Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

When do We Get to Enjoy Life ?

I could whine-on for about twelve paragraphs about what I have gotten myself into, suffice it to say the following: I think my new boss is passive aggressive, the organization is seriously disorganized, I am a serious mis-match for the corporate culture, and I have only myself to blame.

To start with the party of the first part, we met at 20:00 on Tuesday evening becaue that is the first time he has had "a few minutes" to talk to me in the three and half weeks that I have been there. The most annoying comment was something along the lines of, "I'm glad to see you are finally staying with the rest of us a few nights of the week." The "rest of us" put in 12-hour days doing things that I have not quite fathomed ... I've only been putting in 10-hour days, but have been exceeding all requirements, at least as far as I can tell, except for the one that a good worker puts in 12-hour days.

I saw this one coming three weeks ago when I saw a Management presentation that said something to the effect of, "Be a good example .... Work long hours." I kid you not, they actually said that. Not something like, "Work Hard" or "Work Smart." Work long. The presumption is that working long is working hard. And they are plenty busy, but again, at what I am not certain.

I used to jab my American colleagues because they ran around all day carrying day planners and cups of coffee from one meeting to another and then complaining that they were so busy and couldn't get anything done, but when you analyzed what was going on in the meetings, most of it was re-capping the last meeting and planning the next. I think the ratio went something like 20-minutes recap, 10-minutes new progress, 20-minutes planning of the next meeting, and 10-minutes to get a cup of coffee and get to the next meeting. But at least they got out from behind their desks.

My first German colleagues would sit at their desks all morning moving a stack of papers from one side to another, all the while making phone calls and typing away at their computer. Then they would go to lunch and coffee for an hour-and-a-half. Then they came back and moved the stack back to the other side of the desk while returning the phone calls they missed at lunch. I'm sure they accomplished some things of value, but not much. Oh, by the way, at least two other coffee breaks were sprinkled in there for another hour or so of break-time. And then they would go home at roughly 7 p.m.

These were bankers, who are noted for their "long hours." In New York we started at 7 a.m. and went to 9 pm (mostly because the company picked up the cost of a limo home if you stayed until 9), but we did get out from behind our desks and we only took 45 minutes or so for lunch and breaks, if we took that. I actually miss having a sandwich at my desk!

Things seem to be changing in the Industrial Mittelstand nowadays, especially among the white collar ranks, which I have ostensibly joined. For one thing, the concept of going home by 5 pm seems to be vanishing. I have said it before and will no doubt say it again, but the Germans have a knack for imitating the worst of Anglo-American life. Part of that would be our long hours. But I do not mind working long hours if I am actually using them to accomplish something. When I feel like I am no longer accomplishing something, it is time to go home. Or to Chinese class. Or to meet with friends. Or anything else for that matter that reminds me I have a life.

Tonight (actually yesterday evening at the time I am typing this), I had Chinese class. I told my boss the evening before, after his "staying with the rest of us" comment that I do not mind putting in the long hours when it is really needed, but I only asked that he support my personal development by helping me keep Wednesday evenings free so I could get back to Frankfurt for class ... I would like to leave at 6 pm on Wednesdays unless there was a really pressing need for me to stay late. Sure enough, the first Wednesday night after that, there seemed to be a pressing need.

In fact, he didn't even wait for the evening ... after spending an hour-and-a-half in Stau (traffic congestion) in the morning, I arrived to an 8 am "urgent" e-mail asking for the latest updated EBIT projections. At 9pm the evening before, he had mentioned that I would need to gather the data and put them together into the spreadsheets our group had constructed over the past year. I should look at them the next day, and figure them out, and then plug in the data when it arrived later this week.

Now, this being the next day, I was asked for the finished product, despite not having a moment to look at the existing infrastructure and, even better, despite nobody having even asked for the data. I have not been fully introduced to the organization, so it was highly unlikely that me asking for it was going to actually get it ... that song doesn't even play in America, much less Germany, the land of K=P.

I had also mentioned to him the evening before that I had looked at the examples and while ultimately understandable, it might take me a couple hours to fully understand the structure because the calculations were spread across a half-dozen spreadsheets with a host of broken links. In programmer parlance, one would say that I was looking at Spaghetti-code ... it could be followed, but it's less like reading sheet music and more like working Sudoku. It can be done, but there is a learning curve. His comment to that was, "We hired you because you are experienced and can therefore figure these things out quicker than someone new to the field."

There is a lot of truth to that last comment, but it is extremely cocky. It was not, however, as annoying as his comment about my request for Wednesday nights, which went something like, "That is the sort of thing I will need to talk to you about when I review you, for example at the end of your Probezeit (probationary period)." I don't know if he was being positive about my self-development, or critical about my willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. I ordinarily think the best of people and their motivation, but, unlike the two interviews leading up to the offer, there was a dark-side starting to show itself.

All of which is a long way of saying, the warm fuzzies wore off some time ago. The manner in which the application for the work permit was the first warning signal. By the first day, when they told me I would be going on a business trip to visit various plants and sites the following day and that all arrangements had been made (think about that ... less than one hour on the job and I am being told, not asked, that I will be travelling for three out of the first five days on the job ... this could have been brought up in the four extra weeks I was waiting to start, but for some reason was not). I love travel ... I like it even more when I am prepared to do it. Having it sprung on me set off warning light number two. Then I was told I would attend a seminar at the end of October ... told, not consulted. I guess that is his perogative as a boss, but warning light number three goes off, and that sets off the Master Caution Light ... this guy has serious communication issues.

And I call him on it at each juncture. He admits that communication is not one of his strong suits, but that he has a lot on his plate and sometimes needs to take the most expedient approach. This, for me at least, raises questions about compatibility. I love to collaborate ... when that fails, I will respond to orders if the money is good. When both of those fail, I start checking for the exits. Since I compromised on the money, I already know my way to the nearest exit.

I hate it when that happens, because invariably it means that I am not having fun. Life is short ... why bother if you are not at least enjoying it?


Blogger Carol said...

Lemme guess: you work for Microsoft Deutschland? I COMPLETELY relate to everything you've said! But, alas and harrah, tomorrow is my last day at Microsoft (Redmond). I just totally live by a different work philosophy! Seems to me that team work and collaboration are better gor business than a kill-the-world, backstab-your-co-worker mentality. I know... I'm weird like that.

Best of luck to you in finding something more YOU. (Are you on It's a GREAT tool!)



6:06 PM, October 26, 2006  
Blogger Haddock said...

Germans working longer and getting less done......what has happened to the efficient German Worker (Myth) :)

10:31 PM, October 27, 2006  
Blogger J said...

The boss sounds like a twat. His comments about working longer hours definitely are in line with the 'more is better' thing here in Germany. If people are working longer hours, they must be getting a lot of work done.

I still don't understand that thinking.

I do agree with Haddock about the efficient German worker being a myth.

2:06 PM, October 28, 2006  
Blogger Mike B said...

Carol: No, I am not a Micro-Serf, although I did aspire to be one a few years ago. Thanks for warning me off as well as for the tip.

Haddock: I learned many years ago that it is a myth. German workers are very industrious ... they still are. When you are building cars, I guess you can become highly efficient, but when you deal in information or knowledge, it is all simply a bunch of ruffling papers.

J: He is a nice guy who is over his head, but I suspect he would try use me as a floatation device if we were ditched in the ocean. I've got to remember to carry a blunt weapon for the unlikely even ...

8:52 PM, October 28, 2006  

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