"Oh this came early, here you go" She casually gave me an envelope as I was walking from the lobby to the restroom. I asked "what is it?" She answered that it was my tenth year anniversary recognition with the company. I hesitated for a second, I didn't know what to say or how to react. I guess the recognition (or the lack of) made me go back to August of 2007 when I was on my second assignment managing a Santa Monica store right after the Pacific Palisades store. My previous manager called me up during our monthly managers meeting and I had no idea what it was for. She announced my 5th year milestone anniversary by saying "Here's a manager I mentored and watched grow into his current role with so much success, he's shown leadership since he was a teller and a personal banker, I'm so proud to have worked with you Tony and to still have you on my team". She gave me a cornerstone with my name engraved on it, hugged me, and whispered in my ear while the rest of the managers were clapping for me, "I wanna give you another one in 5 more years". Damn that felt special!
"What!" her voice brought me back to the envelop as she saw me speechless. I didn't respond. I continued my walk into the restroom while I was opening the envelop. It contained a tiny little pin with the number 10 on it and a letter telling me that I gained enough points with the company to get a free juicer or cufflinks with the company's logo engraved on.
I went back to my desk and called the next customer to help them with my service. Ten years of service were summed up in a pin and a free juicer. But that part didn't really matter to me. It was the way my current manager approached that important achievement in my professional career that took away all the excitement.
One day not too long ago, our consumer market executive said to us in a meeting "People do not leave because of the companies they work for, nor they leave because of their pay, they rather leave because of their managers". I cannot debate that. I know she was right. But I have gone through many managers in my life, and I didn't let any of them be the reason for me to quit my job or transfer to another branch. I watched them leave instead, and this one is no exception. It's a matter of time before she moves on to her next promotion in her journey of realizing "the American dream". How do I know? It's through a story called "Stop the madness".
In 2008 the same consumer market executive who told us that employees leave because of their managers, wrote on a big board (that looked like a wagon wheel) the words "Stop the madness" and rotated them so fast. She turned around and looked us in the eye (in our hypnotized eyes) for a few seconds to allow us to draw our own conclusions first. She always said she had no problem with silence, no matter how uncomfortable it could be. Some of us had crazy theories and some of us were clueless of what madness we needed to stop. She then told us that we were the highest paid managers in the company, and that we should stop asking for raises. I never doubted that we were well compensated. However I always knew that it was too little of a pay compared to what we had to put up with from the never-ending tasks, to the "ten-hour plus" day long at work, to the constant change of rules and policies, to even the backstabbing and being ganged up on at every opportunity. The atmosphere was never safe. I never cared for those meetings though I admit, the boss was one of the smartest people I have ever worked for, and that was my consolation in being away from the store I used to manage. I always wanted to go back to my branch and take care of my customers and my employees. It was the place where I didn't have to put up with the corporate politics, the politically correct cliches, and the fake smiles. I did what I always do best; genuinely extending my service in the best way I possible can. But the "Stop the madness" phrase hit a string that was on a totally different level.
When I said she too will leave, I know that she will, because like her, I too was caught up in that vicious cycle. It's only a matter of time before she feels overwhelmed or exhausted or jaded. And if she doesn't for the time being, she will continue climbing the ladder of the corporate world till her service is no longer needed or cannot be afforded. She'll then get a package. It's the same ladder I descended in 2009 and stopped my own madness to replace it with starting my own business. Today, I cannot agree more on the decision I made three years ago to stop my own madness. After all I am the "Just a personal banker" most employees in my branch refer to when customers keep on asking if I were the branch manager. And being "Just a personal banker" equals getting "Just a pin" along with the casual "Oh this came early, here you go, which in my opinion translates into "Please accept this token (pin) of our appreciation for completing ten years of service with our company. We value your obedience, now make sure that pin doesn't leave a hole in your shirt, because that would look tacky ...... ".