OK, so the real phrase is “the biter bit”, but in my case the order’s been reversed. Today I spent most of my time wielding my red pencil as I and my colleagues struggled to find substantial savings in next year’s budget. As a result of my efforts no-one is going to be dragged into their boss’s office as I was in 2008 (see my first post) and told summarily that their services will shortly be no longer required. But it would be idle to pretend that there will not eventually be some people whose jobs will go.
As you may imagine, this was a rather uncomfortable process for me, and it brought a mixed set of emotions. As the director with ultimate responsibility for finance, I was often in the position of having to spell out unpalatable choices for my colleagues, and to oblige them to grasp nettles they would have preferred to have left ungrasped. What was perhaps most strange for me was to observe my own feelings and rationalisations. The fresh experience of my own redundancy and subsequent struggle to find work seemed to result in two diametrically opposed sensations. On the one hand, I was acutely aware of the devastation that accompanies notice of losing one’s job. But on the other I was in some way conscious of feeling a kind of moral authority: I was not visiting on anyone else anything that had not been visited on me. I don’t offer this as some sort of exoneration, but simply as an honest reportage of how I felt. There were other odd, and I fear wildly misplaced, moral dynamics. Because I was pressurising colleagues to make cuts from their budgets, and thereby to put their staff at risk, I felt it was only right for me to offer up some sacrificial lambs from inside my own directorate. Surely, I must lead by example. Written on the page, this seems every bit as ludicrous a logic as indeed it was, but I felt the “moral” pressure nonetheless.
No matter how hard one tries to approach this kind of task with clinical objectivity, these frequently spurious human motivations keep rushing in to confuse and ensnare. I know from my own bitter experience that the last thing a colleague needs is to be told that making them redundant has hurt the decision-maker as much as the recipient. That’s a lie as plain and as clear as the the one that a million stick-wielding schoolteachers have trotted out to a million maths-book-down-the-trousers schoolboys. And yet, it is perhaps ultimately re-assuring that humanity – no matter that it’s often in the form of human frailty and moral confusion – leaks into these processes despite our best efforts to keep it at bay. I’ve been bitten, and now I’ve had to bite. I haven’t relished it, but I have taken some pride in trying to approach it with an awareness and a sensitivity to all these contradictory but very human confusions.