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Leaving the BBC

November 12, 2010

“You could always leave work earlier this evening,” said the Significant Other as I stepped out of the car. “Its not like you haven’t put the hours in this week.”

These statements always make me smile. The idea of ‘leaving work early’ is something I’ve yet to feel comfortable with. Yes, I often leave the office early or arrive in the office what might be described by some as ‘late’ but the work is always going on. In my head. All. The. Sodding. Time.

Consequently, ‘leaving work early’ would be something akin to going on holiday. And when I go on holiday I have to build in a special decompression period in order to extricate myself from the work mindset. It’s a lengthy process. It doesn’t just happen by ‘leaving work early’.

At the risk of appearing like I’m bigging myself up – which really, I’m not – the thought of actually totally switching off is alien to me. Or at least, a far off land of the kind I ocassionally dream of. Disconnecting from the hive is a concept I have little experience of.

I’m thinking of all these things because one of the BBC’s Social Media Executives – Roo Reynolds – is leaving the Corporation today. A strange thought. A frightening thought.

People leave the BBC fairly frequently. Some leave after a great many years service, others leave twisted by bitterness – you can see it on their faces assuming they’ve failed to keep their true feelings under lock and key. Some of us remaining who learn of departures in seemingly distant departments (the last time I saw Roo sat at his desk he was sat in an office on the 6th floor of Television Centre which technically makes it ‘distant land’ even for me in nearby White City building) pause as we consider the question: ‘why are they leaving?’ or ‘have they made a mistake?’ or ‘WTF?’ and ultimately ‘are they going to regret this and if so, when?’

There can be any number of reasons why someone leaves. And all of them are private. What’s interesting is the reaction to the news. Because there is – even amid the strikes over pensions and the need to slash budgets in light of the licence fee agreement – this assumption made that once you’ve signed up to the deal it’s going to have to take some considerable catastrophe to lead to your departure. Or if it’s not that, you’ve fallen so completely out of love with the place that escaping from the shackles of a loveless relationship is the only option available. Yes. I have a fatalistic view.

It might look like I’m speculating about Roo’s departure. I’m really not. I have absolutely no idea why he’s going. Nor does it have anything to do with me either. The fact that he is going however leaves me thinking one very potent thing I think a lot of other people must surely be thinking at the BBC – certainly those worth hanging on to.

What is life like when you leave the BBC? If like me you’ve always wanted to work here and have tried everything you can to maintain your contribution to the organisation, how on earth does one get used to a working life in an entirely different workplace?

Do other employers smirk at the BBC’s seeming pomposity and map that onto any potential new recruits? If you’ve managed to secure an alternative job outside the corporation, stripped of that sometimes overbearing sense of public accountability we all feel to greater or lesser extent, what is that new working experience going to be like?

And, most important of all, if you have to be made of fairly strong stuff to get in there and to survive the arse-whipping the organisation often gets, do you have to go through corrective surgery to survive in the outside world?

There’s a running joke in my BBC bubble. If someone gives me a hard time at work – usually those who mutter the words ‘workflow’ or ‘integration’ – they normally receive a verbal lashing: “Fuck it. I’m going to ITV.” If it’s a particularly irritating individual the ante will be upped to “Fuck it. I’m going to Sky.”

Of course, the arrogant assumption is that either of these organisations will want you. They may well have very effective social media drones who have kept a track on your internet utterances already to the extent they’ve already made up their minds for you already.

Even so. The joke is that in the darkest hour, conditions will somehow be better at other broadcasters, or failing that doing something completely different. It’s a variation on the statement “you’ll miss me when I’m gone”.

It’s a joke. That’s all. It underlines the affection we all have for the place. And also goes some way to explaining why news of a colleague’s departure is always met with confusion, disappointment and – if you’re an emotional sort – a bit of sadness too.

Because to work at the BBC you’re going to need to love the BBC. Thats the rule. And when you leave, the best you can hope for is that you retain affection for the place. The alternative is all too difficult a concept to bear.

Location:Wood Ln,Hammersmith,United Kingdom

  1. A poignant read. I’m glad to say I leave with a huge amount of affection for the BBC. I shall miss it. And you, you little rascal.

    (For anyone wondering what my reasons really are, I’ve written about the move here)

  2. I worked at Emap for a few years. I joined the organisation just as its ‘every meeting a party’ days were ending. But it had the same culture about leaving. When anyone left, people would reassure them with: “You’ll be back!” And some did come back, enriched by experiences in other media groups; they didn’t always stay to the rest of their days, but ‘coming back’ was approved of.

    Recently I worked a fixed-term contract at our local Regional College. I was there long enough for the departmental and organisational cultures to assume that they applied to me – although I was always aware that I had an end-date. And that I was looking forward to it!

    The lesson the college taught me was, it’s not Emap I will never go back to now. It’s working as staff in a big company. Because the same politics apply, however much or however little you love the entity you’re serving. I would love to work for the BBC – of course I would! But I would only ever do so as a freelancer; there is no “job security” any more, and I prefer the honesty of self-employment.

    Interesting post, Jon.

  3. Great post. It’s not often people write from the point of view of someone staying.

    I work with many people who are leaving employment (BBC, ITV, etc) to set up as self-employed. It’s a frightening process for some, and really exhilarating for others.

    I’ve met more than a thousand leavers over the last 5 years, and their reasons for leaving are incredibly varied. For some it’s a change of job; some want to take more control of their lives (see Fiona’s comments); some are leaving under a cloud.

    What many say is that the announcement of their leaving is sometimes met with dismay or quiet concern amongst colleagues. It’s as if someone’s mentioned a death in the family. No one quite knows what to say, or if they do it might be “Will you be alright?”, accompanied by a touch on the arm. Often the leaver is very comfortable with the idea of leaving, so the response can come as a surprise.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that “Will you be alright” often means “I wonder if I’ll be alright”, but I’m no psychologist.

    Ultimately we take responsibility for our own destiny by the decisions we make. Having someone leaving a team or an organisation reminds us of this. It also reminds us that things never stay the same for long.

    • David – some at the college were quite distraught that I was leaving. Even though they knew all along I was a ‘temp’. More than one colleague did the arm-patting thing and murmured cheerfully: “See you next year!” To which it was awfully tempting to reply: “Not if I see you first…”

      I agree totally with your insight that leaving is felt as a kind of bereavement. Must give that idea some more thought and write about it somewhere.

    • Yep. I get this too David. It is a form of bereavment. But – scarily – it also taps into a form of love. It’s in part the same as imagining what it would be like to *not* be with the one you love. And I know, that’s quite a soppy analogy to draw about an organisation which – in the grand scheme of things – isn’t necessarily going to miss the contribution an individual makes if he or she isn’t there.

  4. Anna permalink

    blimey Jon, you gave me quite a turn there – I thought it was YOU who was leaving!

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