Monday, July 28, 2008

How Many Days in Row Have You Worn that Shirt?

How did the culture of “I work a massive amount of hours, so I am successful” enter the mainstream of the American Professional? Just to clarify, for the purposes of this posting, I am talking specifically about people that work for a professional services company with a background in either accounting or finance (e.g. PricewaterhouseCoopers, JP Morgan).

I know many professionals, including myself, that have met this 80 hour threshold on numerous occasions. EIGHTY HOURS. For those of you not adept at arithmetic, that is TWO traditional workweeks in ONE. Many people have blown away the 80 hour week with 90 and even 100 hour weeks. I’ve even heard of 40 hour WEEKENDS. Why on earth did we do that and why do people continue to do it?

Believe it or not, some people work these hours as a badge of honor. People actually boast about the amount hours they worked yesterday, last week or last busy season. This is puzzling to me.

99.9% of people working in accounting and finance are not being paid hourly, so there is no incentive for overtime. Unless you are truly psychotic, this would not likely be a personal goal (e.g. “I’m going to work 14 hour days all week this week!”). See? Read that aloud and that just sounds nuts.

Some possible motivations might include people that want to impress their boss in order to get ahead. This makes sense because a large portion of the professionals in financial services works for a boss. 

The problem is good bosses would never ask their subordinates to work unnecessary hours.  And as we all know, there are very few good bosses but plenty of bad bosses. One trait of bad bosses is bad communication. 

If the expectation of hours to be worked isn’t clear and only an ultimate goal is known, the effort to achieve said goal is the unknown variable. Put another way using an old cliché, "the end justifies the means".  These "means" are often not elaborated on and the terrible interpretation is often made that "means" involve slowly killing yourself by sleeping three hours a night (two of which is your commute) and eating copious amounts of pizza, hot wings, and various Asian foods on a daily basis. 

Huge pressure on a big, seemingly important projects have to be completed by a certain date.  These dates are not, in any situation flexible.  "If this audit is not completed by the third Wednesday of the third month following the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, there will be HELL TO PAY."  

Take your pick: IPO, a financial statement audit, tax filing deadline, a merger or acquisition.  They're all basically the same.  Just different people wearing the same wrinkled clothes day after day, after agonizing day.

Oh, and did I mention money? The large investments banks are given business by rich people. These investment banks have to arrange for audits, filing of tax returns, due diligence (fancy business talk for making sure people aren't complete idiots), and retain other financial services in order to keep the rich people rich.

Ultimately, the people in these professions are going to continue to work the hours phantomly mandated by the project at hand. And as long as there incentives to working these crappy hours, people will continue to take the positions.

I invite anyone to share horror stories that they may have.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We're Really Sorry We're So Evil... Here's Pizza!

I got a request from a fellow cube-hand for the topic of eating at one's workspace, specifically dining on fish.

Her feeling is one of totally grossed outedness. This is understandable considering you never hear anyone say, "that mackerel smells wonderful". In general, foods that are especially fragrant should not be allowed within the confines of a cube farm.

Granted, certain "congregation foods" (e.g. pizza, Chinese take-out) are an exception but typically these are confined to one area and forces socializing so that not everyone is back at their desk immediately before piling on the drippy, cheesy grease or MSG.
That brings up the point of management's dangling of the carrot in the form of food. There is a strange pattern of behavior among many corporate management teams out there that demonstrates their feeling that food, specifically unhealthy food, somehow makes everything ok. No matter how evil their transgressions, somehow pizza (the most popular medium) makes everything ok.
I had the unfortunate experience of eating pizza every Friday for the better part of year. Clearly, management felt that they were so deeply indebted for reparations that pizza every single week for the remainder of our time on Earth was warranted.

"Caleb," you say, "you live in New York, the pizza there is great. What are you complaining about?" Well, pizza is good. But too much of good thing sometimes messes with your digestive system and stains one too many shirts to be appreciated any more. Further, I can only stuff my face with so much platitude sincerity.
But I digress. Fish at the desk. Probably a no-no. I invite other thoughts regarding food that should be banned from work spaces.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hi, I'm Bob, Partner in-Charge of...

I work for a Limited Liability Partnership or LLP. Hence, there are no shareholders but partners who are the owners of the firm. I’m told that making partner is a pretty big deal. Maybe it is but that’s really just the beginning.

After making partner, then EVERYTHING is a big deal. Where your office is, who your administrative assistant is, which partner you’re sleeping with, which partner you’re doing drugs with. Basically, it’s where the real fun starts. Most importantly, there are other partners to compete with for special, super-duper important-sounding tag names in order to earn some credibility among other partners.

Examples include: Partner in-charge of Subtle Racism, Partner in-charge of National Recruiting of Hot 20-something Girls, Partner in-charge of Tongue Lashings, Partner in-charge of Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

The point is that these partners, important as they think they are, have to make a name for themselves. How they choose to do that seems to be a matter of how many names someone in the HR department can come up with so no one is left out. Here's a quick example of an introduction at a meaningless cocktail party:

Partner #1: Hi, we haven't met. I'm Bob, Partner in-charge of Lame Cocktail Parties

Partner #2: Hi Bob. I'm Jim, Partner in-charge of Keeping Subordinates in Line

Partner #1: Oh, ok Jim. So you're responsible for making sure that when someone gets hammered at one of these lame cocktail parties that I'm in charge of, they either have partner approval or are a partner themselves.

Partner #2: That's right Bob. Sometimes your job makes my job pretty difficult. But hey, at least we're both rich!

Partner #1: That's right Jim! HAHAHAHAHA!

Parnter #2: HAHAHAHAHA!

As you can see, very important business is conducted among these partners.

The titles pretty much sum up each partner’s responsibility: Partner in-charge of Wining and Dining. Partner in-charge of Propaganda. Partner in-charge of Squashing Sexual Harassment Suits. Each partner will also be happy to tell you why he/she is so excited to be in his/her role and the importance of that role. Hence, if something is important to the firm and their isn’t a role for it, you can probably make it up and they will make the position for you.

Partner in-charge of Button-up Blue Shirts. Partner in-charge of Lame Jokes. Partner in-charge of Crappy Technology. The list goes on and on. Please feel free to share some of your favorites. I want to make sure that I’m not missing anything.

Also, please feel free to navigate outside of the LLP. Corporations will probably have more impressive positions that I’m not aware of. Sphere: Related Content