Sunday, 29 April 2012

Indecency stretched to the limit

Some of the readers of this blog know my name and surname; some of the readers know where I work and what position I hold. For the rest of the world, I try to appear as an anonymous ex-student of economics, employed by one of “Polish” banks. Rationale for concealing my identity? A down-to-earth reason is that I need publicity like a hole in the head and generally tend to avoid situations when the world revolves around me. The other motive cropped up out of the blue in 2010, when I had to familiarise with some of the internal policies (containing several dos and don’ts) set out by the corporation I work for, including the blogging policy.

At first glance it seems absurdly silly that a company may require its employees to stick to regulations concerning limitations in blogging, but if a company wants to avoid adverse publicity from its employees, maybe this is the case. I plead I haven’t learnt by heart all the drivel written there, but I keep in mind that: 1) as an employee I can’t write anything about my company nor my job (event if doesn’t involve letting in on any secrets) and sign it with my name, even if I don’t mention the name of my employer, 2) as an anonymous Internet user I don’t have to refrain from mentioning my employer’s name but I’m not advised to spread negative opinions about its business. So to comply with all the regulations there’s no author’s name, nor a company name.

If someone wishes bad on me, feel free to send link to this post to the HR department of my company. This would surely help bring forward the inevitable bitter end of the shattered relationship between by employer and me. Anyway I would appreciate if you let me put myself out of this misery on my own and only after I find a better place, which is not that easy, hence I soldier on…

This might be a matter of corporate culture. They vary across the world and companies and models of socio-economic order. In American companies direct relationships, hire-and-fire approach, flexibility and opportunities to climb the ladder of career quickly are quite typical. You can like it, or detest it, fit in, or struggle to find your way inside a specific business. But is decency, a backbone of moral fibre, a part of corporate culture? Back in 2008 when several banks at the verge of bankruptcy had to be bailed out from taxpayers’ purses, executives’ bonuses and salaries outraged everyone. Do you remember where cries of anger were the loudest? These were the United Kingdom and the United States, not only because deregulated banking industries have grown too big too fail there, but also because (Bank executive’s salary / average salary in the national economy) multipliers in Anglo-Saxon countries were incomparably higher the in more civilised countries.

Many times I’ve asserted on this blog I’m glad I live in Poland, not in the United States. I also stressed the soundness of Polish banking system, prudently managed, wisely regulated and lacking depravities typical for developed investment banks. My general take on the Polish commercial banking has not changed. I still hold it as a whole in high esteem, there are just some exceptions that prove the rule…

One of the differences between Polish and American banking is a position of banks and its employees in the national economy. Financial sector in Poland is not a significant contributor to wealth creation as in Anglo-Saxon countries. Moreover, Polish commercial bankers, unlike their colleagues from investment banks, are ordinary people who don’t earn zillions and whose conduct is usually governed by moral principles, not only by pursuit of profits.

In Anglo-saxon investment banking, weaselling into the industry was (is?) one of few ways to grow rich quickly and legally (this doesn’t imply ‘in morally acceptable way). In Poland, if your expertise is above-average, you can count on above-average earnings, but don’t expect appallingly high salary. In investment banking, profits are distributed between: executives, employees and owners, the rest of the society and the state do not benefit from their activity. In Poland these are only executives and (foreign) owners that reap profits from banks’ activity.

To cut this long considerations short, I’m getting at the question whether a company can prosper at the expense of its employees? How long can you exploit workforce before they show you their middle fingers and quit? How big gaps between executives’ and rank-and-files’ remunerations are acceptable? Bigger responsibilities and higher qualifications must mean the higher your position, they higher your earnings must be, this is natural. Only the size of disproportion in earnings can be a matter of a dispute. How should employees’ contribution to a company’s prosperity be rewarded?

The other story is how executives participate in an austerity programmes they pursue in their companies. I know one company which has been more or less successfully turning around for a while. It has changed its strategy, pulled out from unprofitable business lines, laid off over 10% of its staff and continues to terminate contracts with employees. This year to show financial standing of the company is improving and to appreciate the contribution of employees to this success, most of the staff were granted a 10 PLN before tax pay rise. Getting it? Ten zlotys minus income tax, even too little to get hammered in despair! Some people who heard about it told it was a joke, I call it a slap in the face, especially if from the annual report of that company (quoted on the stock exchange) you can learn that its executives remunerations have increased by 30 – 50%. Pay rise of 10 PLN vs. pay rise of 1,000,000 PLN – just fair? This remuneration model is a sort of ‘privatising profits and socialising losses’.

The answer to the question I asked in a civilised world must be ‘no’. On a properly functioning market best employees would refuse to put up with such uncivilised treatment and would flee to work for competitors. Things aren’t so simple when labour market in a specific industry is characterised by over-supply of workforce – this is visible in Polish banking. A good banker will find a job, but room for salary negotiations has shrunk…

Not long ago my opinion on activity of trade unions was similar to this espoused by Mrs Thatcher. I thought trade unionists were spongers with endless unfounded pay rise demands, paralysing growth of businesses. I still see many times they act with detriment to their companies, but where I work things look much different. In pathological situations, such as described above, trade unions are the only organisation capable of standing up for indecently treated employees. Oddly enough, trade unions’ bargaining power is bigger in companies where employees are treated well…

Much has changed since I wrote my summary some three months ago (not only the temperature which is now some 50 degrees higher than then). I have been assigned more duties and given more responsibilities. This has upsides – new challenges, learning & development opportunities and downsides – no measurable reward in return. With each next week I feel more encumbered and less motivated. With a bold face I face new challenges take up more tasks, try to complete them all, but seeing to appreciation of my efforts I can’t see my future where I work. I’ll grind my teeth and wait until I hit two-years’ experience as an analyst, after which I’ll be fulfilling all the criteria in most job openings. Best people I work with are on the lookout for better places to work. If they quit, there’ll be no reason to stay in, and without them this ill-run boat will sink. I’m worried about the number of fatalities, but given the way it is managed, it will meet a well-deserved fate.

So bitter… Am I getting acrimonious?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Wedding after-thoughts

And so the season of knot-tying in 2012 kicked off. For no apparent reason, each such ceremony brings forth several more or less incongruous considerations in me.

Before the event I thought my friend’s wedding would be a great opportunity for our class to meet up. Unsurprisingly, as I pitched up to the scene, I went through a reality check. Albeit I can’t say this was a big let-down, par for the course, given six years that have elapsed since we went separate ways. There were five of us, including me, all boys, the four other still staying in quite close friendship with the groom. So most bonds in my high-school class have broken up…

The number of guests generally wasn’t staggering. Actually this was the third consecutive wedding I attended with a quite low turnout. So the ones that come over are usually family and close friends, plus, judging by the behaviours of some attendees, some onlookers. It’s nice to have a crowd, but I’m bracing myself for a sparse one on my own wedding… Fellow bloggers will be invited anyway.

A wedding is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony. So how the hell can somebody turn up half an hour late for it? Prudent people take precautions and try to anticipate hitches when they plan. I set off from home 50 minutes before the beginning of the mass in the church and my journey went on smoothly until I got stuck in stationary traffic on Dolinka Służewiecka. Eventually, instead of being 30 minutes earlier, I came less than ten minutes earlier, but still was punctual.

Attire and general appearance. Maybe I’m too conservative, but I’m of the opinion casual clothes, dishevelled hair and dirt behind nails are not the apposite type of look a wedding guest should present. Dark suit, white shirt, impeccably knotted tie and properly polished patent leather shoes are a must. Maybe some people refuse to wear such clothes because they feel ill-at-ease when they put them on, maybe for some people occasions to wear elegant outfits are so rare that it makes no sense to keep them in the wardrobe, but gosh… The way you dress reflects upon your respect for fellow people and bears testimony of your sense of situation. Being overdressed maybe be as bad as being underdressed, but in the case of wedding, I’d focus on the latter risk.

Get-together with high-school classmates reminded me, again, people are made of different substances. In primary school I met children from my neighbourhood, from wealthier and poorer families, whose parents were university graduates or vocational school-leavers, from “normal” or pathological families. In middle school my entourage stayed roughly the same. Then I got in to a relatively good high school in Warsaw. More of my classmates had wealthier, better educated parents, lived in Warsaw or on the suburbs and virtually all of them were clever or hard-working. Then I went to Warsaw School of Economics, where I encountered the pick of Poland’s youth interested in economics, finance and other similar sciences. The further I went, the more high-flyers I could meet on my way. Some of my friends from primary school ended up as hairdressers or roofers, some are housewives. My high-school classmates are set up well in life mainly thanks to support of their parents. What I owe to my mother and father is negligible to what they got, but I don’t envy them. If better shapes you up, if you achieve something in life with your bare hands, but most people would prefer to live conveniently and have their parents paying for that.

And one more thing – what’s so poignant about weddings that so many people cry? Again, the bride interchangeably wept and laughed and this time several men shed tears. Why? Leave out crying is considered unmanly, but I can’t discern the reason. What’s so moving about two people of different sex promising each other love, faith and staying together till death tears them apart? I can only admire them for their bravery. Simply I never met somebody with who I would want to share my good and bad days, with who I would like to grow old. Once I met a girl I felt would make a great wife and good friend, which is essential for spending the rest of life together, but never felt something people call ‘love’ could last until the end of my days.

My mastery in economics doesn’t allow me to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, but I feel as a downright cynic right now. I saw some marriages breaking up, saw some of them swearing before God they wouldn’t part. Having observed this, marriage vows, especially spoken out in a church (where they swear before God, not before a clerk in a registry office) resound to me like hollow words. Now, you’re in love (incidentally, yesterday’s wedding was organised in haste, due to bride’s pregnancy), you’re intoxicated, one day infatuation is gone and you’ll have to share ups and downs of ordinary life, put up with habits and traits of your spouse. Time puts people to tough tests and maybe this is the reason why I would be wary to promise ‘forever and ever’…

Yesterday I had the impression my classmates haven’t grown up since we finished school. Time to get off their backs. Having written the paragraph above, I proved my own immaturity. Bartuś, time to grow up…

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Manners, they matter

Last Monday I mentioned the wedding invitation I’d received out of the blue then. My first reaction was to attend the event, but on second thoughts… I turned down the invitation, just like three-fourth of the invited with the appalling five-day advance notice.

I don’t know whether anyone recalls the commemorations of 90th anniversary of regaining independence by Poland, held in Teatr Wielki in Warsaw in November 2008. The celebration was staged by late president’s office and heads of other states received invitations two or three weeks before the event, so most eminent politicians whose calendars are carefully filled in many months’ advance, failed to show up. The absence of many figures was the price paid for ignorance of diplomatic protocol. But at that time bad organisation resulted only in a diplomatic slip-up, but some seventeen months later, the Polish (and Russian as well) bylejakość (what’s the English for this???) led up to a huge tragedy…

On second thoughts it occurred to me this I would have to bring forward handling lots of things I’d had planned for the current weekend. If I was to attend the wedding, I’d have to think about a small gift (or chip in with someone), iron a better shirt kept in the chest of drawers for special occasions, vacuum-clean my car inside and wash its bodywork (after being washed in early November 2011, it’s surprisingly clean)… And given the scarcity of time in the evenings on weekdays, this would have to be completed by early afternoon on Sunday. The outing began to seem impractical.

Having in mind the form (creating the event of facebook and putting all friends on the list of invited guests) and the jaw-dropping advance notice, I decided to take advice of a few friends (all not knowing the host of the wedding and thus not invited). They all in unison advised me to decline the invitation. Firstly due to the form, secondly on account of when it had been sent.

One of my friends as a matter of principle doesn’t attend weddings for which she receives invitations on facebook. She argues she feels like wypełniacz kościoła, literally ‘church filler-in’, or more deftly, ‘crowd-maker’. Others told me by inviting so people so late, my high-school friend had showed little respect for other people’s time. And I have to say my time is precious enough not to waste it with someone who doesn’t respect it.

No wonder so many of the potential guests refused to show up. Actually most people usually plan something for the weekend and if at the beginning of the week such information comes up, some are likely to be reluctant to drop everything. Maybe many noticed the same what I did – it’s no effort to mark all names on friend list (for my friend 378; who said one’s tribe can’t count more than 150 people?) and invite them. I’m not talking about the costs now. In these times virtually everyone turns thrifty and saves on whatever they can, so I don’t hold it against them that they hadn’t printed invitations and hadn’t sent them out to everyone in beautiful envelopes. It’s always nice to be handed such invitation and I even keep the ones I received, but being notified in a more modern way is not the reason to take umbrage. But that very invitation wasn’t personal at all. I’m not sure my friend realised she had invited me at all. It’s always to have a crowd in the church, it’s always nice to deceive oneself that you have a lot of friends (half of them would be hanging around and backbiting you, but good impression for aunties remains), but Good Lord, etiquette matters.

When speaking about financial aspect of weddings, it has to be underlined lavish weddings for 200 guests, costing tens of zlotys, an equivalent of price of a brand-new compact car, are becoming the thing of the past. This trend proves positive impact of the crisis (it can be seen negative by wedding-organisers whose firms may drop like flies). I attended three such weddings in 2007 and 2008 and remember them as a huge waste of money. Squandering fifty thousand zlotys for a one-night event to have some nice photos, film or memories for the rest of life (an upbeat assumption, as one of those three marriages broke up, for the other couple life’s not a bed of roses and only the third bygone newlyweds are living a happy life) still seems to me at least silly. Young people and their parents have finally realised that it’s better to spend the same money on a few square metres of own flat or in another wise way, for something durable, rather to throw it about within one night.

And actually what has put me off attending the wedding yesterday was how it would be perceived among my ex-classmates. This would have been a great opportunity to show off. Good clothes, good jobs, money, cars – no one would fail to stress how prosperous they are, or if in fact they aren’t, they would lean over backwards to pretend they are.

Next week I’m attending the wedding and actually not to keep my head down I’ll fit in to this hideous custom. Or should I defy it, leave the car at home, go by bus in my oldest, worn-out suit and tell my ex-classmates I earn peanuts?

A longer follow-up in two weeks’ time, when I plan to impudently violate one policy…

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter break musings

A peculiar jumble of random thoughts that have haunted me over the last days… (and my 300th post)

Good Friday. One of those days in the office when everyone is counting down minutes till the shop closes. An unwritten rule states everyone is free to knock off at two p.m. The head of my department is the first to give a cue to go home at ten past two. He’s been puzzlingly laid-back over the past weeks, coming to work late, leaving home early. His light-heartedness gets more and more disturbing, chiefly in the light of my ex-manager’s promotion to a position in the international structures of our corporation. His devil-may-care attitude has two-fold implications: the pressure under which I am is not formally strong (I have to keep self-supervising myself), but one day this will lead to serious business failure and guess who’ll be to blame for it…

I decided to sit longer than others to catch up with some overdue work. Being one of few workers in the open plan gives the opportunity to overhear what can’t be loudly said when everyone’s around. And so I learn this year’s bonus and pay rise funds will be kind of meagre. Well, it’s best to save on human capital that keeps this boat afloat, but if the remuneration policy is carried on like this, best employees will seek better paid positions outside (provided the market doesn’t slump, which is conceivable) and the boat will sink. This would be a well-deserved end… Additionally after over a year I clearly notice those who spend the most time in the office to don’t work the hardest, or the most efficiently. Often when I observe some people I conclude they could easily do the job which takes them eleven hours a day within eight hours, if only they could better organise their duties. Sometimes I think sitting from dawn to dusk in the office is a sort of lifestyle or a way of filling in emptiness. But hang on, some of those people have families, but quite probably their wives and children prefer when they’re away from home. Stop, it’s getting too bitter. I strive to perform my tasks possibly efficiently and not keep late hours in the office to be appreciated by superiors. Wise managers mind the outcome, not the effort.

Who was the dim-witted one to hatch the idea that public transport should run according to weekend timetable? The journey from work to P&R Stokłosy, normally lasting 35 minutes has taken me a quarter longer. Fortunately enough, the worst traffic on ul. Puławska are over (I deliberately waited it out the office), but traffic remains dense. Just like before each Christmas, Easter, long weekend, many migrants living in Warsaw “go home”. There is a even a term coined to describe people who’ve come from provincial Poland to Warsaw in search for a better life. These are słoiki, literally ‘jars’. This offensive term derives from the fact that every time they travel to their relatives somewhere in Poland, they put empty jars into the boots of their cars and when returning to Warsaw, they bring supplies of food in jars. I’m not sure whether the term applies to rickety cars on provincial number plates, or to their drivers with poor driving skills, for whom traffic in Warsaw is too difficult to handle… Słoiki appear as scapegoats on TVN Warszawa forum, whenever a car on LLU, BHA, LHR, TST or other in-the-sticks plates causes an accident in the capital or, as in the linked article, when such clapped-out vehicle disintegrates on the road...

Saturday, chilly and drizzly, reminds me of weather on Saturday 10 April 2010. That day was also gloomy and ugly. The second anniversary of Smolensk disaster is nearing. Today Mr Kaczynski is about to speak to its followers. I don’t really care, I let things drift…

Sunday. There was no snow for Christmas, so may it be for Easter. 8 a.m., temperature +1C and little snow falling on the ground. Not a pleasant weather to go outside, but it’s time to set off to pick up my grandparents from Konstancin and then to visit the family in Ursus, Warsaw. The streets are almost empty, one can spot only cars on Warsaw number plates, so with my WPI plate I feel like a countryman. Family gathering runs its course as usual. For a good start again disputes whether Russians had planted a bomb in Polish TU-154 that crashed near Smolensk, whether anyone could survive an impact at the speed of 260 kmph, or how come engines were gradually reducing revolutions after the explosion. Not to mention claims who is an expert in physics and aviation. Neither impresses me my cousin, bringing his father on accelerating his car to 180 kmph, touching a birch with a wing mirror to see what happens. Hearing for the tenth time if Mr Tusk was a man of honour he would have shot himself in a head doesn’t make lose my patience. But the mere thought that one day I will have to take my girlfriend for a family round-up fills me with dread. But actually from what I’ve seen in many families such gatherings are not a bed of roses… Just recalled one day Toyah was taken aback when he found out most of my relatives, both on my mother’s and father’s side vote for PiS

Then my parents and I go for a walk to ul. Piastowska and ul. Regulska to see the progress on S2 construction. Not much has changed here since the previous Easter. The level of pessimism in me has risen since writing last week’s summary on road building programme. We’ll visit the site next year to see the progress of works. I don’t expect it to be finished in April 2013…

Woken up by beautiful sunlight today to see –4C on thermometer. This also happens on Easter Monday. I logged on facebook to get the invitation for my high school friend’s wedding, held on Saturday, yes on 14 April 2012. Great to have the advance notice – I wonder how many of the invited will drop everything, abandon their plans to show up? I will pop over anyway, it’d be a pleasure to participate in such event. Wedding season 2012 kicks off a week earlier. Coming back to the form, have social media impacted etiquette so considerably? Would facebook be the way of informing people of weddings? Would traditional invitation cards become the thing of the past? And if somebody doesn’t sign up, would they be omitted or assigned the status of socially dead? Till now, I haven’t accepted, nor declined the invitation, just watching others’ reactions…

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Roads to nowhere...

For starters, a disclaimer – it’s April Fool’s Day, but please don’t try to seek out any joke in this posting (with hindsight, there’s one, linguistic). The topic broached today is, in the light of the imminent European Football Championship, no laughing matter… I travelled recently around Poland, had the opportunity to see the progress of road construction works, found out about the advancement of developments I couldn’t look over in Skyscrapercity relevant threads and the summary of what I’ve learnt appears pretty dire.

Let’s bring this chaos into numerical order… A helping hand is lent by continually updated stats coming from the ever-excellent Skyscrapercity forum – map and table. For the sake of brevity and my limited time frame, only the most important undertakings are listed below.

A1 motorway – three sections between Toruń and Łódź are to be opened on 30 April 2012. I drove over the A1 near Stryków last week and the road is almost ready, with sound barriers installed and lamp posts turned on, but the last layer of tarmac didn’t seem laid (was in the evening, so I’m not sure), but on Friday I cut through it near Kutno, where National Road 92 and A1 are to cross and I’m sure they won’t make it…

A2 motorway – great to have a toll road (with some short free of charge sections) all the way from the German border east to Stryków, where on a big junction A1 and A2 one day will meet. But then in Stryków masses of football fans travelling from the western Europe will end their journey via up-to-the standard roads and will continue the drive to Warsaw through old, congested National Road 2. There’s no chance that two out of five sections of A2 between Łódź and Warsaw forsaken in June 2011 by bankrupt Chinese companies will be finished, or at least passable. Funnily enough, two sections near Warsaw are almost finished, so there’s a contingency plan that they are opened, as scheduled (the one closest to Warsaw even one month before deadline), but does it make any practicable solution. The motorway would end in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Grodzisk Mazowiecki. For the locals – a great link to the capital, for transit traffic – a useless facility.

S2/S79 expressway – what a botch-up. The section from Junction Puławska, through Lotnisko to Marynarska was, according to preliminary plans, supposed to be opened in December 2011 and then in April 2012. If it is ready in April 2013 it will be a success, given the current progress of works, chiefly the fact that digging the tunnel under Warsaw-Radom rail line, is just about to kick off… Shame! The section from junction Lotnisko to junction Konotopa, where S2 will turn A2 and meet existing S8 section has a bit of better progress, but if any part of the Southern bypass of Warsaw is opened by the end of this year, I’m a Dutchman. And the rescheduled opening day is 31 August 2012. I don’t believe it!

A4 motorway – running from the Polish-German border in Zgorzelec, through Wrocław, Opole, Silesia to Kraków was supposed to be finished up to the Polish-Ukrainian border. No such luck, road builders are in the forest

S7 expressway running from Gdańsk to Zakopane is a big blend of single- and dual-carriageway sections. Some, including southern Gdańsk bypass and some section in Warmia, which could come in useful for me in August, when I’m heading to Olsztyn… I’m finding it hard to judge whether the Nidzica – Olsztynek section (crucial for me) will be opened for traffic… On the other side of Warsaw I have to admit the already opened sections of expressway between Grójec and Kielce superbly facilitate the drive to the former destination.

S8 expressway – oh, how to cut the long story short. Wrocław has a beautiful bypass, which incidentally has a status of motorway (and prime minister Tusk pledged it would not be a toll road). Heading towards Warsaw we come across a few kilometres long expressway being a bypass of Oleśnica, two expressway sections are being built between Wrocław and Oleśnica and between Oleśnica and Syców. There were scheduled to be completed in late May 2012, now they might be passable then, but finished in the second half of the year. Further sections of S8 between Syców and Łódź are to by built by 2015. Additionally there is a huge 100-kilometres long section of National Road 8 dual carriageway being modernised to fit the parameters of an expressway. Driving there between Piotrków Trybunalski and Mszczonów is a big nuisance and guess what – this undertaking won’t be finished before football championship as well (deadline of 5 June 2012 is out of reach)… Further north S8 looks like S7, i.e. you have a few kilometres of new expressway and then take a break to drive a section of old National Road 8 which takes you to another section of S8, on and on. New expressway sections of S8 north-east of Warsaw to be opened this year are the bypass of Zambrów and Białystok-Jeżewo section. But the most urgent ones, not started yet, are the bypass of Marki and a road out of Warsaw south, passing by the ever-clogged-up Raszyn and Janki…

The saddest thing about the whole Road Construction Programme is not that it was designed to serve the next generations, but only to modernise road infrastructure before the oncoming football fete. I also hold the opinion we shouldn’t be ashamed of how Poland looks (we’ll be, just look at how W-wa Zachodnia station), but it’s not a primary goal to make the roads passable for Euro 2012. Football fans will see a big construction site, or rather mess, so I don’t see any point in excessive hurrying to finish some works before the championship, if the haste would impinge on quality of the ventures. These roads should serve for years to come Poland and its economy, not to foreign footballs fans, who’ll come here for three weeks, spend some money here and return to their homelands.

I’m not a football fan, so in June I’ll surely watch a few games, but I’ve scheduled my summer holidays from 11 to 21 June and I’ll be glad to stay away from Warsaw. I’ll going by car, so I would appreciate anyway, if some of the roads I mentioned (sections of S8 from Warsaw to Wrocław under construction) had temporarily the status of “passable”… On 29 March the parliament discussed the so-called “passability law”, which is set to allow to temporarily use of unfinished, but passable roads (with some limitations), legal implications are unclear…