Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Safe to take a vacation?

 Image: the wonderful Despair.com
A client phoned me to tell me she was going back out to the market. I was surprised, given that she had been with her new company, in a senior position, for less than four months. [She works in the funds industry and had moved her family to mainland Europe to take up this very senior role]

"I had an interesting conversation today Rowan. I rang my boss in New York to tell him - not ask him, tell him - that I was taking next Friday off, given that the following Monday is a public holiday. Here's how the conversation went ...
Me: Just to let you know, I won't be here on Friday, I'm taking the day off to take advantage of the long weekend.
Him: You can't do that.
Me: Why not? the month-end will be locked from the previous weekend; I've bedded down all the staff in the three months I've been here, there won't be any problem ...
Him: Yeah, but you still can't do it. What kind of example would that be for your people?
Me: What do you mean? I've got 23 vacation days in my contract [god bless European contracts!] and I haven't taken any time off with my family since I got here.
Him: Yeah, you may have 23 days in your contract, but just try getting taken seriously in this company if you take 'em.
And then he hung up on me! So, I'm out of here Rowan. Polish up my CV, it's time to find a job with a civilised company."

She embarked on a rapid job-hunt, served her notice a couple of weeks later, and joined a competitor company in the same country. 

I am fascinated by the mindset of companies like that. Many years ago, I had a client who used to sit in his office, late into the night, doing crossword puzzles, waiting for his Japanese boss to go home. And his Japanese boss was sitting in his office, doing god knows what, waiting for the shihainin to go home - because the culture in that company was that you couldn't go home until your boss had. This was monumentally stupid, as it was a commodities trading firm, where useful work could only happen in the window when the markets were open. The uber-boss was probably sitting there, balancing his cheque-book, enjoying the rush of exercising his power, making his subordinates spend so many pointless hours sitting at their desks.

Even in a depressed market, how long will you tolerate this kind of neanderthal nonsense before you become a flight risk to your company? Unfortunately what I'm hearing from seminar audiences is that in a depressed market, the depressing answer is that neanderthal behaviour has become the norm and that 'civilised' companies are few and far between ...

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