Sunday, 24 March 2013

The only people who like change are wet babies

I was struggling for a title for this post and so looked through some proverbs about change, this one, unfortunately from an unknown source, was the one that struck me. I've wanted to blog about work for ages, but I've struggled over how to approach it. I think I've finally got all my thoughts straight in my head, albeit I feel a little uncomfortable voicing my thoughts.

By way of background, I'm an accountant. More specifically, I work in audit as a senior manager for a medium sized firm. When I look back, I think I've been very fortunate to get to where I am today. I left school with some very average GCSEs and some poor A level grades, and as a result couldn't get into the university I wanted, and had to settle for a College of Higher Education (by good fortune, it's now a university, so my CV doesn't look quite as bad!) where I graduated with a very average degree. Things weren't looking good. I applied for accountancy training positions when I graduated, but no-one would look twice at me. I took a part-time job in a department store for eighteen months, until a threatened move to childrenswear brought me to my senses. I resigned, telling HR I was going to be an accountant. They looked at me like I'd said I wanted to be a brain surgeon. I stepped up the application process and managed to get two interviews, out of which I got two job offers. I accepted the one at the larger firm at the princely salary of £6,500. It got my foot on the very lowest rung of the ladder. I struggled a bit initially, a large part of being an accountant is getting a professional qualification. I had to teach myself the first level from study books, it was hard work, but I developed a skill I'd not managed to previously, how to study. I realised why I'd struggled at school and college, but I passed my first exams easily. I was hit hard by glandular fever and had to take some time off work and defer my next exams as a result, which threw me off the usual timetable, but a stiff talking to by the managing partner got me to regain my focus, and I managed to persuade him to let me attend classroom courses for future exams. That made it much easier. With the exception of an IT paper, all about networks and computer systems (honestly!) I passed all my exams at first attempt. After five years at the firm, I was well respected, but a change in management meant I wasn't happy, so it was time to move on.

I went to a recruitment agency, who told me about a local firm who were really well regarded for their training. I went for an interview, was offered the position and accepted. What a mistake. It was so old fashioned, certain clients wouldn't allow women on-site, so I was stuck in the office, and as I was studying for ACCA not ACA, although I was part qualified, I was aligned with the first year ACA students. I lasted nine months, and literally skipped out of the building when they released me before the end of my notice period.

I'd again gone to an agency, stating that I'd worked for the only firms I wanted to in the area, and so was looking further afield. They found a well-respected regional firm about 70 miles away who liked me and offered me a job. I went house-hunting and moved down there, literally not knowing anyone within 50 miles. People have told me they admired my confidence, but I literally had no doubts or concerns, although I have to admit it was a bit lonely at times. I loved the job and bought a house down there (again, flying by the seat of my pants, it was whilst I was waiting for the results of my final exams, and I knew that if it didn't pass, I realistically wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage, luckly I passed). It was a good role that gave me more experience and responsibility. It was only when I met the man who is now my husband, who lived a further 50 miles south of my new home, that I decided it was time for another move.

I have to admit, I moved job to be nearer to him. Almost from day one, I knew the job wasn't going to work out, but decided I had to stick it out for a couple of years. I did, but was very glad to escape. It was a larger firm, which gave me less independence, and indeed less challenging and interesting work. The management structure meant that I was being micro managed, which I didn't take kindly to.

And that brings me to my present role. I've worked for my current firm for five years, initially as a manager and latterly as a senior manager. There have been bad days, normally when I'm short of work, but on the whole I've enjoyed it. It's given me fresh challenges, more responsibility and a greater variety of clients to interact with.

It's fair to say that it's been clear something has been going on for a year or more. Firstly non fee earning staff numbers were streamlined, we lost our local IT support and one of our secretaries. Even well regarded staff nationally, such as the head of training, left. Rumours hit the press in the middle of last year that the firm was in merger negotiations, and few people were surprised, even though the rumours were stamped down. Towards the end of last year, the rumours were confirmed, five months on and the merger is due to go through by the end of the month.

Reaction has been mixed. I'm sure from the firm's point of view it's a good and necessary move. Fee earning staff have been reassured that there will be no redundancies (however, this is clearly dependent on there being no loss of clients), and roles which are seen as vulnerable won't be put under review until post merger. There are six cities around the country where both firms have offices, mine being one of them. In those locations, our offices will be closed and we'll be moving into their offices.

I have to admit that I have my concerns. We're merging (realistically, being taken over) by a larger firm. Having worked for a larger firm previously, I know that it means that local offices will be less empowered to make their own decisions, a supposition which I've already seen backed up my managers having their hands tied in interactions with us. Presently, I'm in a senior position within the department and effectively run it, as the audit partner gives me plenty of freedom, he knows and trusts me to go to him when I need to. Joining a firm with other staff at the same level, clearly suggests I'll be losing this degree of authority and independence, at the same time I'm concerned that I'll have someone micro managing me again, which never goes down well. Evidence also shows that they work long days as a matter of course, whereas my team generally work 9 to 5, and only on exception have to work longer hours to get their work done. I'm concerned that this will cause friction between the teams, or 'my' team feeling they have to be seen to work longer hours and their work life balance being negatively impacted as a result. Finally, we're due to move offices shortly after the merger, despite initially being told that they have plenty of room for us, it's rapidly becoming clear that that isn't the case. It appears that room is so short that staff visiting from other offices will have to book desks in advance as there may not be room for them if they turn up on spec. All staff, except partners, hot desk, and will be going from sitting three to a bench to four to a bench. In contrast, I always have a spare six foot desk free next to me, which I'm used to spreading over when I have a lot of work on the go. Equally, it means I have a degree of privacy. As a manager there are times when I'm working on things that I don't want other members of the team to see. I'm not sure how that will work going forwards. Finally, and this is a purely personal issue, I'm really susceptible to distraction. Noisy eaters set my teeth on edge, gossip distracts me and coughing annoys me. I'm seriously very concerned that I'd end up with a high level of workplace stress, or a murder charge, with such a large increase in people all around me.

Whilst I know the merger is necessary from a business case, I'm sure some of our longer serving members of staff will be lost, whether voluntarily or through redundancy. Myself, whilst I'm open minded, I'd be very surprised if it will be a positive move for me. I think I'll find it stressful and feel demoted and demotivated. I have a number of clients who are recruiting and recruitment agencies calling my mobile on a daily basis. As such, I'm in the fortunate position that I, hopefully, have other options, but it's going to be a difficult decision when the time comes. 

It's fair to say that the next few months will be difficult and challenging, but hopefully it will all work out for the best, however it turns out.

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