Bridget worked in a large R&D department for a software company. The main offices had long ago filled up, and R&D moved to a distant office building well away from the main campus. The building was less than ideal, especially if you listened to the network guys talk about pulling cable. It was old, it was dreary and the roof leaked, the furnace was wonky, and the kitchen had never actually gotten a hot-water line. Still, it was a place to work.

The fiscal year ended in September. When no budget appeared by October, the rumors started to fly. Worst case scenarios were bandied about. Eventually, the scuttlebutt got so deep that the R&D head, Greg, sent out a blast of emails telling everyone not to be concerned. Instead of mollifying the staff, the sheer volume of, “You have nothing to worry about,” messages made everyone worry.

Eventually, Greg sent out an email explaining the new budget and what it meant for the staff.

During the last fiscal year, our R&D budget was 15% of total spending. Average for a company in our industry is 12%. Our budget will need to decrease by $30M for the coming year. At this time, that is what the company can afford, and that number is non-negotiable. To help us meet these goals, a re-assessment of deliverables for next year’s projects is needed. That includes things like the initative to refactor the code-base. It also means that many of the “nice-to-haves” and building improvements will have to be cut- that includes getting those roof leaks fixed in the kitchen and the third floor, and getting that hot water line into the kitchen.

The email went on at some length about the various approaches for cutting costs. It didn’t detail the layoffs that started the following week. Nor did it discuss how the executives received record-setting bonuses at the end of the year.

Months passed, and by Decemeber snow-drifts piled up outside almost as quickly as frustration piled up inside. Bridget now had the job of three developers, and any time she balked at the 60 hour weeks, people like Greg said something about “team players” and “we all have to sacrifice”. “It’ll get better next year.”

One frustrated afternoon, Bridget returned from the kitchen with a cup of coffee. She flopped down in her chair, and the entire building groaned and shook. She poked her head out of her cube, trying to see if anything was obviously wrong, but nothing looked amiss from her cube. The shaking didn’t continue. She returned to work.

An email from Greg dinged in.

Several floors have had their roof collapse. Level 3, 2 and 1, and also the ground-floor kitchen area are impacted. Our new budget does not leave much leeway for building downtime, so if your work area was impacted by this condition, let your supervisor know immediately. We’ll get you relocated to one of the empty offices so you can continue working.

The old, leaky roof simply hadn’t been able to keep pace with the snow that winter. Bridget turned her eyes towards the ceiling, and wondered if she should stay in the office today. As she thought about leaving, another Greg email arrived.

I have been informed that we are not allowed to let you stay in the building now that the roof has collapsed. The office will be closing early today. Please turn off your equipment and vacate the building.

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