Tag Archives: time

Jobs: desperate times?

I’ve been hiring recently. Not for my company, but for a client of mine based in the USA – so it’s a US company asking my company in Brazil to help them find someone in Colombia or Mexico. The world of work has come a long way from the old paper ad in a newsagents window.

What has really interested me about this – more than any other hiring process I have been involved in – is how I have been deluged with emails and messages from people who have no experience or qualifications for the job on offer.

I have had several emails that could be described as begging letters, pleading with me to give the person a chance even though they are from an entirely different field and some of them don’t even speak Spanish – a prerequisite to work in Mexico.

It just made me think. There are an enormous number of opportunities for jobs in the fast growing Latin markets – such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, but people really want more autonomy. They want to be able to balance their work and life more effectively.

I know people in São Paulo who take a couple of hours to get to work. The same again to get home. Add in 9 or 10 hours at the office and then there is no time left for anything other than sleep.

The job I am offering pays pretty well, allows for regular travel to the USA, and allows the employee to work from home, or a cafe, or wherever they choose – it’s very flexible and this seems to be something that people here are desperate to find.

Is this the same back in the UK? I’m not sure. Maybe things have changed recently? Maybe people are becoming more demanding, or maybe people just don’t waste so much of their life commuting in the UK?

Epidemia de Pánico / Panic Epidemy

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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

Email: The time bandit

I was on the road travelling and working for the past two weeks. Sometimes sleeping on planes and working from airports, sometimes at conferences – I did five events in those two weeks involving four talks and one where I was doing the official social media coverage.

During this time, my email stacked up. If you have been waiting for me to reply to something then I apologise. Today was my first proper day in front of my desk for a couple of weeks and I have nearly 500 messages in my inbox today and about 350 of those are unread.

I probably get the same amount of email as most professionals. A few important mails, a few that can wait, and a lot of junk… whether it’s actual spam or just notifications about this or that on ebay or the social networks.

But email takes time. Each mail has to be read, even just to decide whether to delete or file it. I now hate it when companies email me press releases when they could be using a social network such as Twitter – I can see far more quickly on Twitter whether something is worth pursuing or not.

At least I don’t organise my time by email. I know of many people whose working day is dictated by what arrives in the inbox… I usually have a to-do list that has nothing to do with the arriving email.

But everywhere I have been travelling on my journey has had connectivity, so in theory I could have been checking my mails in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. But the reality is that when travelling on business, your time is packed with more important things than sitting in front of a list of emails. The day, from breakfast to dinner is usually packed with meetings or talks or other work.

But if this prioritisation of time is how I behave when travelling, then the obvious question has to be, why do I suddenly have time to deal with the deluge of email when I get back to the office or my home?

If my time is too valuable when on the road, then surely it is even more valuable when I am working hard on the things that I get paid for.

So here is a new resolution for 2012. I’m going to spend a short amount of time, maybe 15-20 minutes at the start and end of each working day, checking for important email. Anything else I don’t have time for is just going to get binned.

Will I lose anything valuable? Will I miss something vital? Or will I just reclaim wasted time and start resetting my priorities back to spending more time on what I actually get paid for?Bizarro-email-hell

Time is money

A short note to the business leaders of Brazil… If someone spends an hour or more travelling to see you, then you make them wait in reception for more than one hour before informing them that you are running late and might not be able to do the meeting after all then you have just cost the organisation of your visitor at least half a day of time.

It does not imply status to keep people waiting and it’s not culturally acceptable just because “this is Brazil”… It demonstrates that you can’t organise your diary – and if you can’t organise your diary then God help the thousands of people in your organisation looking to you for inspiration.

Perhaps some Brazilian executives might want to take a lead from Narayana Murthy in India – a man with billions in the bank yet he has never cancelled a meeting on anyone once it has been committed to his diary.

The Brewmaster