Red Flags

DISCLAIMER:  These are my opinions and do not represent the opinions of any organization.  The events described in this blog did occur, but the names have been changed and some of the details altered.

One naturally has high hopes when starting a new job.  For me, however, the fit was not good from the start, and it had nothing to do with the fact that the company makes a product that kills people.  After all, tobacco is still legal and people have the choice to use it or not.  I did not have a problem working for a tobacco company.

            No, the fit I’m talking about is cultural.  There were many red flags that warned me about the culture when I arrived in the law department, but I chose to ignore them.  I should have listened to my intuition.  The gut never lies.
            Red flag number 1:  I found myself working in the same building, on the same floor, and in the exact same location as I did when I worked for the previous owner.  How was that a red flag?  I got laid off from my former employer.  Twenty years later I found myself back at the same place.  It was a bad omen.  I convinced myself that this time it would be different.  And it was.  It was worse.
            Red flag number 2:  My computer went down and it took a whole day to fix it, and no one cared that I couldn’t get any work done for an entire day.  I’m paid to work and I take that quite seriously.  When I was at the law firm, we billed in either 15 or 6 minute increments.  If the lawyers weren’t billing the clients, the law firm didn’t make money.  So, when there was a computer problem, the IS department sent someone up immediately.  Not at this job. I had to call the help desk in India.  

        When I called, it took about 10 minutes (no exaggeration) to verify my name and location.  The service agent, who didn’t know English very well and had a thick accent, could not find my name in the system.  Apparently the name Scruggs is very difficult to comprehend.  He kept spelling it wrong.

      Then it took another half hour to explain the problem, at which point the agent Googled the issue to try to find a solution.  I am not lying.  He told me so.  After about an hour on the phone, the agent gave up and escalated the issue to desk side support, which are the people located in Richmond, not India.   Desk side support did not show up until up the next day.  Productivity was obviously not one of the company’s values.

Red flag number 3:   My secretary was laid off a few months after I started working, and no one told me.  I found out when she sent me an e-mail telling me had enjoyed working with me.  This turned out to be symptomatic of the lack of communication in the department.  As I discovered, information sharing was on a “need to know basis,” and it seems that no one thought I needed to know that my secretary was being downsized.

            Red flag number 4:  No one in the department seemed to be very happy.   I’m a friendly person and one of the things I like best about living in the South is that people are friendly; they say hello to everyone.  But not here.  Walking down the hallways, I noticed that the lawyers didn’t say “good morning” or “how are you”, etc.  The administrative staff, on the other hand, was very welcoming.

I also noticed that lawyers didn’t chat with each other.  You know, standing in the doorway shooting the breeze sort of thing.  It seemed rather odd to me, especially coming from a law firm that truly did value collegiality.  Instead, I got the impression that people weren’t really happy that I was there.  It was as if they all viewed me as competition.  I felt like a dolphin in a shark tank.
To be fair, most of the lawyers were very nice on a one to one basis, once I got to know them, but there were precious few opportunities to do so.  This place was all work.  I can understand that lawyers working for a tobacco company must avoid gallows humor, but come on, a little laughter never hurt anyone. 

            Red flag number 5:  No department Christmas party.  This may seem like a minor thing, but to me, it says a lot about the management and the department culture.  It is the way that the head of a department tells her employees that she appreciates them and the work that they do.  I think it has a big impact on morale, which in turn impacts productivity.  Low morale means lower productivity.  When employees don’t feel that their work is appreciated, they don’t feel loyal to the organization.  This translates into more sick days, more surfing the web during business hours, and probably more stolen office supplies.

            In early December, I attended the quarterly lawyer’s meeting–just lawyers, no staff.  The meeting started with a nice lunch (which was eliminated from future meetings) and then we sat through four hours of presentations.


            Around 4:30, the rest of the law department (admins and paralegals) came into the auditorium.  GC gave out a few recognition awards to the staff and then wished us all a Merry Christmas. My God, I thought.  This is it.  This is the Christmas party.  There wasn’t so much as punch and cookies for the staff.  Not even leftovers from lunch. I was shocked.  Every other place I had worked had some sort of Christmas party.  In my previous in-house job, the General Counsel had everyone over to his house.

            The stage was set for my downward slide.  The amazing thing is that it took six years for me to hit bottom. (You may be wondering why I stayed so long if it was so bad.  I’ll explain that in another entry).

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