Lately I have been wondering if I ought to try to negotiate a 6-month leave of absence instead of just putting in my notice in a few weeks’ time. I am unusual for a post-academic blogger in that I have a full-time permanent job—with a good salary finally after years of low pay. However, I have made two dreadful discoveries in the last couple of weeks that have assured me I am making the right decision. Cutting all ties as soon as it reasonable to do so is definitely the way to go.
First. Part of my exit plan involves withdrawing all of the cash I have invested in the pension plan. I have been paid so little over my years in academia that I couldn’t afford to pay into it until very recently and having paid so little into it, it wouldn’t be worth it to leave the investment there. It would probably cost more to have my accountant enter the pension info into my tax return than I would be paid by the scheme each year. So that cash is going to be my back up living expense fund in case it takes me a long time to get another job.
I called the pension plan help line a few days ago, not to try to arrange the withdrawal right now, but rather to find out how easy/difficult it would be. The man I spoke to, who was very nice, kept putting me on hold briefly. They had the wrong address for me, which was strange because I had spoken to them a year ago, and thought I got their records sorted out. (Somehow they had two records of me on their system, one with an old address, mistakenly sent to them by an HR department of a previous employer.) Then I got put on hold for a longer period of time while he had a closer look at the records.
When he came back, he said, ‘Now don’t worry . . . Your payments will be honoured . . .’ It turns out that my current employer never sent a single one of my payments to the pension plan to be invested. When I’ve told friends about this, each is jaw-droppingly shocked and asks, ‘So what did they do with it?’ To me it’s obvious and not shocking at all: they’ve kept it and not even noticed they’ve done so. Being well-versed in the administrative failures of these large institutions, that seems beyond obvious to me. No one expects the books to be accurately balanced and for everything to add up. If there’s a little extra cash appearing here and there, more’s the better. You don’t ask any questions because that would mean taking the time to check/redo your work or the work of others. Just pretend it’s a result of some clever budgeting.
The pension plan also seems to accept this attitude. ‘It’s a common mistake,’ the nice man told me, ‘and it should be very straightforward to have the university return the money to you.’ Now I know from too much experience that nothing is straightforward in a huge, bureaucracy-ridden institution. I talked him into giving me a letter that states that the pension scheme never received any of my payments. At least I can start trying the wrench the money free from the grip of the institution with a piece of solid evidence. But, really, why would the pension scheme accept this sort of thing as a ‘common mistake’? Surely every penny matters to a pension scheme that has been scaling back over the last couple of years? Think about how much money they could be missing out on if only ten employees at every university in the country were subject to this ‘common mistake’.
Secondly. Our teaching schedules get organized into rooms and placed on a master electronic set of schedules in the summer. It was in the summer that I realized that I’d had enough and decided I would be putting in my notice before Christmas, so I never checked my schedule for next semester. One morning this week, as I went into the staff intranet to check if there was any policy on leaves of absence available for me to download, thought I’d check the schedule to see what sort of trouble I’d be causing by requiring teaching to be covered so late in the game and without any previous warning. [For the benefit of North American readers, it is very common to leave between semesters or to be hired to start in January in the UK, so I’m not really screwing them over that badly, though I have no doubt I will be portrayed as pure evil for having left at all.]
I discovered that, regardless of having filled in a form with my scheduling requirements which gets approved and signed by my line manager, the schedulers had—yet again—put me down to do 1.5 hours of teaching on three different days, plus a fourth day with 4.5 hours of teaching. From the time of my interview five years ago, I had been promised my teaching would be scheduled across two or three days at times that allowed me to do my 1.5 hour commute and it never once happened. Not once. Never. Worse, on next semester’s schedule, two teaching slots are scheduled to take place at the same time. I have had so many arguments with schedulers, other members of staff, line managers and anyone else who wants me to schedule something, teaching or otherwise, because no one will take responsibility for this sloppiness. Sometimes I succeeded in getting things changed and at other times I just accepted the shitty schedule.
I can’t believe how quickly I ended up right in the same place I haven’t been in for a few months—intensely frustrated and stressed and so fed up with it all because no one cares about doing these tasks to a reasonable standard. No one cares what a devastating effect having to deal with this administrative carelessness has on an employee’s ability to do a decent job in their own tasks. That is, if there’s any motivation left to do a decent job after dealing with all of these mistakes coming from multiple directions at the same time as well as the aggressiveness and defensive behaviour you get thrown back at you when you attempt to get crucial mistakes corrected.
I am starting to become a bit self-righteous about leaving now: £9000 a year for this sort of shoddy administration and dreadful state of the teaching staff is beyond a rip off. It’s a travesty. I can’t wait to put my notice in. I never even made it to the policy on leaves of absence.
Update: I was promised the letter from the pension scheme in five working days. It has now been several days more than that and still no letter has turned up. Round and round we go. Who cares if tasks are completed or not? Who cares what consequences mistakes can have for fellow employees?
Further update: I managed to wrench a letter out of the pension scheme finally. Let me reiterate: the pension scheme claims it never received a penny from my employer. This morning, two attempts at finding the right person at my university to speak to about this led me to a nice (thank god) person in payroll, who has assured me that the university has paid every penny into the pension scheme. She claims it will take her days to investigate what happened. Why is there no more sense of urgency about this? No regret, no apology, no sense that anyone is acknowledging that I’m really being messed around here?