Today’s New York Times contains an article “For Some People, Working from Home Sped Up their Decision to Retire“, by Paul Sullivan. I also retired in 2020. But my motivation was quite different.
Unlike many people, I had the option to work from home part of the time for several years. My wife works from home, too, because that’s where her office is. The pandemic, of course, forced her to Zoom from home rather than meet, and she found this is in many cases more time efficient and causes people to focus more. That curtain is just lifting, but I’m not sure she’ll ever completely go back to the travel she did pre-pandemic.
But this is about me, not her. I was a statistician, data scientist, and quantitative engineer for a tech company, a position I had since 2007. It was highly compensated and, judging by the annual bonus record, they liked what I did. It wasn’t really satisfying, for various reasons which are probably too technical to review here, but it was well paid and the work conditions were good.
In mid-January of 2020, pre-pandemic, really, but in a middle of a bout with pneumonia, I was called and told I would be terminated for cost reasons in middle of March 2020. I was encouraged to reach out to other groups I knew at the employer. I was told not to come into work, but my benefits and compensation would continue until middle of March. And there was the option of a kind of separation package for various considerations.
Having been terminated before, I immediately switched into job-hunting mode, without dropping a beat. I took advantage of a placement agency the employer offered as part of the separation benefits. I intended to begin receiving unemployment compensation as soon as the termination was final in mid-March. I used a network.
The thing of it is, at the time I was 68 years old. I had intended to work until 72 or so, and then retire. And, no surprise to anyone who has sought work at that age, there was, let’s say, a great hesistency. The network contacts did not work out.
When the pandemic hit, the options dried up for everyone. Once unemployment began I dutifully looked for work and logged online at the Commonwealth site all the approaches I made and the results. I of course updated my resume during my searches, sometimes drastically, and with input from skilled hiring managers.
Come September and October 2020, I reflected on all this effort. I also did an assessment of my finances, which, due to certain investments, actually had done pretty well. I also nursed a sting from what I felt to be a gross devaluation of my contributions at my employer.
Normally, particularly in tech, when a separation is pending, there is some kind of effort to transition work in progress to others, and to survey and account for documentation of work done so others can access it. For security reasons, the to-be-terminated are denied presence in the workplace and access to workplace networks. But with the presence of Zoom and other media, like Google Hangouts, there surely were ways of communicating with me. There was also my personal email.
No effort was done to do any of this. Effectively, as far as I knew, all I had done which was relevant to the business during the last two years was trashed. I still do not understand what that time was about, or why I was retained as an employee during it.
I concluded the best explanation was simply institutional ageism. So, I needed to make other plans. On 29th November 2020, I declared myself retired. I reconstructed my projects and direction.
In early March of 2020, as I was signing termination documents, I had purged all my personal files of anything having to do with my employer, apart from some financial documents and files directly related to my separation. This purge was necessary, as it made me able to respond to exactly how used I felt. It also meant there was a scorched earth, and that I would never, under any circumstances go back to that business, or for that matter to that industry again.
November 2020 helped me complete that process. I reoriented myself towards new projects I had always wanted to pursue, digital photography, but also statistics, data science, and engineering related to quantitative ecology and other biological problems, particularly ones involving gathering of field data. I have completed that, and I’ve chronicled it on some pages and blog posts here. It is a new world. It is self-funded. And I have complete control over the data I obtain and its quality. The very poor quality of data I had to work with at my former employer and the poor record-keeping of when and how it was collected was my biggest professional complaint with them. I am delighted to be able to discard that.
I’ve seldom looked back. I read about how employers are having a difficult time finding suitably trained and skilled employees. I have recruiters approaching me with job opportunities, despite repeatedly telling them I’m retired and not interested. I have deleted my LinkedIn account. I’m sure many employees don’t want to go back to their employers and industries because they simply were not paid enough for the work. But I also think employers need to take a hard look at how they treat their employees, and not be so basically dishonest and manipulative about their value and contributions. I’ve concluded I was some kind of well compensated show dog, and that, in fact, many of the contributions of the department in which I worked were similar.
It didn’t matter what we did because it wasn’t essential to the business. It was advertising.
The transition to retirement has sometimes been difficult, as transitions to retirement often are. I’m not sure if the pandemic made it harder or easier. It probably made it harder because I could not meet with friends.
I retired because my termination showed that there was no real valuing me by my former employer, and it was probably foolish for me to think that any similar employer would value me either, no matter what they said. I think current and prospective employees of such employers should keep that in mind.
I’m working on several neat things. I want to publish in biological journals. I’ve been told by experts in my field of study that some of my work is definitely worthy of that. And there are causes and projects I’ve always pursued which continue. My wife and I are lucky to be where we are.
But working from home did not make up my mind. My termination and the pandemic did. And I’m onto other, far better things.