OMG – Losing my shit with my bosses

The attorneys are all out today, doing CPE or something like it. It’s me and the rest of the non-JD staff. We all went out to lunch – on the firm – and have had a lovely day just cleaning up around here, purging files, clearing the deck in preparation for the takeover.

A couple of the bosses came back this afternoon and made beeline for my office. There was a communication issue with something they are planning and the feedback received from the staff today about the merger was very negative and hard for them to hear. I get it – I have been getting buckets of it tossed my direction all week as well. Always my conversations with staff have been considered off the record communications; they are blowing off steam and bitching about life and times as an attorney. I get it. We all get it. But for some reason today the honest dismay over the merger – they took it personally and got their boxers in a bunch with something akin to hurt feelings.

I regret to say voices were raised and doors were slammed – for once I was not the guilty party on the door slamming, a personal behavior at home that has taken me decades to break.

But they do not get to yell at me when they are mad, frustrated, or anything else about a situation I have zero control over and not sharing what is typically considered other employees confiding in me privately. I encourage them to take their concerns and feelings to the bosses, and sometimes – like today – they take the advice to heart and pour out their feelings. I think – I know – the week is getting to all of us. They yelled at me, I yelled back. Everyone in the office was cowering like children when parents and other family members get into a knock-down, drag-out verbal altercation.

I am not proud of my knee-jerk reaction; I am much better than this and my professional self should have better control of my temper. Where a week ago none of the critical comments would have mattered enough to take personally, today it was like betrayal of the first order, blown completely out of proportion.

It took a good 45 minutes for me to cool off enough to wonder what I should do about it. I shredded old files in my office and finally acknowledged that while they are being childish, I sank to that level and let them get to me. BUT, as their office doors were both still firmly shut, there was nothing for me to do except work.

Partners 3 and 4 came in while I was debating my next course of action. They stopped briefly to ask me how long I would be in the office and very nicely asked me to stay and talk with the 4 of them. Of course. I figured the worst that would happen is that I got fired today and burned a professional reference. It was upsetting to imagine, but entirely possible.

So 20 minutes later the 5 of us are sitting in the conference room like so many times before. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to apologize, and if I was, could I fake it well enough to at least appear contrite? Nope, unlikely. So I didn’t say anything.

They spoke about the impact the merger is having on the staff, how they “probably” handled it poorly, and that the acquiring corporation being here this week was harder than they foresaw on everyone. Ya think? Part of the issue with these guys is that they are emotionally tone deaf when it comes to their employees. They think everyone thinks and feels and acts pretty much like they do, except it’s not true. I am living, breathing proof of that, and one of my functions within the firm is to be the sounding board and steering wheel for the morale and spirits of the staff. The news was hard for me – I characterize it like the ego-bruising heartbreak of a relationship ending when you still have strong feelings for the other party and do not want and are not ready for it to end – and I have been struggling with being able to listen to the staff as firm management and sort out my own feelings as their employee peer. It’s rendered me less effective in this role this week. Then I have the Hellbeast waltzing through what is still my territory and messing with my peeps almost immediately after finding out this change is going forward? So. Not. Cool. As M said to me, “territorial much?” to which I was completely unrepentant in my emphatic “oh FUCK YES!” reply.

I value relationships. I value my associates and the camaraderie and trust we have built over the past couple of years. I ┬áprize that my bosses are men with whom I can speak directly and completely candidly without fear of retaliation or worse. I have never had anything like that in a corporate structure, and I dislike not trusting my peers or management. It does not make for a happy workplace wondering what direction I’ll be facing when the backstabbing happens.

So yeah, emotions are running high all over the place. I think we will all recover and regain our footing, but we need the stability of normal, business as usual for the next couple of weeks. There needs to be some time to adjust and get our footing with the change before the suits are in our midst and glad-handing us like professional politicians. They agreed.

And maybe some informal conversation and communications about what the future holds. Yesterday was the first new normal last of our present firm days and everyone was busy with various things related to the merger. Today the office was mostly empty and what they heard from the staff was to be expected.

Blaming me for not telling them what I was hearing was wrong. I received appropriate, unsolicited apologies. Accepted, let’s move on.

This is what I will miss about my great little firm experience. Business is business, family is family, but people get angry and lose their shit, sometimes inappropriately, but always understandably. Unless things are getting thrown across the room (my predecessor once had a tantrum where he pushed an entire desktop of work onto the floor in someone’s office becasue they had not gotten their paperwork in for a second straight month – the horror!), all is generally forgiven. People are people, and with the ruling body open to admitting their own mistakes and forgiving others when stuff happens, the workplace is a much healthier, secure place.

So I walked out tonight with same sort of grief over all that I am losing while at the same time feeling more comforted that I am not the only one who grieves. While this is an amazing opportunity for the partners, they are well aware that they are breaking up a really good firm filled with very loyal, dedicated people. It’s not personal; it is just business. But because we are loyal and dedicated employees, it is impossible for us to not take it somewhat personally. Intellectually we all understand it. Emotionally we are all still shell-shocked and saddened. The people we are, though – our emotions are on the clock to get sorted out and resolved before this change it fully implemented. Any expectation that we will be over our sad in a week is unrealistic.

The bosses all get it now. It only took a brawl with their “work wife” to slam the point home.

I do not look forward to the interactions with the Hellbeast the lie ahead, but I have big enough big girl pants to handle myself with a professional demeanor. She and I – we will never have the trust I share with my present partners; I cannot ever let my guard down enough to honestly express any of my emotions. And I genuinely suck at robotic impassivity.

Despite a rocky week, I will miss my firm in its present management and dynamic. I realize there are only 15 work days left for my job in this firm and work environment and it makes me sad. Best I can hope for is to rise above the rest of the corporate bullshit to savor each and every one of them.

Work-zilla has taken over the blog. Apologies in advance for reporting my day-to-day trauma drama.

Aggravated, crazy, sick to my stomach – TGIF

Probably the title should read “Ms. Crankypants has taken over the blog.” But that might be more negative than is actually necessary? Maybe, maybe not. It’s just been a very long week and some irritation must be vented and bled off.

Aggravated

Tuesday brought acquiring firm people into the office to kick-off the transition with introductions and reassurance all around about how thrilled and excited they are to assimilate us into the collective. Lots and meetings as a firm, in groups, and individually over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. The administrative partner – she was a corporate suit with a resting bitch face that never seemed to fade even when she smiled and spoke. Had she been nicer, less dismissive and condescending I would not be so harsh in my assessment, but reality bites.

In truth, I am a hopeful person; I want a positive spin on everything, particularly work when such big and upsetting changes are in the works. This woman, though, was my worst corporate nightmare in very expensive shoes. She heads up human resources and is an employment law partner, so I suppose her credentials are impressive. However, her people skills, for those of us without a Juris Doctor degree, are horrendous. Going forward, I will simply refer to her as Hellbeast. The rest of the non-attorney staff in my office have far worse monikers for her, but I am trying to strike a balance here. Yes, I get that I am biased and failing miserably. But oh well.

The way she spoke at me, I thought at first she was just not good with women, or not good with people in general. Then I observed her talking to my bosses and the rest of the attorneys, and while her tone and demeanor changed depending on the staff level, she was still essentially civil and somewhat engaging. Professional snob, yes, but I have worked with worse.

Dismissive, condescending, and even mean – she is probably demanding of service staff and tips poorly. And I have a really hard time with that. Poor service, sure. But to brush off and actually speak sharply to my receptionist for doing his job – inexcusable. My receptionist is the lowest paid staffer among us and will gladly, happily do just about anything we ask him to do. One of the partners had sent an email that he was expecting a high priority phone call and to find and interrupt him no matter what he was doing, which is what my receptionist did in a respectful way, knocking at the open door, waiting until she finished speaking, and then starting to tell the boss about his call – only to be barked at by Hellbeast that he was interrupting when she was not finished talking. My receptionist immediately apologized, but she got up and closed the door in his face.

Hellbeast. I think I am being kind.

My receptionist was understandably upset. He’s young, this is his first position in a professional office setting, and he’s done a terrific job for us. My horror at her actions was written all over my face, and if there was any doubt it was erased when I stood up, excused myself, and left the very informal meeting we were in, ostensibly so my boss could take his call in private, but really so I could (1) regain my composure and diffuse my own flash of anger, and (2) check in with my receptionist to ensure he knew he’d done nothing wrong. He can be a little sensitive about making mistakes.

Things went downhill from there.

When it was my turn to have a one-on-one with her, we went over the things that needed to be done in the transition and how my accounting functions would be moving to the centralized headquarters office and all my office/business management responsibilities for contracts, leases, and purchasing as well. Reporting relationships would be changing – attorneys assuming more of an administrative and supervisory load. Essentially, everything I expected to happen would be happening.

We went over my employment letter for the balance of 2017 because of the firm change, and where our present document is 3.5 pages long, the new one runs 12 pages. There was also the temporary portal to view their employee handbook and office policies, of which I was expect to read and document having reviewed these documents. None of this was a surprise; new firm, we are essentially being absorbed as new employees and have to get set-up in their systems.

I told her I needed a few days to review all those documents, but would likely have it back to her next week. She pressed, wanted to have as much of this done this week, preferably before she left on Tuesday. I pushed back, pointing out that as an attorney, she should not want me signing anything I had not read and understood thoroughly. Did not stop her from asking again before she left the office later that day.

When it was my turn to voice questions or concerns, I asked very directly what my role in the firm would be for the next 6 months? Essentially, my day-to-day workload was being transferred to corporate. I am not a paralegal, and I would be the most well-paid office clerk if that was what they envisioned. She hemmed, hawed, gave me the canned “we are still figuring out your skills and how to put them to use” type answer, but in such a way that was vague and about as clear as mud. So I reframed and asked again, and she finally admitted she was not sure how they could use me. She also pointed out with her creepy smile that my base salary was higher than their highest ranking non-attorney staffer, and I responded that was likely because I have superior skills and experiences and am paid a competitive wage to manage a firm professionally and efficiently. She did not like that, at all.

But oh well. In her words, we are here to do a job, not necessarily make friends.

Before meeting her and knowing most firms do not allow their employees to moonlight or have other forms of paid employment, I already knew I would be having my personal attorney review any employment agreements and the documents referenced therein. To protect myself and my self-employment clients, I have a waiver from my present bosses on file, and every time I acquire a new client that may present a conflict with the firm, I let them know and they sign off. My doing accounting work for other firms, including 2 other sole practitioner attorneys, has never been an issue. But we are a small firm. I have daily, direct contact and interaction with the principals. They know me, I know them. The new situation is big law firm, and I did not imagine them being so flexible about this typical clause in employment agreements. Hence the review by my personal lawyer. I wanted no unpleasant surprises.

Hellbeast is not amused or happy that I took this step. Wednesday we had occasion to talk about a couple of things by phone, and both times she asked me about my documents. On the second call, I said that the acquisition was effective July 1, so she would have my documents on or before June 30. That was “unacceptable” to her, because they need to get me and everyone else set-up in their system. Having done payroll and knowing the time and billing system both firms use inside and out, it does not take up to 3 weeks to get 25 people set-up. Maybe a day, if they are working at a leisurely pace. But I refused to back down or budge. What I didn’t say – you’re not my boss, yet, and if my existing bosses tell me I need to get this done this week, then I might be inclined to try harder. But my existing bosses? Take my time, read and review the documents, ask questions, let’s just shoot for June 25 to be courteous to the new firm. Done.

My attorney said not to sign anything without getting a solid waiver on my self-employment. He wrote an email to Hellbeast, the BLF partner moving in to our offices July 1, and my bosses as well outlining his concerns and changes he wanted before he would allow me to sign the document. That was Wednesday evening. My bosses here are fine with it, even applaud me for being proactive and protecting my interests, said the changes requested are actually quite minor and other than the waiver for my business, they did not see it as a big deal.

Crickets from Hellbeast and BLF. Which is fine. I can wait.

This morning I come in to 6 different emails from her about various documents I submitted, letters I wrote to various vendors and holders of office equipment leases with our firm – all at the direction of my partners here and with their review and approval of the missives prior to release. Her “dressing down” tone was in my view quite inappropriate, but I admit my bias. I replied, with cc’s to my bosses (who along with the rest of the attorneys are out of the office today) and consider the matter closed until they return on Monday.

Crazy

Crazy is my catch-all term for anxiety and apprehension about things inside and outside my sphere of influence and control. The decision about the merger is reality and I believe I am doing my best to take care of business and serve both our clients and the partners and staff through the transition. I am also doing my best to take care of myself, and in truth that is the primary source of my present job crazy.

I have a plan B, because I have little stomach or desire for a role in a large corporate organization. Been there, done that, learned it does not make me a happier, better, or even more balanced a human being. Now that I have this much time invested in my ability to help, influence, steer a business to success, I am reluctant to become another tiny worker bee in the a corporate hive. That’s my personal preference.

However, I also have a good understanding of the parachute and severance package negotiated as terms of the merger. I will protect my rights to that and not allow anyone to try and remove it from my grasp. If I have to spend the next 6 months counting paperclips because that’s my new role, I will be the best damn paperclip counter anyone has ever met and continue to collect my salary and have my health insurance paid. However, I am unwilling to relinquish my self-employment clients. It was not a problem for my existing bosses and does not seem like it should be an issue for the new firm, particularly since all aspects of my employment agreement now in place should transfer to the new firm. How far they want to push it remains to be seen.

I dislike conflict. I am open to discussion of divergent points of view and trying to find an acceptable compromise. But I’m not feeling anything by contentious conflict from the Hellbeast and it’s stressing me out. I dislike being bullied myself, but professionally, I have enough self-confidence (and self-control) to manage the situation. However, when it comes to bullying someone who lacks standing or experience, I tend to get very angry very quickly. Concerns about my receptionist and the paralegals in my firm are genuine. The paralegals are professionals and will land well whatever happens – they are good at their jobs and will find another position if it comes to that – but my receptionist is a good kid and still quite green when it comes to big corporate politics. Perhaps I will be around to help, perhaps not. But whatever happens, I will be around outside the office if he needs help or resources to find something else.

I feel sucked into the type of toxic environment once more that I left years and years ago and allowing it to make me crazy. Which upsets me even more; I am allowing it to get to me. On the one hand it has been really great for my gym workouts and daily 300 kettlebell swings; the emotional aggravation tends to get drilled down to massive focus on whatever it is I am doing with the weights or form with the swings. On the other hand, gym and kettlebell swing takes up only about 2 hours per day. The rest of the time I have this “oh shit” sense of dealing with merger-related matters.

I hate that “oh shit” sense of anything, especially when it stretches out in front of me for at least the rest of the month, possibly the rest of the year.

Sick to my Stomach

This morning, woke up with a mild stomach ache and feeling not quite right. I thought it might simply be hunger – small dinner last night. Drank my protein shake and did not feel better. Went to the gym for my practice and found my stomach starting to roil, so I finished the slo-mo huffy-puffy and called it a day.

Now, I blame Hellbeast, just because I can. My temporary stomach ailment has nothing to do with the questionable lettuce I ate for dinner last night and everything to do with my aggravation with Hellbeast and her bullshit. I so rarely have any sort of upset stomach that is irritates me more that just about every other sort of sickness. Especially since we’re going out to lunch today and I will have to limit myself to even blander food than usual. We’re doing Japanese, and I figure plain white rice and miso soup should be fine. I can box up the rest for dinner or tomorrow.

But oh well. It’s the company that counts, and my peeps – the company is excellent.

TGIF

Glad it’s Friday. Busy weekend ahead with client events tomorrow night and Sunday, plus lunch and furniture shopping/browsing with K tomorrow.

Happy weekending everyone!