Tag Archives: french

Is it really so strange to leave work at 5.30pm?

I once moved job from a French financial services company to an American one – Société Générale to Sanford Bernstein. My new boss was based in New York and he used to endlessly mock the holidays we were given by our employers in Europe.

After one particularly “hilarious” episode talking to him about holidays, I reminded him that I had moved from a job where I had annual leave of 30 days to his company where I was only permitted 20 – and that was the absolute minimum allowed under EU law. He claimed that I should be grateful because in New York he gets a week off for Christmas and a week off in the summer for a family vacation.

I never even wanted to move from a French company to an American one. The bank was reducing headcount by 50% (in London) and I was offered a job in Paris, Bangalore, or half my annual salary to leave the firm. So I took the money, left, and was in the new job within weeks.

This macho work culture also prevailed in the London office of Bernstein. I would get my work done and head off home at about 5.30pm most days. I almost always had to listen to colleagues calling out jibes such as “…going home now? Part-time or what?”

Frankly it never bothered me. I was getting paid more than the guys calling out and boasting about their long hours – who is the fool when you are putting in more hours for less cash? And looking back now, I know that spending long evenings at the office would never have made me any happier. Why do people do it?

I started thinking about my former employer when I read the breathless reports that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5.30pm each day so she can enjoy dinner with her family each evening. The way it is reported makes it appear unusual for American office-based employees to leave work before 8pm – and assuming they might spend an hour getting home, then having dinner, it means that for most people it is normal to not enjoy any free time after work . The day is just commute then work then commute then eat then bed.

I work with clients now who respond to emails 24/7, schedule calls when they are on family holidays, and never seem able to switch off. Has it really got so bad that employees are now expected to be walking around DisneyWorld with their family and yet still taking calls from the office? This really happened on a conference call I participated in recently – with the guy at Disney trying to focus on work and keep his kids busy at the same time. What a multi-tasking dad!

I realise that in a tough economic climate people are scared and will do whatever they can to appear invaluable to the company, but why don’t employers switch the emphasis on what they expect of people to the output and value rather than time? If the employee is clear on what is expected for them to be judged successful in their job then the emphasis can be shifted away from long hours appearing to be impressive – if you know you are delivering for the company then you can feel comfortable heading home to see the family.

Of course, many people fear the idea that they might be judged on results rather than just time and apparent effort. It means that the less successful members of the team cannot hide their inability just by working 12-hour days when others can achieve more in 8 hours.

But while America – and the world in general – focuses on long hours as the key to remaining in a job, expect family problems and mental health issues to soar. If only companies learned to measure employees by what they achieve, rather than the hours they spend achieving.

Only psychiatrists benefit from the present approach, and I bet they get home in time for dinner with the kids.

Sunbathing?

Photo by David Reid licensed under Creative Commons

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French government subsidises music

Why on earth is the French government subsidising music purchases?

They say it is to get people into the habit of purchasing music, rather than stealing it through online file sharing. Did any of the bureaucrats ever consider that French citizens might use up their free allowance and then return to file sharing?

The big issue with music is that we are moving from a world where the consumer paid for a physical recording (LP, CD…), to a digital download (MP3), to access only. That’s right – even the MP3 files on your iPod will seem archaic when the next generation of iPods allows you to choose an artist or song, which it then automatically streams.

Most new TVs are already Internet-enabled, you can flick through YouTube as you watch regular TV. Imagine once car stereos, home audio systems, and iPods are all geared up for constant Internet access? There is no need to ever own a physical music product – you just pay for a song as you play it or pay a monthly access fee allowing you all you want to play.

Spotify uses this model already. The one thing that prevents it becoming the norm is that playback devices are still not ready for streaming-only – most people using Spotify are still playing the songs on their computer. But it won’t be long. It’s common to see streaming jukeboxes in pubs now – a jukebox with every song ever recorded and released. And that is what we will all have at home soon, a sound system with access to every song ever recorded.

The future is how you purchase access to recorded music, not purchasing a copy of recorded music.

Charts will be based on plays, rather than sales, and artists will be (more than ever) focused on live performance, merchandise, and specialist products – like the 78rpm vinyl version of the new Elvis Costello album. Who can even play a 78 these days?

Music is entirely changing and for a government to waste tax-payers money on a scheme that encourages ‘legal’ digital downloads is outrageous.

Trocadero and Eiffel Tower

When I’m 64…

I saw this BBC report on French protests about the retirement age being raised to 62. Of course, the typical French disdain for England is annoying – the same old stereotypes being dredged up by French protestors.

But the real point applies to France and England – and most of Western Europe equally – who is going to be paying the state pension by the time I ‘retire’? I personally think that the concept of the third age, rather than a retirement, will have become normal by the time I am 65.

By third age, I mean it will be normal to enter into a new career, to use your life experience working with a charity, or working on the local council… doing something useful that is still work and probably still pays something – though far less than you would have earned during your main career. But by that time most of us won’t have a need to support kids or a mortgage anymore, so income requirements should be more modest anyway.

What I don’t expect is that I can hit the age of 65 and suddenly put my feet up and retire from work, to live out the next 20 years on the golf course.

In Britain, it’s the present taxpayers who pay the state pension through their tax. The older people claiming pensions will suggest that they have paid into their NI pot and now they are just claiming it back, but there is no bank account they are paying into, it’s the young workers paying their pension. The stakeholder pension was the first step towards trying to shift people to a sense of personal responsibility for their old age, but I’m not sure I have met anyone who actually has a stakeholder pension.

Perhaps it sounds too harsh and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ to suggest that personal responsibility needs to make a return – rather than a blind reliance on the state, but European demographics are not favourable. There will be far more old people as I age and fewer young workers paying income tax. Immigration would be the only real solution and yet that’s not something most politicians are welcoming either…

If you are ‘retiring’ 20 or 30 years from now then don’t look to the state to pay for your every need. Or if you think that’s an unreasonable assumption to make, then get out on the street and throw a few bricks – like the French.
Entire family over 100