Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Adventures in Job Satisfaction

From my perspective, my life at work had taken a turn for the worse in recent months.

My boss, who is truly made entirely of elemental awesome, has a serious chronic health condition, which took a turn for the worse at the end of last year.  Unfortunately, even Awesomonium can't protect you from your own body degenerating.  Over the past two years, I had taken on more of his load to help protect his fragile health, something that I willingly did, because I want to someday go into management and this was an opportunity to gain experience -- but most importantly, because I love that man!*  I've mentioned that I became the hiring manager for postdocs last summer -- that was one of his tasks.  I was able to hire the rest of the postdocs and write all the boring reports that went with this task.  I also served as his substitute when his health kept him from work, and as the main point of contact for a number of other tasks.  All this while still doing my own job.

When the higher-ups decided to open up a new task lead position (reporting to my boss), I jumped at the opportunity and applied for it.  My boss wanted me to have that position (since I was already doing the work), but the folks above him weren't so sure.  After several months had passed and I hadn't heard anything good about my chances of getting that job, I decided to be a little more proactive about my career.  I saw a position advertised at another supercomputing center, one for which the requirements and qualifications were basically "everything Rebecca has been doing over the years."  I applied almost 3 weeks after the application deadline, yet I still landed the interview, and within a half-hour I was asked when I could start.

It seemed like a cool opportunity, one that I would be willing to take, despite one major downside: it involved moving far away.  We've always lived within a one-state radius of Kentucky, and we are very close to our families, so this would be a big adjustment.  But I was nevertheless delighted when I learned that I would be getting an offer from this institution.

Adding to my interest in this other opportunity were some recent developments related to our benefits at my current workplace.  Our retirement matching was temporarily suspended, and our paid absences heavily restricted to a ridiculous level, all to deal with the consequences of the poor economy and government austerity.  More plans were being developed to cut costs on our pension plan and health insurance, as well.  My boss was now on medical leave, so I got the opportunity to attend meetings on these issues in his stead.

Attending these meetings opened my eyes to just how out of touch with regular people the leadership at my institution really is.  Nobody thought to consult with groups representing the types of people who would be most adversely impacted by the new restrictions on paid time away (e.g., women, single parents, and people with chronic illnesses) when these policies were being developed, for example.  And one representative of human resources actually conflated the case of an irresponsible person using up all their paid time off on a wild drunken vacation and the case of someone like my boss using up all his paid time off to cover the days he was too sick to work!**  It took all the strength I had not to leap across the table.  Instead my inner mom took over, and I scolded this insensitive HR person into silence.

I also did not feel particularly certain about my future in a leadership role at my current workplace.  While my boss seems to understand my accomplishments and abilities, his boss was unaware and fairly indifferent.  When told that I was considering this other option, he was not particularly motivated to try and keep me.  I spoke with him about it, and he did not see the same future for me here that I wanted.  It was nothing personal -- just a matter of opinion about the direction the center should go for the task lead position.  So it seemed the writing was on the wall.

The offer came in from the other institution.  It was a little low -- a 20% pay cut.  I emailed back and politely asked for more, based on what I currently make.***  They met me in the middle, which was about what I had expected.  Despite the 10% pay cut, the higher cost of living, and the necessity of saving additional money to pay for annual trips home to Kentucky, it was looking better and better.

The guy who manages the day-to-day operations of our center -- a guy who works for my boss's boss, and wields some power -- caught wind of my other offer.  In a panic, he called me in for a meeting, and asked what he could do to keep me from leaving.  All I ever wanted, I told him, was to be task lead.  I'm already doing the work and I'm doing a good job.  (He agreed.)  But, the bigger boss is apparently looking for someone with different qualifications than mine.  I understand, and I'm disappointed, but I'm not taking it personally.  If he could persuade the bigger boss to give me the title, however, I would probably stay.  He said he'd work on it.  I thanked him, and told him my deadline was mid-January.

I continued to negotiate with the other center.  There were a lot of really good things about this opportunity.  It's a brand-new supercomputing center.  The science problems they are solving overlap somewhat with what I currently work on, but there is also room for growth by working on another of their major focuses.  The new (to me) problems boil down to inverse and ill-posed problems, which is what I cut my teeth on (or, got my Ph.D. working on!) but have never solved at such a large scale.  Since it's a new center and I would be one of the first staff members, there would be lots of opportunities to apply my experience and step into new roles.

My updated offer arrived, and I informed the powers that be of my deadline.  The operations guy came through, and I learned that I would be getting the position I wanted.

But I wasn't as happy about it as I had hoped.  I was glad to finally get the recognition I deserved, but at the same time I felt under-appreciated and resentful of the great lengths I had to go to in order to get it.  The director of my potential new workplace, however, was making me feel a lot more wanted -- all my emails with complex questions were quickly answered, and he even offered to chat via the internet, something I did take him up on.

In our chat, he told me of all the exciting new opportunities I would have there -- the opportunity to mentor and supervise students, the opportunity to develop as a leader, and the opportunity to really shape how the center would operate.  We talked about the location, the nice weather, the real possibility of me being able to walk to work every day...

But... did I mention that it is in Australia?  Perth, Western Australia -- almost antipodal -- or certainly as far away as you can get from Kentucky without landing in the ocean.

* He is the best boss I will probably ever have.  He's a person who engenders strong emotions in everyone -- I don't think I've ever met anyone who is neutral about him.  But here are a few ways that he is the best boss ever: 1, He trusts us to do our work and get the job done however we decide to do it.  2, He thinks of us as human beings, not "work-production machines," and strives to have a positive personal relationship with each person in our group.  3, He is extremely family-friendly, and understands that family obligations are actually more important than work.  4, He never does anything to remind me that I'm different than the majority of the group, e.g., he curses just as much in front of me as he does everyone else, and he never makes sexist jokes.  5, The way people treat my child and the way my child reacts to them is a reasonably accurate first-order approximation of their character -- and he loves my son, and my son adores him too.  

**  Obviously this HR person is a Tea Party member, because their point was "personal responsibility!!!!" Yeah, my boss should have totally picked a better body for his soul to enter into (if you believe in that kind of thing), or at a minimum directed the development of his body more carefully in utero.  How irresponsible of him to have a genetic predisposition for his chronic illness!  He should have picked different parents.

** A template for anyone facing this situation:
"Right now, looking at the offer, I have a few concerns with the salary rate.  Currently, I make $X annually, and I live in one of the least expensive parts of the United States.  I am the sole breadwinner in my family (my husband stays home and cares for our young son), but we live very comfortably.  I recognized, when applying, that even the highest end of the salary range quoted would be a pay cut, and I was prepared for a moderate amount of belt tightening to accommodate for that, combined with moving to a more expensive part of the world and the necessity of spending $Y/year on plane tickets to visit family who are currently only a short drive away.  I was prepared to do that because [insert reasons this is a cool opportunity here], but this is a little more belt-tightening than I feel comfortable doing.  Is there any way that the salary could come any closer to what I make now?"

1 comment:

Jenny F. Scientist, PhD said...

Ah! Wait, are you moving to Australia????