Sunday, 29 November 2015


For sacrifice comes the reward. Early this week the New Factory took us to a SPA resort for a two-day rest (officially to discuss execution of strategy for 2015 and talk over strategy for 2016; a purpose justified by tax reasons), so instead of minding the shop, my colleagues and I enjoyed ourselves in a resort somewhere 200 kilometres from Warsaw.

This was my first trip to SPA in my life and given cost of such pleasure, the next one will also be paid by someone else ;-). The very massages and other relaxing treatments were for me, as a male, tedious. Lying back for more than an hour does not square with my notion of perfect leisure, which should involve some physical exercise. Anyway, apart from boring doing-nothing we could enjoy other facilities: outdoor cycling (debatable how much pleasure it gives when the temperature is near freezing), swimming pool, jacuzzi, etc.

The biggest drawback of the trip is that I could not cut myself off work as I would have loved to, but had to turn on computer four times during two days to push some stuff forward. Besides, a stay in SPA is good for a weekend rest, but not for a week or two.

Plus even for a well-off banker the price of such enjoyment is steep. A week-long stay for a couple would set you back five thousand zlotys, money which could buy you decent holidaying several thousand kilometres from Poland, not in a four-star resort at the back of beyond. Nevertheless, the facility seems to be targeted at corporations with generous integration budgets and private individuals with lots of dough to throw about. To my surprise, the only guests apart from us, corpo-folks, were some Russians (I’d thought economic misery out there would lead to dramatic drop in Russian tourists visiting Poland). The next day folks from a renowned pharmaceutical company were due to show up. One could argue, whether spending on average 800 PLN per person for such trip is the most reasonable way of managing a company’s profit and loss account, yet since if the integration budget is not used in one year, next year it is be reduced, temptation to spend someone else’s money is strong…

On our way back we popped over to a museum of Mazovian countryside in Sierpc. Well-maintained, yet on late-November weekday desolated. A guide showed us around large and well-groomed sites. This is the essence of Mazovian landscape. One would love to submerge in this stillness, yet Warsaw inescapably beckons…

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Czy to jest k… życie?

Never wanted to work at big four and the likes.

Never been attracted nor impressed by pace and style of work those firms stand for.

Never envied friends who had pursued their careers there, despite their higher earnings.

But whenever I heard stories of people knocking off at midnight or spending weekends in the office or in front of their company laptops, I wondered what had prompted them to make such career choices and why (most of them) had not given up on them. There are three reasons that come to my mind when you ask me to put across why somebody bends over backwards and sacrifices their best years to a wicked corporation…

Firstly, money. Full stop.

Secondly, it is the stepping stone. You sacrifice some three years which begin around the time you graduate and at the age of, say, 26 or 27, you are a valuable employee who can pick and choose from decent, rather nine-to-five jobs with a monthly basic five-digit pre-tax salary.

Thirdly, whatever turns you on. I see there are people who are in their element when overloaded with work, struggling to meet deadlines, racing for bonuses with fellow workmates and genuinely draw pleasure from toiling away.

In Polish banking, work style does not resemble neither the big four torment, nor the investment banking style characteristic for the City or Wall Street. An ordinary folk, if they are to imagine a bank employee, they will most probably see someone sitting in a bank branch and foisting cash loans or mortgages or deposits or other lousy “products” on benighted clients. Those people, working in retail branches, making up majority of banking sector employees in Poland are poorly paid, fall victims to mobbing and are forced to meet exorbitant sales targets. No wonder staff turnover in branches is high.

Besides, there is a world in between the City and the branches. These are head office of banks registered in Poland. Work there does not resemble what goes on in the City, yet salaries also are far lower. Bankers in Poland generally do not work 70 hours per week, but their bonuses will not buy them flats in Warsaw. Albeit, it has to be noted, in legendary late 1990s and before 2005, when property prices were reasonable and banking sector in Poland had its best years in terms of profits, decent annual bonuses of senior specialists or managers were high enough to buy a small flat. Years from 2006 to 2008 were the three last years when sky-high bonuses were witnessed. Unfortunately, since property prices skyrocketed, purchasing power of bonuses drastically dwindled. Then Lehman Brothers went into the wall and banks across the world, in order to shield their profitability, began to rip off clients even more and cut costs internally, which involved nothing else but cutbacks.

Cost restructuring and employment restructuring have been on-going processes for seven years now and though more work needs to be done to keep banks expanding, fewer people do this and the trend cannot be attributed to technological progress, since we are here talking about highly-qualified staff whose work might not be replaced by computers.

The New Factory is also in the state of flux. There have been some redeployments here and there inside the organisation, as a result of which I got transferred to another team, with exactly the same duties and along with another person I had to take over duties of someone who now is attempting to pursue career outside the New Factory. Needless to say, the transfer (effective as of 1 November 2015) was communicated to me as appreciation of my excellent work and proof of trust senior managers put in me.

The actual outcome is that I spend around ten hours a day at work, my pace of work is frenetic enough to pose excessive risk of mistakes and not allowing me to adhere to principles of diligence. Plus I was falling behind with work, so in order to catch up and meet all deadline, I ended up with the company notebook at home over the weekends. In spent most of the weekend two weeks ago working and nearly the whole Saturday a week ago. Most stuff I had to deal with got finalized this week, but I had lots of small overdue issues to carry through, so I got immediately fixed up with VPN, allowing me to have access to company mailbox and network resources everywhere where I have access to the Internet. The new handcuffs are of course another accolade…

The only question is how long can one carry on like this. Out of 22 days which have passed in November, I had three when I was completely off work. Forgetting about work and turning off one’s mind in such circumstances is difficult. To boot, the excessive involvement in workplace goings-on appears compulsive. Over five years spent in banking I have seen several workaholics, have always looked at them with disdain, yet today I see myself growing akin to them, what fills me with slight dread.

How long then? I will not bother to answer, but I will dare to ask another question – what is the price to pay?

Firstly, it is the stress. I tend to put a bold face and always prove to deliver what I am expected. The outside effect is (as I am told) impressive, but the inside cost is felt by me only. Coping with time pressure and massive amount of information to process cause brain to work on high revolutions, something that is sustainable only for a short period. Carrying on like this leads to side effects such as chronic fatigue or problems with concentration.

Secondly, it is less time for private issues. On Thursdays I have set a general rule to knock off at 5 p.m. to make it to the dance class. I gave up on the last one, but it was only because the new boss had invited my team to an eatery and turning down the proposal would have been impolite. Besides, as some friends would convince me, the worse you have it at work, the more you feel tempted to seek entertainment outside it, provided you are not totally drained of energy. Plus I am glad this s**t has fallen on me now, not a year ago. I was in the luck not to be overloaded with work while on the home straight to earn the Charter.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Good God, under starry skies we are lost

11 September 2001, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania

And a peaceful decade thereafter? Is my memory that short or had there been no spectacular terrorist attack in Europe since then until last Friday? Until I went to bed on Friday around half past nine p.m., no news from the radio turned on had reached me. The tidings I woke up to yesterday were at first more horrible than when the whole picture of the massacre sank in.

In terms of scale and atrocity of the attacks in Paris compare to acts of violence committed in Madrid and London, but one difference deserves to be noted. In Paris victims were folks who sought entertainment, while in Madrid and in London the fatalities and the wounded were public transport passengers. As I attempt to put the attacks into psychological perspective, I wonder whether who terrorist target to kill, instils more or less fear into the society. Commuting to work or school or moving around the city is one of down-to-earth, repetitive everyday activities one cannot avoid. Going to a concert hall or sitting about outside cafeteria is what one associates with pleasure, breaking away from and forgetting for a moment about the daily grind. Would you suffer more if you realised you could be murdered by terrorist on your way to work or when you go out to relax?

When it comes to pure politics, the attacks will quite likely stoke up anti-migrant sentiments across Europe and send support for xenophobic right-wing lunatics on the rise. Those urging to close borders and stem the uncontrolled flow of migrants will not necessarily become more audible, but more will listen to them. A cool-headed analyst would remind you the 9/11, Madrid and London attacks were carried out well in advance of wave of migrants at the gates of Europe. Countries becoming targets of terrorists have one thing in common – they have got involved into the war against terrorism.

A noteworthy question which naturally comes up in such circumstances is how to crack down on ISIS, the vengeful and vindictive enemy. The simplest solution which comes to mind is dropping a nuclear bomb on the territories of Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS. Simple solutions, however, tend to be silly and do more harm than good. The example above has two primary drawbacks: firstly, nuclear bombing would involve deaths of thousands of innocent civilians (not yet killed or driven out by the ISIS soldiers from their homes), secondly it would trigger brutal retaliation, conceivably even a doomsday. ISIS is not confined to territories it controls but has its envoys spread far and wide across the world and ready to hit no matter how high the price to pay would be. The most reasonable way to combat ISIS would be, in my opinion, to cut them off money they rely on to come by. Let’s face it. ISIS lacks natural resources it could sell, it also does not produce anything, it can only destroy, but in order to get hold of the weapons and keep control over its territory it needs financial resources from the outside. The only question is who their sponsors are and what their reasons behind supporting ISIS are.

Is it (yet another) the end of the world as we know it? After a much more dazzling 9/11 attacks the world looks broadly the same as before them. The main observable difference are the meticulous security controls on the airports, for many passengers being a pain in the arse and oddly enough not abided by in many less civilised airports, as evidenced by the recent tragedy in Egipt.

The world needs to face several challenges with terrorisms coming to the fore as one of the core perils to the Western civilisation in the 21st century. We need to live with it and carry on, otherwise terrorists will win the most important war, the psychological one. I remember well how may parents were scared in March 2004 (it was during my first school year of commutes to Warsaw), when trains exploded in Madrid and many feared that trains of Warsaw underground could also be attacked, since Poland had sent its army to Iraq and Afghanistan… There’s no other way than coming to terms with a risk of being killed by a terrorist, which is anyway probably lower than the chance of being killed in a traffic accident.

Dedicated a few hours of the weekend to the New Employer, with nothing in return. More reflections on this next week…

Sunday, 8 November 2015

OFE – the epilogue

The ruling is anything but a bolt from the blue, if sound judgement and common sense are in use. Public character of assets accumulated by the pension fund has been reiterated many times (including Supreme Court ruling in 2008), moreover a simple logic leads to you the conclusion that by no means Poles’ “savings” in individual accounts allocated to their names have never belonged to them.

Experts point at potential consequences of the verdict. Firstly, it given green light to reckless politicians to reach out for the assets remaining in pension funds to finance their otherwise undeliverable promises. When government bonds were cancelled, I did support the move of PO government which finally eliminated hollow circulation of money, but this time other assets are at stake. Pension funds hold now nearly only shares of Polish public companies, in many of them are an important shareholder. Grabbing those assets and attempting to dispose of them, or just taking them over by the government could have disastrous effects (especially in terms of corporate governance). Regardless of my scepticism towards OFE, I am wary of silly attempt to scrap the remnants of the system. And if it is to be wound down, it needs to be carried through slowly and with care.

I doubt PiS will aim at full liquidation of private-run pension funds, as Mr Orban did in Hungary, but pursuit of the party’s economic agenda remains in the realm of the unknown. Shortly after the ruling declared it would submit a draft of a decree stating assets in pension funds are private property of pension fund participants. Such new law, in order to make any sense, would need to empower citizens whose pension contributions were paid into pension funds, to have discretion over their assets. Sell-off on the Warsaw Stock Exchange would be in the cards then, I suppose. I voted for, yet it does not mean their agenda is fully in line with my views. Defence of OFE by Mr Petru and his henchmen is not what I would have ever put up with.

Two weeks since the memorable have gone by and speculations over the line-up of the would-be PiS government are to be cut off tomorrow, when names of particular ministers are to be unveiled. Just like some prominent politicians of PiS were locked away during the campaign, after the voting day Mrs Szydło has enjoyed the well deserved rest. She confirmed in social media she was doing well, but did not seem to be involved in designating new government members. The more nasty commentators imply it is the Mr Kaczynski who is actually dealing out cards.

The inaugural session of the new parliament is scheduled for 12 November. By coincidence, an informal EU summit on migration problems is held on the same day. The collision between the two days is now a matter of squabbling between PiS and PO and bears a very poor testimony of Mr Duda’s stance towards importance of foreign policy. The topic of the summit is too significant to shrug it off and let Poland lack its representation. I confess not to know who (president or prime minister or any of the two) has the right to represent Poland, but in my view, if allowed by law and diplomatic protocol, the one who has stronger mandate (not the outgoing prime minister) should show up there and the inaugural session should have been planned for earlier or later date.

Could have done with a longer commentary, but spent most of this weekend catching up with overdue work. There have been some staff redeployments within the New Factory and my scope of duties has increased well beyond what can be handled within 40 – 45 hours a week. Hope things shape up within a few weeks.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Ogarnij się!

For starters, to prompt comments from my (sparse) readers – what is the best English equivalent of the Polish verb ogarniać się, in its recently most popular meaning, i.e. to do something do bring stuff under control? To spruce up / to smarted up which pop up when an on-line dictionary is asked, are palpable misnomers and actually render another, more traditional meaning of ogarniać się. Get a grip on oneself, get one’s act together, get hold of oneself appear to fit better, yet by no means they are perfect equivalents. Dear native speakers – any hints?

And the ogarnięcie się is a common denominator to a Polityka weekly’s ranking of twenty two changes in a life one should make before turning 30. The article has taken my fancy right away, yet after the second or third read, I have found the list weird. Nevertheless, out of curiosity I have put myself to the adulthood test… Here we go…

1. Aiming at give-and-take, since digging one’s hills in to prove one is right, gets people nowhere.
Me: Had such period, some five to three years ago when I wanted to demonstrate everyone my supremacy. With time, and having been told off by a few folks wiser than me, I have come to my senses.

2. Cutting down on alcohol. Health no longer permits, too little time to overcome hangover, not to mention dire aftermaths drinking too much.
Me: This might come to a big surprise, yet there was a time when I drank much and when I could take in a lot of alcohol. A wake-up call came after a booze in June this year, when after clearly overdosing alcohol the next day hangover was not my only problem; my kidneys refused to work and I ended up on emergency ward with symptoms of body poisoning, having to gulp instantly two litres of mineral work to kick-start the poisoned organs. Until today I feel ashamed of my irresponsible behaviour and resolved to give up on binge drinking forever.

3. Sleeping through the whole weekend – no longer apposite.
Me: Never had that problem. There are plenty of interesting things one can do over the weekend, so sleeping is a waste of time…

4. Paying off all debts, particularly those on credit cards…
Me: I have had a credit card for eight years and I have always repaid it before the end of grace period. But on the other hand I have friends for who a credit card is a source of easy spending, without minding the fact one day its balanced will need to be cleared and if it is done too late, the cost of borrowing is high.

5. Strange people all around in life. Time to get rid of them…
Me: In recent months, while trying to lift myself from the post-exam mess, I have also resolved to tell between shallow relationships and those which deserve to be fostered. Quality is more important than quantity. For one’s psyche it is more valuable to have a few dedicated friends than hundreds of acquaintances actually indifferent to you. Upshot – some phone numbers deleted from the phonebook, birthday date removed from facebook to ensure no hollow wishes next birthday and the most important – if I run across somebody on a street and put forward to meet, I call them and insist we meet! It has to said such attitude involves being very straightforward to people, something I appreciate more and more with time.

6. Stop reaching out for money to parents. It is not about living with parents, but about economic dependence.
Me: My general stance since the age of 22 when I began to earn money for which I could eke out a living is that a young man should finance all their whims from own pocket and give parents money for house maintenance. Never ever have I asked for or suggested I want money from parents, except recently, when I openly asked whether they would give me some money (up to 25% of total cost) for a purchase of a flat.

7. Holding your horses while doing shopping. Reckless spending should become thing of the past.
Me: Never been fond of gadgets and saved for a flat, so again, not my problem. Yet self-indulgence is a problem I observe with many people, regardless of their age. It is a matter of character and habits, not the age, I would claim.

8. Giving up smoking.
Me: never had a cigarette in my mouth.

9. Announcing parties on facebook – no longer on.
Me: Have never done it, being restraint with facebook. Reality is off-line and may it stay so… I guess here the author began to run out of bright ideas what else to add to the list…

10. Regular and consistent work-out to keep body fit.
Me: Since my commute to work is too simple and repeatable (car & underground) and work is sedentary, this makes a necessity. Dance classes once a week, swimming pool once a week and twenty minutes of exercise a day (yet not every day) do their bit, yet I feel it is not enough.

11. Healthy food: time to abandon junk food and the likes.
Me: Never been fond of McDonald’s / kebab-style eateries, yet eating out in town or buying ready meals from catering door-to-door company is not the most commendable form of nutrition. Maybe time to learn to cook something more complicated and begin to prepare lunches to work on one’s own?

12. Taking care of one’s skin. Problems with acme are long gone, but wrinkles being to appear.
Me: A piece of advice aimed rather at females, yet I use a liquid and a gel for face skin if I am to confess.

13. Taking responsibility of one’s deeds is how a mature man behaves…
Me: Obviously.

14. Décor of one’s room / flat which does not resemble a teenager’s room.
Me: I parted with this part of décor in room when my parents and I moved to NI when I was 16…

15. Splurging money at painting the town red. Going out to town from time to time is okay, but not every day.
Me: See comment to point #7. Plus… Roaming around town once in blue moon or more often, if one can afford it, is no evil.

16. Spend more time with family and care more about relatives.
Me: What I crave for is my own family. Of course, and especially as an only child, I will have to take care of my parents, yet not at the expense of personal life.

17. Minding the cleanness / tidiness at home as yet another proof of maturity.
Me: I dislike scruffiness, I do not feel at ease in messy interior. The question is whether it runs in genes or is an effect of upbringing…

18. Carrying things through… Once an adult sets about doing something, they strive to complete it, against all odds.
Me: Those who know me, know the answer…

19. An elephant’s memory is not a good advisor. The ability to forgive and rebuild tattered relationships is vital in adult life.
Me: My ambition is not to take umbrage nor to kick up a fuss, no matter how lousy circumstances are. Resentments, though sometimes inevitable, should stay in the darkest nooks and crannies of human minds. Yet forgive cannot always mean forget.

20. Taking care of your teeth…
Me: Again, needless to say… What a truism…

21. Start saving… Setting up a savings account or a pension plan seem reasonable…
Me: See points #7 and #15

22. Age awareness. Turning 30 should prompt you to act your age, live consciously, yet live it up!
Me: Sometimes it seems I go over the top in this respect and if I rejuvenated myself, I would be better off. Youth after all is not behind me.

For some reasons, the list could have been supplemented with many other points reflect expectation a society has towards people aged around 30. And for some reasons, they have not been put on the list. The author has not mentioned getting married, having children, finding a permanent job or moving out of parents’ dwelling. Had the two former been listed, boundaries of an individual’s privacy would have been encroached upon. If finding a spouse is often a matter of luck or being out of luck while more and more people for biological reasons cannot have children, urging people to do something about it would be out of place. While in the era of junk contracts, commanding young people to make career and set up own households might indicate the author is out of touch…

I only wonder why turning 30 has been set as milestone for the end of carefree youth? If formally one becomes adult at the age of 18 and many people fly the nest shortly thereafter to begin studies away from home and often need to fend for themselves, why 30? Indeed, the age at which people do something about their lives increased in the recent decades but has the omnipresent cult of youth done the job? Is the fear of entering adulthood (or rather taking responsibilities) here to blame? Or is it just a simple desire to remain young as long as possible? And, after all, why cannot the words: young, responsible, mature, go together?