This week marks a year since I retired. It also marks eight months since I retired from retiring, although only partially. When I swiped my badge for the last time after 11 years at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on July 29, 2016 I took a deep breath as I imagined a freed prisoner having done hard time would do, inhaling fresh air and marveling in the blue sky and bright sun. My lockups had been conference rooms and stuffy offices. My shackles were a corporate culture where too many employees cared about the size of their workspaces rather than the quality of their work…with the bold exception of my amazing FCA Digital Media team…the best in the business.
Now, all I had to navigate were the aisles of the supermarket with my wife who, like a field general, marched us from meat to melons to milk plundering the shelves and making a beeline to the checkout unscathed by less focused shoppers, meandering with their carts with no purpose or strategy. We emerged the victors every single time reveling in many dollars of coupon savings. We went out to lunch and paddled the Huron River, hiked nearby trails and took roadtrips. There was no schedule, no Outlook calendar entries, no meetings or town halls. There was only all the time in the world to do whatever, whenever. We ate dinner as a family every single night and spent every night together. It was perfect. It was retirement. It was too good to last.
It ended on October 17th. That’s the day I began a part-time job at Automotive News on their video team. We would say I was now, “semi-retired” which means you work a little..in my case a max of 29 hours a week, have no career aspirations other than keeping your nose clean, doing a great job and having some fun while you earn a few bucks to pay your Medicare and bourbon bills. When you show up people seem happy. When you need to take a day off for one thing or another, no one minds and when you offer some insight based on many years of experience, it’s appreciated. Sometimes I show my age with some timeworn reference and my younger colleagues give me crap, but it’s all in fun because they know I have no interest in their jobs. They work a full damned week! I have every Friday off and most any other day if I need one. Maybe the best part of it all is having a chance to continue to do the kind of work I’ve enjoyed for so many years, but in much smaller bites. Most days I’m home by 2 or 3 and rarely, if ever, miss dinner. I still play ice hockey once in awhile and mow my own lawn.
I’m no Rockefeller (timeworn reference) but we’re comfortable, so it’s not about the paycheck. The currency I crave comes in denominations of relevance, sharing, team work, curiosity, social connection and fun.
I don’t know when I’ll make the move back from “semi” to full retirement. Right now I’m having too much fun..and I’m still around enough to push the shopping cart for my wife at the supermarket, lug the heavy jugs of milk and juice, and reach some items on the top shelves..on my tippy toes.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may have not just hit the nail on the head, but flattened the sucker when he explained President Donald Trump’s political faux pax as “he’s just new to this.” I say that because politics aside, admit, you’ve been there. I know I have.
After spending 33 years as a journalist, working in fast-paced, no-nonsense newsrooms at CNN, the Associated Press and The Detroit News it was more than culture shock when I flipped to the “dark side” in 2005, joining the PR department at then, DaimlerChrysler, now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
First off, as a long-time broadcaster, I was just too damned loud for a corporate setting. Hey, I’m projecting! A kindly administrative assistant told me not only to not “project” but to maybe stop talking altogether. “We communicate by email and -+-+instant messaging here,’ she instructed me. “It’s quieter.” Heh.
Next screwup was getting up out of my seat to walk over to a colleague’s workstation to ask a question. When I appeared at his cube he shot me a look that said, “you remind me of a recent bacteria from which I’ve just been cleansed.” Soldiering on, I gamely said, “Hi. Got a minute to talk about that Dodge media program?” He answered my question with the question,”Did you send me an Outlook meeting request?” “Uh, no,” I replied. “I don’t need a meeting, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.” “Well, I have three minutes until my next scheduled meeting, ” he shot back. “So why don’t you send me a meeting invite to arrange some time and then I’ll answer your questions.” Using all the tact my reporting career taught me I smiled as I replied, “Are you shitting me?” He assured me he wasn’t and I returned to my workstation.
That’s where screwup number 2 began. I had sent another colleague an email earlier that day asking a question. Four or five hours went by with no answer. So I sent a follow-up, as I would have done if I was tracking down a story. Couple of hours went by. No reply. I then called the guy. No answer. Left a voice mail. No reply. This went on for another 24 hours so I got my butt up and walked over to his cube. “Hi!” I said. The guy, who was just screwing off surfing the web, jumped, turned around, smiled and returned my “Hi!” with an even bigger “HI!!” When I asked if he got my emails and messages, he said he did. When I asked why he didn’t respond, he said, “oh, no one here is in that big of a rush.”
Later that day my supervisor called me into her office with a stern look on her face. “Ed,” she barked. “Two employees have complained to me that you’ve been harassing them.” “Right,” I quickly admitted. “I walked up to one guy to ask him a couple of questions and he whined I didn’t schedule a meeting…for a conversation! The other guy didn’t respond to my emails or phone messages for two days and I needed an answer to my question.”
I was foolish to think that would acquit me and the case would be closed. Ha! My supervisor looked me in the eye and hissed, “you’re not an effin’ reporter anymore. You don’t browbeat people. You don’t hunt them down like dogs for answers. You simply wait until they’re good and ready and have time to deal with you.” She didn’t seem amused when I informed her that’s not only a rude and disrespectful attitude between co-workers but it’s totally counter-productive. In fact the conversation was closed with, “this is a corporation. That’s how you need to act in a corporate setting.”
I guess I was “just new to this.” I did eventually tone my voice down and learn to request meetings with people, but if someone didn’t answer a question the same day I posed it, I was on them like Black Flag on a roach. Sometimes, you just need to change some of “this,” to a little of you own “that.”
It’s been a month since I left my laptop and iPhone on my desk, locked my office and walked out of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for the last time and into retirement. Since then, among other things, I’ve thought about my other workplace exits and how some were better than others.
This one was probably the best. I had it planned for several months so it came as no surprise to my boss, who had treated me royally. My wonderful team tossed me a great lunch, presented me with a basket of bourbon, signed each bottle, and produced several videos that absolutely blew me away ranging from heartfelt expressions of farewell, goodbye, thanks and hilarious wiseass comments–to a collection of outtakes from my standups that exposed me as more than fallible, and they even created a spoof of my infamous “April in the D” song with the words changed to “All Because of E.” It was very hard to keep it together viewing those videos knowing that short of an occasional lunch or drinks, after 11 years I wouldn’t be seeing my second family every day.
By the time my last day, July 29th, rolled around, I was spent from all the “goodbyes” and actually slipped out of the office with barely a word, swiped my badge for the last time, got in my car and called my wife, telling her “retirement as begun!”
But not every one of my employment exits was quite as, let’s say, smooth. There was the disastrous merger between Time Warner and AOL when I worked at CNN. We knew there would be layoffs but while I was at the Detroit Auto Show my boss took the time to page me (this was 2001) to let me know our bureau in Detroit would “not be touched.” Big relief! For 72 hours. A few days later I had returned from a shoot when my boss called me to let me know he was paying our bureau a visit the next day and that I should arrive and 9am and the rest of my staff should come an hour later. I was pretty obvious I was getting the boot. So I asked him what happened. “Oh,” changed our mind,” was his lame answer. I was pretty stunned and upset, then got it together spending the next few hour giving my staff the news, exchanging a few hugs, a few tears and then started gathering my stuff and put the past 20 years behind me. When the loser came in the next day to give me the official word and have me sign papers re my severance I asked again why the change of heart. He actually said, “now’s not the time.” Huh? Time had run out, and so did I.
When I left The Detroit News, it was to take the job that morphed into the one I held at FCA. The automaker was starting its first blog (2005) and the head of PR wanted an autowriter to manage and ghost write it for him. Cool job. I had been looking for work for a bit and six months prior had accepted a job at the rival Detroit Free Press but the News hated having their autowriters poached by the competition and gave me a huge raise to stay. So I did, but I still hated it there and kept looking. when the FCA job came through I jumped at it but never got a chance to give notice quite the way you should. While covering the annual auto industry conference in Traverse City, Mich., I called in a story we would be breaking, but I was flummoxed to find it wasn’t in the next day’s paper. That was the last straw for me after putting up with three years of what I thought was questionable and unethical editing decisions. What no one knew was that I had already sealed the deal on my new job so I had nothing to lose when I exploded in the media room at the conference, slamming down the phone and declaring, loud enough for all to hear, “screw it! I quit!” Of course it took only two breath’s time for that revelation to reach my boss back in Detroit who was not pleased to hear of my impending departure from a reporter at the Free Press. Oooops. They tossed me a goodbye thing anyway..maybe to make sure I was really leaving!
My favorite exit was from my part-time job as a stockboy/cashier at a department store on Long Island when I was in high school. Part of my duties was as the “bargain broadcaster,” announcing in-store sales from time-to-time as well as letting the shoppers know when the store was about to close. I shared the announcing duties with a friend who had a big, big voice. It was our last night on the job, and then we were headed Jones Beach to celebrate. But my friend and I were not what you would call “model employees.” He had been fired, twice, and I was laid off once. It was his turn in the booth to announce the impending closing of the store. He had to say, “Attention S. Klein shoppers. When you hear the bell, it means the store will close in 10 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the nearest cashier and check out.” Then the security guy named Bill would ring the bell. However, since it was our last night, my friend, whose name I am protecting, decided the announcement should be a little more, um, emphatic so he changed it. “Attention S. Klein shopper. When you hear the bell, it means the store will close in 10 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the nearest cashier and check out. SO BILL, RING THE EFFIN’ (he said the real word) BELL SO WE CAN ALL GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!” We hit the exit before security could propel us by our belt loops out onto the hot, asphalt parking lot.
What I learned over the years is no matter what the circumstances of your departure from a job, always leave on the best terms possible. In all cases, except for the department store thing, I made sure I shook the boss’s hand, left a nice, positive goodbye note to my co-workers and removed any rotting deli from my desk drawers.
On the occasion of my retirement this week, I thought I’d relate my long work history and the 8 very important workplace lessons I learned along the way.
My first paying job was at Mel’s Laundromat on Union Turnpike and 248th Street in Queens. Might have been around 1962. Now, everyone knows the “mat” part of “laundramat” means you do it yourself, but I got paid 25 cents a day to do it for busy or working moms who didn’t have the time or desire to hang around a hot, steamy, dumpy store while their family’s dirty clothes went round and round in the washer and dryer for more than an hour. That first work experience taught me workplace lesson number 1 –don’t ask for a raise after blowing a bubble all over your face. The boss will never take you seriously.
I quickly moved on to a much more high paying job, scoring a summer job as an assistant counselor at Great Neck Country Day Camp in tony Great Neck Long Island. At a sweet salary of $25 plus tips for the summer, that represented a big raise and I immediately began investing heavily…in Clearasil. I did so well, they hired me back at twice the money the following year and at that income level I had an endless supply of egg creams and Clark Bars. Yes. I was living the high life. That’s when I learned workplace lesson number 2–using your hard earned money to buy sugary treats makes you fat and pimply and offensive to any and all females.
By high school I gave up my starting position on the Martin Van Buren varsity soccer team to work in the linens and domestics department of the S. Klein department store in Lake Success, Long Island. It was a clear case of irony, since despite its lofty sounding location, the S. Klein chain went bankrupt, which, unknown to me then, led to workplace lesson number 3–you are now prepared to work in the auto industry.
During my college days I scored a political patronage job with the NYC Comptroller’s officer courtesy of my mother’s connections through the Eastern Queen Democratic Club. My job was to type out the checks to people who successfully sued the City of New York for car damage from potholes. The city was not a fast payer. In 1971 I wrote a check to someone who sued the city in 1957. Maybe the city believed if they waited for the payee to croak, the check would never be cashed. Hence, workplace lesson number 4–if you drag your heels long enough you might escape doing anything that requires actually working.
Once I entered the full time working world after graduating college I worked at a series crappy radio stations in Central New York and Tucson, Arizona. At the station in Tucson the general manager’s head popped through the roof right over the microphone while I was reading a newscast. “Dang!” he said in his big Texan drawl. “That ain’t right.” Yup. Workplace lesson number 5: Bosses will stick their heads where they don’t belong.
From there it was television station KGUN in Tucson where I was both the weekend weather caster and midweek nightside general assignment reporter. It could be confusing. One time when I covered a murder, as they brought the body out of the house a Tucson cop cracked, “why’s the weather guy here? Is it gonna rain on the stiff?”
Somehow that job led to being hired by CNN as one of the original producers of CNN2, which morphed into CNN Headline News, which much later, morphed in an unrecognizable channel I never watch. Over the next 20 years I would move from producer to correspondent, spot anchor and finally, Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent until I was laid off in 2001 as part of that awesome merger between Time Warner and AOL. I was actually laid off one day after interviewing the authors of a book on why employee evaluations are a total waste. When I asked why I was chosen to be laid off, the boss said, “now’s not the time.” Oh. Guess what? The boss ended up getting canned too. That led to workplace lesson number 6: Karma always wins.
A stint as national auto writer at the Associated Press and General Motors beat writer at The Detroit News followed. Two great jobs that taught me workplace lesson number 7: going to work is more fun when you don’t have to wear makeup.
And now..the end of the road. After 43 years in the workforce I’m hanging it up. I’ve spent the past 11 years at DaimlerChryslerChryslerFiatChryslerAutomobiles as the head of its digital communications team, which is a really wonderful, groundbreaking combination of broadcast, social media and video production. The job was created just for me. How lucky is that? It’s been a crazy ride through three owners, one bankruptcy and one gentle idiot who asked if we could post an item on both the “national and international Internet.” We assured him that since he asked nicely, we would accommodate that lofty request. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful team who will give most any of my nutty ideas a try and actually make them work. I will miss them terribly, but now it’s time to focus on my family, which has had to put up with my crazy hours and travel for many years, and to tackle some personal projects such as playing my drums for hours on end in order to smoke out those neighbors I haven’t yet met.
That leads to my 8th and final workplace lesson: When you’ve worked more years than most of your employee’s parents have been alive, it’s time to pack your paper clips and post it notes and, stop, smell the roses, and enjoy going to Kroger on a Tuesday, push the cart for your wife and carry home those heavy jugs of milk and orange juice. She’ll appreciate that.
How many times have you read or heard about cultivating your “online brand?” Oh, maybe 42 billion and 6, including the note I saw in a job-getting advice story in today’s Detroit Free Press. As part of that advice, job seekers are urged to start their own websites or blogs.
I started this blog a little over a year ago and have been active on Facebook and Linkedin, less so on Twitter. It got me wondering how my online brand is perceived. Surveying my scribblings over the past 8 or 9 years I would conclude my online brand falls somewhere between insanity and Silly String. This revelation may reveal why I’m seldom sought after by recruiters who would prefer a prospect’s brand be closer to Wonder Bread and beige.
When I first started cracking wise on Facebook about 6 years ago it was simply a lark to see if I’d get any sort of reaction. After a few successful posts I was branded by others as a potential standup comic. That was very flattering but standup comics are, for the most part, insecure train wrecks. I can admit to occasional insecurity but I always stop at railroad crossings.
As the head of Fiat Chrysler’s digital communications, social media is a big part of my job. I enjoy giving speeches, but I don’t offer a lot of advice online. The one time I did tweet something the then head of social media at a competitor cracked on Twitter, “oh, Chrysler’s social media guy is finally being social.” Nyahh. Nyahh. I replied that I was paid to promote Chrysler, not myself. Another guy jumped in saying I should posture on Twitter as an expert. I countered that a lot of people who posture as experts are full of crap. He responded “let’s have coffee some time.”
I regularly careen between serious, sensitive and stupid. When I feel I’ve been stupid, I often delete those posts. I have deleted dozens of posts over the years when, on second thought, I personally decided my online brand would devolve to “dumbshit.”
The fact is both in my real and professional life I’ve always taken chances and looked at new challenges as something I could handle. Would a company want someone like me who is not bound by culture or convention? Generally, it’s a tough sell, but I don’t care. I’ll tell you this. If you’re considering what your online brand is, it should be the same as your offline brand, and your off-duty brand, and your real life brand. It should be a brand with a simple name, “Me.”
The 2016 North American International Auto Show here in Detroit is now in the books for me and I’d like to offer some observations.
1-My company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has the best stand. I don’t say that to suck up, since a person of my age group has as much chance of advancing as a possum crossing the Jersey Turnpike, but I actually believe it. Check it out. I’ve made it easy by gratuitously posting the video I produced about the stand.
2-In order to park your car you must do one of the following:
- Work for a company willing to waste its capital on buying up every space in every convenient parking lot, deck or garage. Thankfully I don’t. But I wished I knew someone who did and would slip me his/her pass in exchange for murky promises of free pints of mead.
- Win the Powerball in order to pay extortion in exchange for parking at one of the lots actually opened that’s closer than Toledo. My expense report should be quite amusing.
- Don’t drive at all…and call in sick.
3-It’s a lot of fun mooching free cappuccinos and other free stuff from competitors’ stands while acting indignant and pouting, “what? no shrimp?” I learned that from being a reporter.
4-Indicative of the auto industry’s boffo year in 2015 every company’s stand had lights.
5-It was nice to see everyone in great moods since things are going well and there are so many very cool new vehicles being introduced. During the horrible 2008-9 recession those smiles were attributed to Xanax.
6-Unlike the last election cycle no Presidential candidates toured the floor hoping for some coverage from the 6,000 journalists attending. Perhaps they accurately figured out the reporters were more interested in self-driving vehicles, and not autonomous pandering.
7-One reporter about to conduct an interview with one of our executives actually asked, “Uh, what’s FCA?” I could have had fun with that but took pity on the poor thing who, I’m sure, wonders why acronyms are all caps.
All in all, it was the best Detroit show in recent memory. We’re all feeling good about the business, the new cars and trucks in the pipeline and how great all the displays look. I would have posted this sooner, but I had to find a place to park.
Are you suffering from a syndrome I call “Simulated Holiday Amiability Malady,” or SHAM? It manifests itself in several ways, most notably in the workplace.
Here’s SHAM’s progression.For most of the year a person, let’s call him Schmeckel, will avoid you as one would a victim of Swine Flu, or abuse of Old Spice. Schmeckel is pretty sure you’re after his job, his office and premium parking space. It’s not true, but Schmeckel is a schmuck and sits alone in the cafeteria with an extra tray and an empty soup bowl so people will think he actually has a lunch companion who just got up to go to the washroom.
Snap! It’s Thanksgiving and SHAM carriers infect everyone they see with an obnoxious and insidious strain of false sincerity and feigned friendliness. “How you doin’!” Schmeckel may suddenly ask you. “Have a great Thanksgiving? Plans for the holidays?” Your soul tells you to invite him to enjoy a solo honeymoon, but you see, SHAM is terribly contagious. You are now obligated, against your will, to reciprocate the bogus buddy-buddy and reply you had a wonderful turkey with family and have big plans for Chanukah, Christmas, New Years, Groundhog Day and every day on a calendar that Hallmark cashes in on.
The most dangerous venue for contracting SHAM is the office holiday party. You have to attend because the boss will take 25 points off your annual evaluation if you don’t show up reducing your bonus to a Twix bar. For three or four hours you’re stuck in a small space with a large number of people who wish you dead but are all forced to put on happy, insincere faces, toasting, boasting, hugging, mugging, mentally barfing, for the benefit of convincing the boss he/she is lording over a homogeneous workplace, which enhances their chances of scoring a promotion to a position for which they are not qualified.
SHAM’s gestation period expires when the ball drops in Times Square marking the new year and, finally, the end of the holiday season. When you return to work on January 2nd, all of SHAM’s effects are instantly forgotten, its scars completely healed, and until that fourth Thursday the following November, you can return to a relaxing normalcy of honest loathing.
1-Immediately fire anyone who attempts to cook fish in the office microwave oven
2-Start every meeting by announcing, “anyone who expects concrete actions to result from the next hour should step forward and tell the group where your misguided optimism comes from.” This not only exposes those in the group who are abusing drugs, but lets the leader know how truly ineffective he/she is.
3-Allow anyone sentenced to a cubicle to convert it into a Tupperware container, thereby keeping out human bacteria and mold. Plus, it’s always a morale booster to hear the cute little burp when you seal the top.
4-Rig the office copier so it can read and understand what documents are being duplicated. Not only would this expose who is using the copier for personal reasons, but it would be a hoot if it could announce the contents of the document to the rest of the office, such as, “Morty is renewing his prescription for Viagra! Sophia just registered for a vacation on a nude beach!”
6-Every time someone asks about ROI or KPI they are immediately rendered DOA.
7-Install an actual watercooler. Too much gossip is exchanged by email and text, thereby making overhearing some delicious scandalous nugget virtually impossible.
8-Just as a joke, on payday announce the entire office will be tithed 20 percent of their pay to support the cleaning staff’s ammonia habit.
9- Once a week it would be cool if the CEO walked around headquarters with a big smile asking workers, “do you believe this shit?”
10-Instead of annual raises, employees are invited to raid the supply cabinet for all the pens and Scotch tape they can fit in their backpacks. Oh, crap..they already do that.
For many years I’ve been terribly jealous of Major League Baseball players. Not because they get paid a jillion dollars to play a game, or that many of them have great hair or gorgeous girlfriends or wives. No, what I covet is a job that includes “spring training.”
It’s a great concept. Players spend six weeks or so in warm weather, practice a couple of hours a day, sit by the pool, play golf, and a bunch of games that don’t even count, before they even begin to get down to work for real.
Say, for instance, teams of white collar corporate drones need to get in ship shape for the brutal fall budget planning season for the year ahead. To do so, they spend six weeks in DC during cherry blossom season which lulls them into believing the world is fair. Then training cranks up with a full schedule of mock meetings with another companys’ controllers who are there to beef up their resolve to break the hearts of aspiring Directors by insisting on across the board 20 percent cuts…just for the sport of it. By the second week, cocky Millennials who showed up expecting to make the team even though they have no discernable skills or practical experience, will wash out once they find out that once you get hired, you have to actually do work.
C-Suite executives generally show up during the third week sporting artificial tans and obnoxious anecdotes about the Disney cruises they took in the off-season. But they’ll need to catch up quickly with two-a-day harassment workouts. You can’t just walk in the office after a two-month off-season and expect to effectively harass your staff.
Last to show up are members of the Board of Directors. Their regimen includes “backroom deal boot camp” and “boardroom coup playacting.” Despite it being the pre-season, there’s immense pressure to get in shape before the annual shareholders meeting where they must show how well they practiced their “I give a shit” looks when a shareholder offers a proposal.
Personally, I feel I could benefit from a reasonable off-season of, say 3 months while I lick my wounds from the last corporate bloodletting season, and a productive pre-season where I can effectively sharpen my political knives.
I’d be ready to roll with any idiot who blathers on about their latest pet project, and would even suggest negating a moronic policy decision…by way of the “midlevel-manager’s challenge.”
I have no affection at all for offices. A person trying to woo me to his firm promised me a corner office. It was a generous gesture but I told him that under no circumstances would I accept a corner, or any other office. I ended up not taking the job anyway because I was an out-of-work journalist and I wasn’t quite ready to switch to something new. I also despised offices of any sort but loved newsrooms, which are, in effect, offices with just the right proportion of chaos, collaboration and profanity.
A couple of years ago as a sign of a promotion, I was ordered to move from my open cube to a closed office. “If I’m being promoted,” I asked, “why am I being placed in solitary confinement?” Alas, I now view the general prison population through a glass window. Sometimes it’s fun to have one of my co-workers on the “outside” play the game of “prison visitor” and place their hand on my window and I place mine opposite from the inside..just like in “Birdman of Alcatraz.”
Thanks to the Chicago Auto Show last week, I hadn’t’ seen my office or desk in 6 days…until today. I jangled my keys like the “office warden,” opened my door and breathed in the squalid stale air that could only be neutralized by brewing coffee and inhaling a box of Altoids.
For a brief moment I thought about tidying up the mess on my desk I left behind, but why bother? That would only make room for a new mess and I was already quite familiar with the desk-tritus on display, including the Post-it note with my computer password from 2009. I keep forgetting it. Damn passwords!
The sad part is I’ve now grown used to spending my workday holed up in my human Habitrail. There are all sorts of places to hide stuff I should have tossed years ago, I can make phone calls in private and I can engage in the guilty pleasure of watching the YouTube video of Katy Perry in her skimpy jungle outfit singing “Roar,” uh… during my lunch break…of course.
In fact, I think that tomorrow I’ll start the process of reforming. I won’t toss used Keurig pods under my desk and tell curious visitors they’re my dead pet mice, or rationalize a pile of randomly ordered file folders by calling my system “Anarchic Alphabetizing.”
I might even take down the sign on my door that warns potential visitors, “Where productivity comes to die.”