Transitioning beyond the small pond.

Our company, Castle Worldwide, was recently purchased by Scantron. Scantron, in turn, is owned by Harland Clarke, which should be familiar to you if you write checks: their name is on the bottom-left corner of every check I’ve ever seen. Castle had been a 30-year-old privately-owned company  with a very small number of individual owners and with around 80 employees. Now, we are part of a big company, which is owned by an even bigger company and which has many, many thousands of employees all over the world. 

There’s a lot of positives to this transition. The main one is that we keep our offices in Morrisville and continue to do what we do, albeit with more oversight. For my department, Business Development – we do the contracts and proposals and drum up business – it means getting more approvals on things like pricing, etc. It’s all good, and understandable, and we are learning to adjust to new timelines and new processes, which are being created as we go and figure out what works. 

The more stressful transition has been figuring out all the new HR stuff. HR, payroll, and other things are managed by Harland Clarke, which has many, many companies under its umbrella. I’ve been used to the comfort of a small company where I can go over and ask our awesome HR person any question and get it handled. 

My particular stress lately has been over Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) processes. FMLA, which was implemented during the Clinton administration, “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.” In other words, if you have someone sick in the family that you have to care for, you can take unpaid time off to do it and your job is protected. 

We had some health issues come up in the family a couple of months ago that are ongoing (to be written about in a future blog entry), so my awesome Castle family advised me to go ahead and file for FMLA. This included getting a federal form filled out by the doctor, who outlined the medical issue and the kind of time I’d need to have to support the family member. The process, once completed, relieved a lot of fear on my part that I’d have to use up my PTO. I’ve been able to use a couple of hours here and there to go on doctor’s appointments and save my PTO for vacations.

Now that I’m under new management, and given that this week I needed to use FMLA time for an appointment, I needed to figure out the process under Harland Clarke. We had the Scantron HR person in the offices this week to help us learn about our new log-in systems for doing our time sheets, requesting PTO, and other things, so I asked her about how to log FMLA time (e.g., is it under the PTO or under time sheets?). She directed me to someone else from Scantron, who called me to walk me through it. 

However, during the call, she explained that I needed to call another company (UNUM) to start the process. I immediately had images of being put on hold forever and having people from this new company not know who I was or what I needed. I began to get a little panicky. I’ve always had a fear of being just a number and getting lost in the shuffle, which is why I attended small private schools my whole life and gravitate to smaller companies like Castle. Like the song from Cheers, I want to be “where everybody knows your name,” and where I know everyone.

I avoided making the call for a bit, then finally sucked it up and called. It turns out that UNUM is a big benefits company that other big companies (like Harland Clarke) use to manage their leave for things like disability and FMLA. I was on hold waiting for an operator to help me for about 15 minutes, then a young-sounding man came on the phone and started asking me my name, my social, my employer, my date of birth, etc. He didn’t explain why he needed this information (was he using it to verify my identity, or to steal it?), and I was too cowed to question it, so I gave it all. 

I wrote in another blog how I would rather do things online rather than talk to a person; in this case, my feelings were amplified because I had to spell everything out. My street address has a weird spelling, and my last names (maiden and married together) are super-confusing. Wouldn’t this be easier if I could do it online and not have to literally spell everything out to a person? I decided to entertain myself by turning it into an exercise in trying to remember the aviation alphabet (“H as in Hotel, A as in Alfa, N as in November….”), but found myself getting it wrong half the time (“is it Y as in Yellow? No, Y as in Yankee….”). Although it doesn’t really matter if I get it “wrong” (as long as the person on the other end gets what letter I’m trying to spell out), I like to try to get it right because I’m that anal. 🙂

After about a half hour on the phone, we were done with him collecting all the possible information he could have on me, and he indicated my account was created and the claim request begun; I’d find out if I got approval in a couple of days. I again internally panicked – IF I got approval? However, I decided not to panic with this guy, as every time I’d asked a question that deviated from his script, he was clueless. (E.g.: “I already had the doctor fill out the federal form for FMLA – will UNUM accept that one, or do I have to have the very busy doctor who is trying to save lives fill out another one?” “I don’t know, they will tell you want they need once they review your case.” Uh, ok.) At some point, I will know IF they accept my claim, and if they do, whether the doctor has to fill out another form.

I do understand the need for UNUM’s services, given how big Harland Clarke is. It makes perfect sense. But it’s a transition that is challenging me to be ok with knowing that indeed, I’m now a number (and that it’s an 8-digit number that begins with an A as in Alfa). It’s time to stick my toe in the big pond and deal with my fears that I’ll be lost in the shuffle and/or that I can’t handle figuring out HR or other policy stuff.

The thing I’m most proud of here? I’m shutting up my questioning, panicky voice that makes me crazy whenever I encounter new things like this. Rather than raging against the machine, I’ve accepted that it is what it is. I will follow the procedures, and if/when things don’t go right, I will trust myself to figure out the next steps. I’ll take it as a growth opportunity and transition from being a scared small fish in a big pond to a fish who trusts herself to handle things as they come. 🙂


3 responses to “Transitioning beyond the small pond.”

  1. Job well done! You will continue to be amazed at how strong you become, and how challenging times like this will actually bring out the best in you. And, the best in you will keep evolving to become even better. Pete and I appreciate your letting us know about Bill's condition, and massive kudos to both of you for the strength and optimism we've seen as you move forward. Our thoughts and hopes are with the two of you.

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