certainly ground myself into a state of frozen analysis (akin to the way Robbie the Robot fuses when given an order in conflict with its prime programming in Forbidden Planet – great film, go watch!). I would probably have found some way of talking my way out of jumping, some way of rationalising my natural inertia. “Better safe than sorry”, “the grass always looks greener”, “why jump out of the frying pan into the fire?” and all those other well-rehearsed arguments. So perhaps being snowballed into a decision is for the best after all, at least for me.

Time will tell. Right now, I’m acutely conscious that either decision – to stay and risk redundancy in 2011 with a lot less of a financial cushion, or to go and find myself without a job in very austere times – could be a colossal mistake. There’s not enough data to make an informed decision about which is the best (or least-worst) decision, so unless I resort to a coin-toss it came down to the following principle: if I’m going to hang, I’d rather it’s for something that I pro-actively decide to do (moving on, new horizons) than because I was too lazy or scared to try and because I let opportunities slip through my fingers once again.

I’m not entirely done at COI quite yet – there’s a couple of outstanding bits of work to take care of this week, as I didn’t want to leave colleagues or clients in the lurch. But all my files are deleted, out-of-office messages set, my belongings removed from Hercules House, my Blackberry and building pass handed in.

I wish I could say I have a grand, cunning plan for what I’m doing next, but the fact that this came out of nowhere to done deal in three weeks has rather thwarted such good intentions of advance planning. Of course, I have the same smattering of half-developed plans that everyone daydreams about for what they would do if they were free of the daily grind, but now I have to assemble those dozen or so threads into some sort of coherent strategy.

What I don’t want to do is rush into another job similar to the one I’ve just left. If this decision is to make any sense at all, it’s got to result in something new and different and exciting or else I really should have stayed cosily tucked up behind my old desk. So I’m actively kerbing my knee-jerk impulse to run around in job-seeking mode, and have decided to take some time off. After all, along with the redundancy I get is extra pay for all those untaken holidays: if I’d stayed at COI then I’d have had to be taking much of the time through to January off on holiday as it was, so that’s what I’m going to do now.

Of course it doesn’t mean doing nothing at all: there’s things I want to do, and I’ll be on the look out for interesting opportunities. But my immediate task seems to be NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated), something that’s appealed to me in the past but never been feasible because of work commitments. Since I find myself out of work on the stroke of the 1st of November, it seemed like a big neon sign pointing and saying “What excuse have you got now not to try it? Huh?! Huh?!?”

To which end, dear reader, I have to tell you that writing this blog entry has stolen about 1,390 words from my writing quota for the day (and the daily NaNoWriMo target is only 1,667.) You’re being a bad influence on me!

I’d better stop procrastinating and get on with it; with life post-COI.

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  1. sebcrump

    Good luck with all!

    NaNoWriMo, seems a perfect distraction, but I look forward to more blogging too, especially now you’re largely free from the ‘Code’ (I did notice you’ve updated your disclaimer (BTW the link to the Code is broken), but as far as I can see there’s only a tiny bit that still applies to you).

    I’ll add the film to my list 😉

  2. andrewlewin

    It’s a great 1950s classic – you can see all the seeds of Star Trek in it. If I weren’t aware that the list is several feel long and several years’ backlogged I’d offer to lend you the DVD 😉

    I may or may not be free from “the Code” – I’ll certainly blog my thoughts and feelings on developments in government, marketing and communications (especially online), but my warm and fuzzy feelings for COI remain and are genuine so I’m not exactly about to go rogue.

    Where the hell *is* the Code these days?! And why isn’t that grand master plan for forwarding deprecated links working?!?! 😉

  3. sebcrump

    notmyresponsibility.gov.uk 😉

  4. andrewlewin

    Hah! Well said, sir, well said.

  5. Great post Andrew and i have to agree that the last minute changes in the VR process must have been a headach you and others could have done without.

    Missing you and others from the office already; enjoy NaNoWriMo and a well deserved break. Looking forward to more blog posts as time allows 🙂

    ps – that was a well worn pass!

  6. andrewlewin

    Cheers, Paul! Missing you guys too, although that said yesterday I was at a meeting with May and it completely scrambled my brain trying to work out what was going on, had I really left, was it all just a dream … ?!

    Yes, very well worn pass which is why I wanted a final shot of it. It’s my original pass (and original pass holder/lanyard) from when they first issued them: I’m absurdly proud that I never lost it, never broke it, never had to sign in under a temp pass that I can recall – and was able to hand it back in intact, if horribly scuffed!

    May see you this afternoon at Teacamp?




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