Friday, December 31, 1999

what if?

[Originally posted on Friday, January 13(!), at 12:10 a.m.]

There are two ways I'd think about staying in my current job: (1) if the CEO were to double my salary, or (2) if the CEO were to restore me and my boss to our original status as textbook-makers and content creators, by which I mean without the current daily meetings and tutoring sessions and sudden, unpredictable demands. Give me steady, consistent work hours, clear work assignments, reasonable deadlines, and no surprises. Keep my pay at its current level and promise me no meddling or micromanaging. Do all of that (and I'd probably need to think up a few more conditions), and I'll consider staying.

When I talked with my boss about these possibilities today, we both agreed that (1) was not an option: it will never happen. Our institute's middle-school program experienced its first-ever loss (in enrollment) this past fiscal year, which was a wake-up call for the CEO, and a probable reason why he's so intensely interested in finding new ways to get butts in seats. He now thinks my boss and I could be the architects of novel pedagogical approaches, but the teaching principles that I cleave to aren't really that new, nor are they really that innovative. (Same goes for my boss's materials: old school, but solid.) It's just that Korean education is way behind the times when it comes to student-centered learning. My point, though, is that the school's loss has caused a large amount of belt-tightening. A few executives I know of have been quietly let go; they'll collect their severance, and I imagine they're all enrolled in some sort of pension plan (as I am, too). And once they're gone, there's no need to pay them anymore. So given all that, there's no way I'm getting my salary doubled.

If (2) were to come to pass, though, I'd be amenable to staying. My boss seems to think he can lean on the CEO and make this happen, but I don't think he can. As I see it, the CEO has his toys (i.e., me and my boss), and he wants to keep those toys for himself. Being the hands-on micromanager that he is, he'll want to keep us coming to his interminable meetings and reviewing his goddamn magazine articles. Letting go to do our own thing is probably not in the cards. The CEO made it clear that he sees us as (1) content creators whose job is to make him look good for the masses, and (2) his personal tutors for things like learning new vocab, practicing pronunciation (+ intonation, rhythm, etc.), etc. Having us quietly creating books, even if we move to the office across the hall from his (which is the plan; we're moving on Monday even though we're still not officially hired), would be a frustrating experience for the CEO. For me, if our meetings were reduced to once a month and happened at a consistent time, I'd be okay with that. But the CEO would never be content with meeting only once a month. Even if I did get my wish, I can see the CEO contriving a way to just walk across the hall to our office so we could have "informal" meetings. The guy calls himself an introvert, but his inability to leave us well enough alone tells me quite clearly that he's more toward the extravert end of the scale—not because he loves people the way normal extraverts do, but because he can't help using them. People, in his mind, are commodities. That's obvious from the way he's been treating me and my boss.

The boss also floated this possibility: I resign as planned, then the company rehires me as an outside contractor. This means work but no severance pay at the end. I told the boss sarcastically that that sounded really attractive. I guess the appeal, here, is that I'd get four years' worth of lump-sum severance now, and I probably wouldn't have to worry about housing: I'd stay right where I am. That part does sound sweet: keeping my severance instead of dumping it into a housing deposit would be close to ideal. But working, from then on, with no severance at the very end... would that be worth it? I don't think so.

The viability of this resign-then-get-rehired path also depends on whether I'd get the working conditions I want. I don't see any guarantee of that, just as I don't see any guarantee that things won't go sour even if they start off ideally. My years at this company have taught me there are never any guarantees, and nothing is stable. This is not like a government sinecure, where you do the same boneheaded job your whole life with near-total job security. Language institutes shift with the winds: they respond, for example, to the demands of mothers who want to see their kids do well on college-admission tests; they strive (well, some strive) to adopt new teaching methods (most of them faddish); they readjust their programs and pricing structures to change with the times.

So while my boss's hypotheticals are somewhat enticing, I'm not convinced he can make anything happen—not over the next few days, and especially not while the CEO is in the States (where he'll be for ten days starting next week... three-hour daily Zoom meetings, here we come!). My ideal would have been for the CEO to recognize our value as content creators and to put us to work making company-brand textbooks. (Side note: another R&D department, run by one of my boss's mortal enemies, insists on not using in-house books. This lady, whom I call the Dragon Lady, prefers using outsourced texts from big publishing companies like Cambridge or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Meanwhile, her R&D department puts out mediocre materials like worksheets that are supposed to go along with the big-name textbooks, a shakily legal move at best. Her stance is completely the opposite of ours; my boss and I both believe strongly in using original material. The boss also suspects that the Dragon Lady insists on outsourcing because she gets a cut of each deal—an arrangement that many publishers participate in, according to the boss.) But I don't see the CEO letting go of us that easily. I suspect he's physically incapable of being hands-off.

That leaves me right where I started. Unless I hear something utterly miraculous in the next few days, I'm outta here.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

The worst part of the situation, to my thinking, is not having a set work schedule. You pay me for an eight-hour day, and you have me for those eight hours...I'll do what you want. But don't intrude on my after-work time with impromptu late into the night meetings. That's the deal breaker.

And whatever promises are made, being across the hall from the CEO is just going to exacerbate the interruptions and disrupt any work routines you try to establish. Also not good.

The other side of the coin is that at least it's a job, and having an income and paid housing while you look for something better is a nice safety net.

Best of luck, Kevin. I don't envy you.