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Saturday, 5 September 2015

Peninsula Business Services - Glasgow Office, Glassdoor review

I recently worked for a short while at Peninsula Business Services' new Glasgow office. I attempted to submit a review on my experience at Glassdoor.com  However, it was deleted several times without explanation. This behaviour does make me wonder how credible Glassdoor reviews actually are. It seems I'm not alone in having doubts about Glassdoor's credibilty. Several other review contributors have reported having negative reviews removed without explanation upon companies paying fees to sanitise their ratings. And several companies' HR departments have reported being approached by Glassdoor salespeople with offers to clean up their reputation for a fee.

Whilst my review was overall negative, it was also balanced, accurate, and written in professional language. It didn't identify anyone by name, and the original version referred to only one person by job title (the Head of IT). All of this falls within Glassdoor's purported guidelines.

I've submitted yet another review today. In the absence of any information about what may have been "wrong" with previous reviews, I've removed a lot of detail. If it doesn't get published, I will publish it here instead.

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Pros

Shiny new office, replete with brand new desks. PCs still with the plastic on, and Niels Diffrient chairs (not a spelling mistake, btw - that's the chair designer's actual name.)

Most people are fairly pleasant.

Salary reasonable for a developer working in Glasgow (£45k).

They make a very healthy profit.


Cons

Peninsula drags employees from Scotland half way across the country on a 7-hour round trip to Manchester on their first day. Just to attend an “induction” course. As well as being a waste of time, this course was frankly a little patronising. Topics covered included how to sit in a chair, and how to find the first aid kit. The most galling thing about this was that when I did get a minor cut threading PC cables through a sharp corner of my new desk back in Glasgow, I discovered there was no first aid kit. Management rationalised that the reason for this was to avoid them getting sued by having out of date supplies in it. Instead of just admitting they’d made a mistake in failing to buy one. This is a company that claims to specialise in giving Health & Safety / Legal advice to other companies. Perhaps they ought to get their own house in order first?

I was lied to during recruitment and contractual negotiations. I spotted that the users were located in Manchester whilst the development team is based in Glasgow, and asked the Head of IT how he proposed to address this limitation? I was told we'd be using “teleconferencing” and that intermediaries like Business Analysts and a Product Owner would be available to communicate requirements between the development team based in Glasgow and users based in Manchester. The truth was that there were no Business Analysts or Product Owner fulfilling this role on this project. Consequently, developers were expected to travel to Manchester in their own free time very frequently. And often for reasons that didn't make a lot of sense. Such as attending that induction course to learn how to sit in a chair and about first aid kits that don’t exist. Or for purely political reasons such as “to get your face seen.” Not to mention that there was no “team”. I was the sole and only developer in Glasgow.

The fact that regular travel to Manchester was expected should have been stated on the actual job spec. And when I was switched on enough to ask about the geographic concerns of having users in one place but developers in another, the recruitment team and management should have been honest about the frequent need for travel at that juncture. Instead, a clause about "occasional travel" was squeezed into the small print of the written contract. When I asked about this and stated clearly that I wasn't looking for a role that involved travel, I was given reassurance that I'd only need to spend one day in Manchester for that induction course (my original joining instructions had referred to an "induction week".) However, after attending that one day, literally my first day in the Glasgow office I was asked to travel to Manchester again. That was twice in my first two days. My manager, who started the week before me, had travelled 8 times by that point, and has done so again 2 further times in the two weeks I worked there. I do not consider this "occasional".

Developers in Manchester do not have phones on their desk. Apparently as a matter of policy. This perplexed them as much as it did me. It made communicating knowledge about existing projects far more difficult than should have been the case. When you have development teams spread out across the country, put phones on the desks of the people who need to collaborate. This is a no brainer. It shouldn’t need to be explained or debated. But apparently some elements of management have strange ideas about putting their direct reports in silos and only allowing indirect communication. This is the exact opposite of how Agile is meant to work. A project like the one I was assigned to should take 3-4 months max to complete. Owing to issues like this, it will take Peninsula far longer, if it gets completed at all.

You need to raise every issue, however minor, via a helpdesk ticket. Even if it is only a simple request for collaboration with someone in the same team. Often I found this red tape was just an excuse to rationalise and ignore the issues reported or information requested. I found tickets about damaged equipment were closed for spurious reasons, or simply deleted without explanation. I guess someone’s stats and performance evaluation depended upon how many tickets they closed/suppressed rather than on how many actual problems got fixed. I’m a developer. I shouldn’t have to raise a helpdesk ticket to find out a simple technical detail or obtain a database backup. These things should be sorted out with one phone call in an environment that claims to be Agile. And if new equipment arrives damaged, it should be returned to the manufacturer for a free replacement or repair. Not just accepted as is, and the ticket deleted. That wastes company money, and it reduces the equipment available to front line staff.

Peninsula claims to aim to be an “employer of choice”. However, they seemed to fail to realise that this necessarily means they will be dealing with employees that *do* have choices. It's therefore inadvisable to paint one picture of the role during recruitment, then expect us to put up with a radically different reality on the actual job. Companies who behave that way tend to lose new employees very quickly. There are literally thousands of other companies in Glasgow and the Central Belt competing for the same hard-to-find IT skills as Peninsula is seeking. And most of them have more reasonable demands than Peninsula. (Most particularly, they don’t expect you to endure that horrendous 7 hour round trip commute to Manchester in your own free time on a regular basis. Especially for the spurious or political reasons mentioned.) I turned down two other jobs to take this one, by choice. When it became clear the role had been mis-sold, I had another job offer within 48 hours, starting the day after I finish at Peninsula. I know many of the other good .Net developers in the Glasgow area, and most of them already have jobs. I know how difficult it is to recruit them from having been on the other side of the hiring table in other roles. It’s easy to get your employer brand damaged by having unreasonable expectations, making nonsensical management decisions, and misrepresenting the role. Word gets around very quickly indeed. And even if you do manage to fool someone with less options into coming on board, and begrudgingly sticking around for a few months, tolerating that horrendous commute to Manchester. You’ll only have someone that will become de-motivated owing to the nonsensical management policies I mentioned like that issue with the phones, or burned out very quickly owing to the poor work/life balance that unreasonable commute entails.

The Glasgow office is at present a building site next to another building site (see the pictures of construction workers in the building I posted, and the construction site next door.) And there is no air conditioning, despite us having had to sit and listen to a talk on how to use air conditioning during that awful induction course. This means the windows are open on the side with the external construction site all day. The IT department is in an open-plan office, sandwiched between salespeople making cold calls all day and advisors also taking phone calls. All this therefore makes for a very noisy and distracting environment. It is not at all conducive to a concentration-intensive task like software development.

Much of the recruitment literature describes the ‘Glasgow’ office, which is located in the Finnieston area, as being “in Central Glasgow” and “within walking distance of the city centre”. This is utter nonsense. Peninsula are deluding themselves if they believe this to be true. Or worse still, are foolish enough to try to delude local people who know the area well. Finnieston is close to Glasgow city centre only on Google Maps. It is two train stops away from Glasgow Central station. It is about as close to Glasgow city centre as Salford is to Manchester city centre. And with many of the same attendant social problems. e.g., the one time I had my car broken into in Glasgow, it was in the PC World car park across the road from Peninsula’s Glasgow office. Nobody ever walks from Glasgow city centre to the Finnieston office. Because to do so you’d need to spend 20-25 minutes walking through several known drug areas and the red light district. It is to be avoided, especially at night. One of my previous roles was in the Glasgow police, so I know which areas of the city are high in crime and which aren’t. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety by the fact that there’s a Police Station a couple of doors down. The reason it’s there is because the area has a high crime problem. And the reason there’s plenty of short-stay parking meter spaces in front of the office side streets is that locals know better than to leave their car on the street in that part of town. Ironically, there is plenty of secure parking available in the Skypark complex that the Peninsula office is part of. But since employees aren’t allowed to use any of it that’s a moot point.

Several previous attempts at submitting this review have been deleted by Glassdoor with no explanation given. This makes me wonder about how many other negative reviews have been suppressed. I’m submitting this last attempt, which I have kept as close to Glassdoor’s guidelines as I can. If it gets through, it gets through. If it doesn’t, I’ll post it on LinkedIn and my blog instead. Suppressing negative opinion is extremely foolish, and leads only to The Streisand Effect.

I have a feeling that, if this review even gets published, someone from Peninsula’s Directors' Office will be along to trot out the party line that Peninsula isn't for everyone, and only superstars make it there, etc, etc. I noticed that canned response on some of the other negative reviews herein whilst I was being recruited. That was one of the first things that led me to have some initial doubts. Not just that issues were being raised by front line staff, but that they were treated dismissively. Other factors included my contacting former developer employees of Peninsula via LinkedIn, and asking them confidentially why they left. There aren’t many developers with more than 18 months tenure at Peninsula. I think I now know why.


Advice to Management

Be more honest with yourself and with recruits during interviews and pre-employment negotiations. There's no point in saying you'll be using teleconferencing, if you what you really mean is "We'll be dragging you to Manchester at least a couple of times a month, probably much more frequently. Often for political reasons or just to attend a pointless box-ticking induction course that bears no relation to reality rather than because of any real, pressing business need." A good place to do this would on the initial job description itself, and not in the small print of the contract you only see once made an offer.

Don't just sweep issues that staff raise under the carpet. You can only improve if you acknowledge what's gone wrong and learn from mistakes. Whether it's a missing First Aid box, a helpdesk request, or something more business-critical, it's all the same ethos. You either learn and improve, or you don't and stagnate.

Particularly with regard to hiring software developers, realise that good developers always have other options. It's simply unrealistic to expect us to commute to Manchester when we can easily work in almost any other company that uses IT and doesn't have that nightmare commute. If you need developers in Glasgow, hire them in Glasgow. If you need them in Manchester, hire them in Manchester. But don't hire them in one place and expect them to constantly commute to the other. As Warren Buffett says, you can put on a ballet or you can put on a heavy metal concert. But don't advertise a heavy metal concert then put on a ballet, or vice versa. It's moving the goalposts that's the problem, not having goalposts.

Peninsula's Glasgow office is still basically a
building site. Most of the floors are still being
fitted out for use as office space at some point
in the future. This photo shows two construction
workers in the main lobby.
Desks are new, and have expensive Niels Diffrient
chairs. About 50% of the desks are empty at present.

Small chairs around a small table. An
informal meeting space near the open-plan kitchen
As mentioned, there is still a lot of construction work
going on in the building. This protective covering on the floors
in the main lobby is to protect the floor tiles from damage
by heavy masonry trolleys. One of these trolleys broke the lift during
my first week. It was one of many things I found broken that week.


View from the office. There are windows on one
side only - the side facing SECC and The Hydro. The shine
from The Hydro roof can be very distracting, and lasts all
day since the roof is curved. The blinds can be closed to make
it bearable.




The garage next door is being built at present. As there
is no air conditioning in the Glasgow office, the office windows
overlooking this site need to stay open all day for ventilation.
Combined with the cold-calling sales team and
customer advisors taking incoming calls either side of
the IT 'department', this made for a very distracting and noisy
environment that was not conducive to quality software development.
When I was there, the IT department consisted of me and
one manager. It is now only one 'manager'.

Close up of a typical desk. You have three monitors (two external
and the laptop main screen), and a laptop that should be capable of
utilising all three at once. Unfortunately, owing to a faulty graphics card, the
laptop I was issued could only support the main laptop screen
and one external monitor. (An identical model used
by my manager successfully had all three working concurrently.)
My 'help' desk ticket about this was 'resolved' by stating that I
should just use the one external monitor that did work. When I re-opened
the ticket, and suggested that sending the brand new faulty graphics
card back for a free RMA repair would be a more appropriate solution,
my ticket was deleted without further explanation or attempt at
resolution. The next developer in will therefore experience the same problem.
I wondered if one of the monitors had arrived smashed whether "use the two that
aren't smashed" would have been considered an appropriate
resolution to that problem? Why was it any different when the problem was
a faulty internal component that should have been easily replaceable?



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Obligatory disclaimer: The views expressed are my own and don't reflect the views of my employer.



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Update 17 September 2015:

You couldn't make this up. Peninsula has now responded to my review thus:

"Dear Sirs,

Having considered the content of this post, we would be grateful if someone could please review it with a view to it being removed. Our reason for flagging this post to you is that the review contains a number of inaccurate comments which we categorically dispute, including that the former employee was “lied to during recruitment and contractual negotiations” and that “a clause about “occasional travel” was squeezed into the small print of the written contract”.

For clarity, we do not have “small print” within our contracts all text is in the same size and typeface. Moreover, we did not lie about the fact occasional travel would be required either during recruitment or within contractual negotiations. As the poster accepts, her initial joining instructions referred to an “induction week” that was due to take place at our Head Office in Manchester. As it was, this particular employee was only requested to attend a one day induction in Manchester but then refused to travel to Manchester again when requested to do so within her first week of employment. She provided no explanation for her refusal and if a reason had been forthcoming, this would have potentially allowed us to resolve any issues that she had and/or reached an amicable, alternative way forward.

In addition, there was no expectation that she would be required to travel within her own “free time” as she asserts as she was permitted to travel and return home within her normal working hours. She was employed for one week only we find it astounding that she is able to cast false aspersions about us an employer which potentially affect our reputation to anyone reading the review.

Our Glasgow office is in its infancy and this particular review gives a very misleading impression of our offices and the premises. We absolutely welcome constructive feedback from our employees and we fully accept that there might be some teething problems associated with new office premises but the location and its surroundings are all issues which are abundantly clear to a candidate when he/she attends an interview.

Given the above, we would be grateful if you could please review the post as it seems to us to be a malicious attempt to damage our reputation. As an employer, we recognise the benefit which Glassdoor provides us and our potential employees with in respect of feedback (positive and negative) which we constantly keep under review in order to make improvements where necessary. That having been said, we cannot accept the type of inaccurate information presented in this post by an employee who worked for us for less than a week.

If you require any further information or evidence to counter the comments made within the post, we would be more than happy to provide this"


Apparently, despite my alluding to it
previously, Peninsula still hasn't heard
of the Streisand Effect



So, apparently photographs of the actual office and its surroundings give a "misleading impression" of what it's really like. And despite the fact my review has already attracted 3 "helpful" votes from other Glassdoor users (who are presumably Peninsula employees themselves) in the short time since it was published, apparently its facts are in dispute. One of those "disputed" facts is that I was apparently allowed to make that awful commute to Manchester during "normal working hours". Well, just for clarity, I stayed over on the Sunday evening prior to my start date for that induction course. And I wasn't able to travel back until after work on the Monday evening (I got home at 9pm and was at work by 8:10am the next day.) I still have the cattle class train tickets if anyone from Glassdoor would like to see them. I would further note that if as claimed I were to travel to Manchester during "normal working hours", that would mean I'd have spent 7 hours travelling and only 1 hour on-site, since they work a standard 8 hour day there. In actuality, I was on site all working day on that Monday because I was required to travel in my own time, exactly as I claimed. 

As for my not giving a reason for my decision not to make that 7 hour trip in my own free time for the second time in two days - Peninsula weren't entitled to any further explanation or debate beyond it not being something I'm prepared to do. I stated this clearly during contractual negotiations; I still have the emails I sent to the recruitment team to prove this. It would seem Peninsula simply proceeded in the hope that once I'd come on board I'd have no option but to put up with unreasonable travel in my own time, regardless of the limitations on my willingness to travel that I'd made clear in writing during negotiations.

Furthermore, when it became abundantly obvious on that first day back in the Glasgow office (my 2nd day in the job) that Peninsula had radically different ideas about the role's need for regular travel to Manchester, my exact words to my manager were, "If we're going to fail, it's best to fail fast. If you do need someone that's prepared to travel to Manchester on a regular basis, I can't accommodate that, and I doubt you'll find anyone with the right skills that will. I feel I was crystal clear about that before accepting the job. But, if that's what you really want, let's just be adults and call this quits right now. So I can go and see if there's still any interest from the roles I had to turn down to take this job, and you can go and recruit the type of resource you apparently really need." My manager at Peninsula's response to this offer was, "No, we've done the hard part of getting you on board now, and we don't want to lose you. There's no need to leave." Despite this, a week later he came back and stated that Peninsula was terminating my contract for exactly the reason discussed - i.e., that they really wanted someone prepared to travel from Glasgow to Manchester on a frequent basis. My manager claimed that he disagreed with this decision, but that he had been over-ruled on the matter. I felt this indecisiveness bordering on duplicity merely wasted more of both of our time and represented further bad faith on Peninsula's part. Fortunately, when I did belatedly go back to the roles I'd had to turn down, there was still interest, and I was made another job offer within 48 hours. Otherwise I'd have considered suing Peninsula for negligent misrepresentation of their position that had cost me another opportunity. As it is, I consider that I've ended up in a very much better role, that pays a little more, gives me an extra hour in bed, where I can park my car safely outside my place of work, and most of all affords me the opportunity to work with some great new colleagues that, unlike Peninsula, do not resemble the cast of The Office.

Anyway, whether or not Glassdoor does decide to remove my entirely factual review, it will remain published here and on LinkedIn. Watch this space to see just how much Glassdoor's claims are worth that employers can't get reviews they disagree with suppressed. If you're a Peninsula employee yourself, and you agree with the valid concerns I raised, I'd ask you to take a few moments to mark my review as Helpful. Perhaps if enough people do this management will stop hiding their head in the sand long enough to wake up and improve matters at the Glasgow office for those unfortunate enough still to work there.

I would note that, as of this time, Peninsula have been so disorganised that I haven't even been paid for August, let alone the part of September that I worked. (I worked from 24th Aug to 9th September inclusive, and not "a week" as claimed in Peninsula's response.) Nor have I received written confirmation of their decision to terminate my contract. Suffice to say, Peninsula's management couldn't run a bath between them. Any developer worth their salt would need to be mad or desperate to take a job with them in their Glasgow office. They are an utterly clueless employer, with only a death march project and inept, Jekyll & Hyde management to offer the next unlucky incumbent.

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Update 08 Sep: OK, I've given it a week now and my review on Glassdoor has been deleted several times. Positive reviews have meanwhile been published.  I can't help concluding that Glassdoor's review system is a sham that serves neither employees' nor employers' interests, but only the interests of Glassdoor. The fact that employers can pay to suppress negative reviews (even though Glassdoor denies this is the case), makes it no more than a blackmail scheme. Anyway, here is how my review should have looked. Decide for yourself whether there were any legitimate reasons to suppress it.

Update 09 Sep: I see the photos I submitted (posted at the bottom of the review above), which show the real working conditions at the Glasgow office and that were approved for a couple of days have been deleted now as well. Glassdoor really is a disgrace, and an insult to candidates' and employees' intelligence.

Update 10 Sep: Mysteriously, my review and photos have been placed back on Glassdoor. Guess they finally worked out that you can't suppress the whole internet. A Google Search for "Glassdoor Peninsula Business Services Glasgow" shows this blog fairly near the top, alongside the Glassdoor site. Rather than it being embedded amongst other reviews. My review will remain published here (formatted into paragraphs - the Glassdoor version is a Wall Of Text) in case they change their minds once again.

Update 23 Sep: Quelle suprise, my review on Glassdoor has been removed without consultation. Clearly all an employer has to do to whitewash their reputation on that site is ask and possibly pay for the privilege. Peninsula actually has a member of staff, Dan Grayson, dedicated to this sort of whitewashing. To quote from his own LinkedIn description his job is "researching, highlighting, promoting and sustaining Peninsula's brand and reputation online through challenging negative comments or ratings". For most companies, this isn't a problem that is even on their radar. Others, like Peninsula, are clearly so bad that it is someone's full-time job. Remember that when reviewing all those supposedly-positive reviews that remain posted on Glassdoor. Meanwhile, this blog and LinkedIn will continue to show the actual opinion of an actual Peninsula employee far more prominently in Google search results than would have been the case had my review just remained one of many on Glassdoor. Google Analytics suggests that people considering working for Peninsula are finding this information, and not just taking Glassdoor's sham reviews at face value.

Update 24 Sep: I'm approaching the end of my second week in the role I took up after departing Peninsula. It could just be that Peninsula was so bad by contrast, but I can honestly say that my new role is the best place I've ever worked. My new colleagues are fun. The management is competent but friendly. The work is challenging but doable, and the equipment we're using is top of the line. I've worked with some really great teams and some fantastic managers and developers in my 25 years in the software development industry. But this new company is the best of them all. I tried to do the right thing by Peninsula by sticking by my decision to accept their offer, even when the opportunity I'm now enjoying came calling only a few days afterwards and it was my preferred option. I'm very glad that Peninsula decided to end our relationship, freeing me to take up what has turned out to be the best role I've ever had. The Universe has a way of looking after you sometimes, I guess. :)