I had many bosses at my former job. My actual boss worked at our organization’s headquarters in another city. Other than periodic phone calls and e-mails, I only saw him once a year at our annual conference. Although I worked directly and officially for him, there were several people at my own location who were in positions of high authority and with whom I interacted on a regular basis. I didn’t officially report to them, but they were important enough for me to want to keep them happy, and to insure that they were satisfied with the services I was providing. They were in essence my de facto bosses. I was required to answer their questions, conduct research, and complete occasional projects for them. As with any hierarchical arrangement, it was critical for me to keep everyone satisfied up and down the institutional ladder.
My retirement was a fairly sudden decision. Although early retirement and buyout offers were announced on a fairly regular basis several years in a row, I never discussed them with any authority figures in the organization. Curiously though, the reverse was not always true. I recall a handful of occasions when one of the de facto bosses would stop in my office — coffee cup in hand — and sit down to either kill time or to avoid his/her own work. I was always amused when a few of them would share in great detail the comparative riches that awaited them because of the nice retirement packages made available to those in executive positions. I never failed to share with them my utter happiness for their good fortune.
I shared the news of my own decision last spring with a handful of close colleagues a few months before it was actually announced. As the clocked ticked towards my last day, I slowly expanded that circle until finally an e-mail was sent to our entire staff informing them of the news. For those de facto bosses elsewhere in the organization, I made selective decisions in telling them. To some I sent individual emails, and to others I gave the courtesy of a visit to their office. For the remaining few, for varying reasons, I decided not to say anything. I admit now to having had diabolical fantasies about a few of them asking several months later, “He retired? When? Why wasn’t I told?” Whether that’s actually happened, and whether there was a “Thank God he’s gone” coda added to it, I do not know.
As I’ve written earlier, I do get my share of e-mails and text messages from former co-workers. With the exception of a very few humorous anecdotes (i.e. “Aren’t you glad you’re not doing this anymore?”) I am out of the loop with office gossip and the day-to-day doings. This is how it should be. Staff shouldn’t be spreading information about the organization to the outside, and likewise it’s a more healthy transition for me to let go of all of that. Onward!
Except for the deputy director, with whom I managed to have a very good friendship over the years in spite of his indirect supervision over me, I did not hear from either my official or de facto bosses in the period shortly after I retired. Like so many typical work acquaintances, those relationships don’t necessarily carry forward. I know some reading this might be able expound on wonderful and rewarding friendships with a superior, but I’ve always found it best to not pursue it.
It was therefore quite a shock several weeks ago when I actually heard from one of the de facto bosses. He had gotten in touch with “Blue Eyes,” my former HR person, and asked for my personal e-mail address. He wanted to share with me some recent books that he’s read, hoping that I might want to read them too. This person was one of the people I decided to not contact about my retirement. I had never considered him to be someone with whom I would have any communication or friendship later in life. However, it turns out that we’ve exchanged several recent messages since that initial one. We have discussed more about books, about my new life here in Florida, and also some travel that he and his wife are planning. He has also shared with me the private news that he too will be retiring next year. Of all the extra bosses I had, he is the last that I would have predicted to contact me. I am delighted, and assume that we will continue to exchanges messages on a semi-regular basis.
As my tribe would say, go know.