Thursday, March 03, 2005

Prepare a Letter of Resignation

From Anonymous:

One thing I notice in the postings is a sense of helplessness. "Pete
has wrecked the Lab", people say. "What will we do?". The thinking
seems to be that one is an indentured servant, unable to move except
by permission.

If it is not clear to you now, you ought to realize that you should be
preparing your exit strategy. Not because you're going to exit, but
because you should be prepared. It gives you freedom. You have the
freedom to stay here 20 more years, or to leave tomorrow. But the key
is that YOU have the freedom; you are master of your fate.

I recommend you do this: fix up your resume. Get in touch with people
who can hire you. Start interviewing NOW.

YOU need to take action to get control of your life.

So what's the scarlet letter? It's "R". As in resignation. Not
'resigned to the disasters befalling you' but 'I can leave when I need
to, not when they decide I have to'.

You should prepare a letter of resignation, undated but signed, put it
in an envelope, and carry it with you at all times. It's liberating.

You need not leave. But what you need to do is retain a sense of
freedom, and this little exercise can do it. It's a mental health
measure you can take when you're faced with working in a dysfunctional
organization. I've seen it used in other places.

I was even going to advocate that one day, say June 1, those of us who
have done this wear a bright red 'R' pin to the Lab. But I've since
realized -- far better for our managment to live with the uncertainty
of not knowing who's prepared to slam a letter of resignation in their
face, the next time some managment idiocy comes down the pike. So,
it's good for the lab to know people are doing this; it's bad for them
to know who, or how many. Keep 'em guessing. Maybe it will enforce a
little more caution in their behavior.

While I definitely agree with you and several other posts/comments about being prepared, I do not believe management really cares if you resign.

I have yet to hear of a case where there was a serious effort to talk someone who was resigning or retiring into staying.
You've missed my point, but I confused things a bit with my last paragraph.

My letter was not for management, it was for us, the 10,000 or so people who never did anything wrong, and in fact tried hard to do our jobs well, but are getting screwed anyway.

Don't do the letter in hopes of modifying management behaviour. Do it to modify your own behavior -- to remove fear of job loss as a factor in how you do your work.

Trust me, it can help.
I agree that the step you suggest is liberating and also serves as a useful tool to prepare oneself for the realistic possibilities. If you can get beyond 'it can't happen here [or 'to me] and envision the 'what if it did', you can follow the train of thought to some innovative and realistic possibilities. This would hold true for the potential option for leaving and equally true for the option of staying, How would you handle the step-by-step process of change for either option and what good possibilities might be opened up if you left or stayed? To engage in the exercise without the actual crisis on your shoulders is a good way to improve how you handle the crisis should it occur and include you.
My spouse and I already did this and found new and better jobs far away from the Lab. If you take the time to come up with a good resume there are jobs out there that pay as well as or better than at LANL (like in private industry). Where did the myth that there is no place else to work besides LANL come from, and how has that gotten so perpetuated?? One of the commenters here was right: Management doesn't care if you resign. My spouse and I between us had a total of 6 academic and professional degress, including a Ph.D. and MBA, and none of our managers made any efforts to retain us when we announced that we were leaving. On the other hand, getting out and landing a new and better job will do wonders for your stress levels and help you to feel good about yourself. And its satisfying to think that our former managers will never leave LANL because they are lazy, self-serving losers who couldn't find employment elsewhere.
I have to agree with some of the other posters that no one at LANL really
seems to care if you leave or you stay. In my case, I bring in lots of
outside funding, but no one other than my closest associates would miss
me if I decided to leave. LANL management likes to use the results of
bright scientist for good press when it is convenient for them, but would
just as soon throw you over board when no one is watching. Most of you
who work at LANL know this to be true. If you leave, management will
simply dig up some one elses name to fill into the organizational box.
That's all they really care about -- having names in those pretty little
organizational boxes. The people behind the names are meaningless to
most of LANL management.
I really did get your point that this is about taking care of yourself.

As you have reiterated, I was basically pointing out that doing it with the thought of modifying management behavior would be a misguided effort.
I put this a comment under the "Objects to Criticism" post, but it seems as though this is a more appropriate spot.

I am agreeing with the post that stated what is coming is probably not good. I think it has a reasonable chance of ending on a sour note.

To be blunt, I really couldn't care less about either of these two people discussed here, since I am positive they don't care about me. Plenty of smart people at LANL, BFD. Who cares?

If you don't think the members of the SET and managers on down aren't positioning themselves for how they fit into the next reorganization, or figuring out what they will do when the contract switches over, then you are clueless. Take your cue from them and figure out what you are going to do if things end badly - or even if they don't.

It's survival time, and it will get worse before it gets better. Been there, done that. Some decent advice in the "What Would Feynman Do?" and the "Time to Start Facing Some Reality" posts and their comments. They just weren't blunt enough about it.

I don't think either of them are saying to move on and forget about it. I do think they are saying, no matter what, the day of reckoning is coming and it's time to start thinking about what you can and can't do about it to be prepared.

If you think managers at the Lab care about you, especially at the Division Leader level and above, then you are on some serious hallucinogenic substance.

Think about how long it takes to forget someone who worked in your Group for 20+ years after they retire. In our Group it's less than a week for a close coworker, and about a weekend for an immediate manager, and for someone we didn't know well and saw randomly, we never even knew they left.

Now think about how long it will take a manager to forget about you.
I agree that the private sector is better for my own professional productivity, work satisfaction and reduced stress.

I wish I had stayed away from the Lab. I am now trapped in the declining housing market and cannot afford to leave.

Lab managers consider themselves to be highly competitive overachievers, at any cost. I too have been harrassed by vindictive and insecure managers, and even forced under threats of insubordination to sign statements of untruth that ended up in my personnel file.

Lab managers for the most part could not hold a job in the real world. In their naivete of the reality away from the Lab, they are as if competitors in a Special Olympics tournament.

I've often wondered why the Lab seems to be a dumping ground for misfit and otherwise unemployable military retirees and federal government rejects.
LANL has become a dumping ground for ex-military and second-tier scientists who were federal government rejects because over the years their bureaucratic friends took control of Lab management. Is it any wonder that despite a 2 billion per year annual budget, LANL cannot produce a nobel-prize winning scientist? Most of the upper managers have known each other from work at various agencies in Washington and other federal lab sites. They hire their friends and likes attract like. I don't believe that any of the current members of the SET have ever held a tenured position at any of the major research universities. Most have a nil publication record also. This is another reason that they could care less if you leave even if you are a well-published and respected researcher in your field. They're more interested in staying in power and protecting their turf. It has become sort of a sad joke that every year or so the LANL newsbulletin publishes a piece that describes when a scientist "formerly of LANL, now at XXXX University" wins some big prize for their research.
Quick survey: How many of you here honestly, and I stress honestly, think that the Lab has gone beyond the point of no return in the current downward spiral? Can it pull out of the dive?

Let’s say there are three possibilities for the future of LANL:

1) Things start to go right. Nanos resigns. Apologies and reparations are made, and the slow process of rebuilding begins. Someone starts to pull back on the stick, really hard. The Lab starts to come out of its nose dive. This assumes that there are enough competent managers left, at the Group Leader and Team Leader level, that given the green light from above they can get things going. This assumes that there are enough competent and enthusiastic staff members and technicians left that a good working atmosphere (both in the technical and personal realm) can be established again.

2) Things go terminal. Good people are leaving now but not in droves. For now the “bad” management (remember there are still “good” managers at LANL) can afford not to care. But if good people start to leave in droves new ones will not come to replace them and things will quickly go critical. You will know this point has been reached when the “bad” managers start to leave. In that case what awaits the Lab is not a shut down – for a hundred reasons that can’t happen. But what can happen is that LANL first becomes scientifically irrelevant, and then irrelevant to the national security – which means it becomes completely irrelevant. It becomes a ‘caretaker’ for the weapons it once designed. A mere source of funding for Northern New Mexico.

3) Things neither go right nor go terminal. LANL pulls out of the current nose dive only to continue on the path of slow decent it has been following for the last decade. Maybe Nanos quits, maybe not. Maybe UC gets the contract, maybe not. To be sure there will still be bright points at the Lab, there will still be groups, or at least teams where things are hot. But every year there will be a little more paperwork. Every year there will be a little more “training”. Every year it will be a little harder to attract new talent. Every year the Lab, as a whole, will become a little less fun to be at. Every year moral, as a whole, will be a little lower. People will shrug their shoulders and continue.

Who votes for 1? Who votes for 2? Who votes for 3?

Does anyone have a 4?
In my 20++ years here I'd say we are 5-10 years into scenario #2. I would also suggest that there are a number of tatterings of scenario #3 (red-herrings) plugging along as smoke-screening for the real cancer of scenario #2. A slim few of the really bad managers have already left because of the stench of their own doings. With the declining housing market in town, they're probably the lucky ones.
I think St. Pete keeps us roughly at #3 for a few more years in a global sense - depending on how the contract and future budgets go of course.

A couple of good-size budget cuts and/or a "bad" contract, and I see #2.

I have a hard time seeing #1 in today's climate.

Regardless of which scenario one thinks might play out, I think many would agree that the Lab is already thought of as a "A mere funding source for Northern New Mexico." by essentially all NM politicians and most of the people living in Northern NM.
DOE supported the shutdown. DOE just took away 2/3rds of UC's management
fee. DOE says UC has un-allowed expenses of about $30 million. DOE wants
to have no limits to contractor liabilities in the running a nuclear lab
with a plutonium facility. And DOE wants to have full control over our
pensions and reductions in our benefits, even though DOE has never had
to pay a dime into the UC pension. I'd say we are definitely at #2
(terminal), because I have very little hope that our relationship with
DOE will ever improve. And as soon as the next safety or security
incident happens (which it will, based just on normal statistics), then
we will be right back where we were on July of 2004. We've been on
this terminal trajectory since about 1999, but it is becoming much
easier to discern with the events of this last year. This terminal
trajectory will probably hit rock bottom in the next 2 to 3 years.
The poster at 7:05 is about right. The Lab is a good decade into scenario #2. Most of the nuclear weapons design experise was driven off years ago, and can't even consult anymore. Most other critical knowledge bases are in similar decline.

The atmosphere of intimidation and retribution has steadily grown. The abuse of the lab legal services as an instrument of torture has been ongoing. The population of all upper management positions by sycophants long preceded Nanos. when the first megalomaniac (Hecker) was tolerated it set the stage for Nano's reign of terror.
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