QUICK PRIVATE CHAT
~ Tuesday 22nd November 2005, 3:00 p.m. ~
‘Would you be interested in taking up voluntary redundancy?’ my line manager, Neil Hobson, puts to me in a plush glass-walled meeting room, having just taken me inside for a quick private chat.
His proposal hits me completely by surprise. The bank hasn’t announced any plans of redundancies in our department. Why is he asking me this, I wonder sitting opposite him at a small circular-shaped meeting table with a vacant chair on either side of us. This seems to be coming out of the blue.
‘Well, Ranjit?’ he prompts me.
‘No,’ I answer firmly.
I love my job. I know it intimately. I’m very good at it. My job performance appraisals, which occur half-yearly, confirm it officially. Neil has been my line manager for about a year now. He conducted my last two appraisals, the 2005 mid-year and the 2004 year-end appraisal. He gave me glowing assessments on both occasions.
‘If you are interested,’ he follows through, ‘I could have a word with HR and see what package is available’.
I know the bank’s policies don’t permit voluntary redundancies. The bank precludes them. Its workforce is its biggest resource and it manages it proactively, retaining complete control over determining what its staffing needs are and deciphering whom it must retain and whom it may let go. It does not delegate the decision to its workers and risk walking out of the door people critical to its needs. If Neil is asking me, then he must have cleared it with HR already, and he would not dare have done that without firstly obtaining his own line manager’s approval. What is this about?
‘No, thanks, I’m not interested,’ I reply firmly.
‘If you think you can get another job pretty quickly,’ he says, ‘you could be quids in’.
If his line manager and HR are both in on it, then something must be going on that I’m not aware of. Suddenly, the thought hits me that redundancies are going on in our department. Feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and helplessness overwhelm me. I find solace, though, in recalling the bank’s policies state it will let us know our jobs are the subject of a redundancy as soon as it knows it, and that it has not announced any plans of redundancies affecting our department.
‘No, I’m not interested, not even in the slightest bit,’ I reply clearly.
I glance through the room’s glass sidewalls into the adjoining meeting rooms. In the room on my right, a middle-aged lady stands beside a flipchart presenting to five people seated around an oval-shaped conference table. In the room on my left, a young man paces about slowly while talking on his mobile phone.
‘Do you want some time to think about it and then get back to me?’ he persists.
Why doesn’t he accept my answer? Could it be that he wants me to leave? Why? I do a good job. I serve him well. I make him look good.
‘No. I can tell you right now,’ I say. ‘I’m not interested’.
‘Okay,’ he says as though he has tried as much as he could and the quick private chat is over.
‘Anyway,’ I follow through, ‘why do you ask?’
‘Oh, I just want to sound you out in case there’re redundancies in our area,’ he replies. ‘You know, since Eurocredito bought us last year, it’s been making redundancies left, right, and centre to save costs’.
He’s right. We are a UK bank operating in the retail banking sector. That is, the bank runs branches on high streets up and down the UK selling products like bank accounts, mortgages, and loans to millions of customers. This is the bank’s primary business. It deploys thirty thousand staff in it, being ninety-eight per cent of its total workforce. The bank’s business activities are regulated by the UK’s Financial Services Authority, which we more commonly refer to by its initials as the FSA. Eurocredito, the colossal European banking group worth two hundred billion euros in share value, bought us about a year ago to gain ready access to the UK market via our customer base. Since buying us, it has been rebranding the branches with its name, blue and yellow colour scheme, and stars logo. It has also been streamlining the retail business and shedding staff in large numbers there.
‘Yes. But, that’s all been on the retail banking side, not in investment banking, where we work,’ I clarify.
The bank also runs a tiny investment banking business employing the other two per cent of its workforce, being some six hundred people. The investment banking business is based in the bank’s head office on London Wall, in the City of London. The head office also houses on its top floor the bank’s executive management suite, where the Chief Executive Officer and other executive board members reside. In contrast to the retail business, the investment business has no customers. Essentially, it is the bank trading financial instruments on its own behalf, like equities, currencies, bonds, futures, and options. Retail and investment banking are completely different and separate businesses.
‘The bank hasn’t announced any plans of redundancies in our department, right?’ I ask him.
‘No,’ he replies.
‘Are you aware of any plans?’ I press him.
‘No,’ he says.
His answers are consistent with the bank’s policy of letting us know our jobs are at risk as soon as it knows it.
Through the room’s glass front wall with the door, I see our open-plan office, which is on the first floor, with its clusters of work desks with computer screens and staff working away. Each cluster comprises eight desks pushed together, such that four people sit adjacently facing one direction with four other people sitting on desks opposite mirroring them. The clusters are arranged in straight rows creating a grid of pathways between them for people to move about the floor. A couple of rows away, I see the other three members of my team sitting on the four adjacent desks allocated to us. Our team’s name is Market Risk Control. At one end of the row of four desks sits Katia Mykonola. She and I are the senior members of the team. We’re seasoned professionals with many years of work experience and subject matter expertise in the field of market risk. Our job titles are Market Risk Controllers. She also reports into Neil. Immediately to her left sits Mary Richardson and then, Anthony Grenfell. Mary and Anthony are the junior members of the team. We hired them around April and May. Their job titles are Market Risk Associates. Katia is Mary’s line manager and I’m Anthony’s. My desk is at the other end, next to Anthony’s.
‘Shouldn’t you be asking the whole team this kind of thing openly in a team meeting?’ I put to him. ‘Why are you isolating me and asking me privately?’
‘Because … … …