Sunday, 15 October 2017

Promotion


Perhaps the best strikes out of the blue, perhaps.

December 2016
After a few drinks on a Christmas party my boss suggested we needed to have a longer chat. I had awaited this conversation for weeks and had hoped he would appreciate my hard work and signal an imminent promotion and pay rise. Over the next days I kept insisting he did not go back on his promise and so we eventually landed in a conference room. My boss simply wanted to ask me how I felt, overburdened with work. His reason to have a chat with seemed so absurdly silly that I straightforwardly asked about my prospects of promotion. He honestly reassured they were none…

February 2017
Annual appraisal. During an hour-long meeting to talk over my performance over the previous year I learnt whatever I had done superbly, I had just lived up to my superiors’ expectations, but whatever mistake I had made (the more you do, they more likely you are to make an error, statistically) I had been destined to be rebuked over. Then I took out a sheet of internal memo on promotion criteria to prove I had met all requirements set out in the document. My boss rebuffed this, claiming those guidelines were just a bare minimum and meeting all targets did not automatically qualify me for a position upgrade, but was just a condition precedent to it. At the end I was told the reason why I could not be promoted was that I displayed “emotional immaturity”. I immediately demanded examples of behaviours proving my lack of maturity. Needless to say the assertion of my emotional immaturity had no backing. That appraisal was held on Friday. The weekend thereafter in a spurt of anger I sent out CVs to competitors of the New Factory.

March 2017
I attended two interviews with other financial institutions. Even if in terms of competencies I was eligible, with hindsight I found out my pay rise expectations had priced me out of any considerations. In terms of salary growth, banking sector bucks the trends visible on the labour market. Had I even gotten a higher position, I would have had to accept a similar or lower base salary, not to mention I would have given up on a generous bonus.

April 2017
Found a job opening for a senior position in a similar area at the New Factory. I knocked on some doors to senior managers’ offices and shed some tears over my hapless situation. They were meant to play the cards right.

May 2017
I attended a serious of informal meetings with my would-be superiors (would-be boss and his boss) and once they decided they would take me on, I officially applied for the position. For the sake of transparency, a full-blown recruitment procedure needed to be run before they would select me.

July 2017
Meeting with candidates for my position dragged on for weeks and eventually nobody, including me, was offered that position just because the vacancy was either cancelled or put on hold. My hopes were dashed, actually I was not officially turned away. In the HR system my application was not even rejected, I only received a message the process had been completed. Actually since in the meantime my priorities had changed, the loss was not that painful.

September 2017
Shortly before my holidays gossips about substantial reshuffles in the organisational structure were put about. With little hopes to win, I began to wonder how to take advantage of the changes.

11 October 2017
My would-be boss dropped me an e-mail with an urgent request to meet up and asked whether I was interested in that job any longer. I came over, showed some reserved interest and declared I would need to think it over seriously, especially since some time had passed.

12 October 2017
I met a boss of my would-be boss to haggle over my base salary. The basic they offered was some 15% higher than my current one, yet I feared with much lower bonus multiplier, my all-in after-tax remuneration would go down by some 10% – quite astonishing side effect of a promotion, though you must remember bonus multipliers may change any time and the only bonuses you could be certain of are those ones already transferred into your bank account.

13 October 2017
Pay bargaining turned out to be successful. I got more that they wanted to offer me two days earlier, yet still less than what I held out for while applying. I accepted the base salary, bearing in mind how much some of my ex-workmates who had changed jobs recently earn. We nailed down the deal, yet before I sign the annex to my job contract, my promotion and pay rise remain in the realm of gentlemen’s agreements and the New Factory still stands a chance to double-cross me (it can boast of track record of mistreating its employees).

The unexpected goings-on from recent days prove one timeless regularity – the less you care, the better things shape up. Same happened to me a few months ago when after several spectacular mistakes in the love life, I decided to give up on looking for girlfriend. Less than a month later I dated somebody and future still looks bright.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Swimming with the sharks – book review



Not a secret I am fond of all books and films which lay bare pathologies of murky financial sector. Several such works have sprung up in the wake of 2008 financial meltdown and they have turned out in different genres: from nearing conspiracy theories, through more substantive, critical, though at times quirky analyses, to narratives that have gone to silver screen and whose plot have been approachable to nearly everyone.

Swimming with the sharks by Joris Luyendijk, a Dutch journalist, is a compilation of interviews with the insiders from the City, who, provided their anonymity was protected, decided to let in on some of the secrets of how the top of the world works. All interlocutors who have contributed to the book have broken the code of silence, the unwritten rule that outsiders should be deprived of insight into the spoilt financial sector. Those who deliberately break the code of silence take the decision to burn their boats (just like the Cityboy did) or go the extra mile to make sure nobody can trace their confessions back to them.

Predictably, though financial sector in Poland generally does not resemble the City (especially in terms of payrolls) many semblances can be discerned and I most focused on them while reading the book.

Front Office (bankers who deal with clients directly, solicit and foster relationships) are worshipped everywhere. No matter if it is Warsaw or London, sales guys who bring bank the bacon are the upper class in the hierarchy. This manifests itself not only in higher salaries and perquisites, but also in informal pecking order. FO look down on Middle Office, while the latter often feel underappreciated, shrugged off, less important despite their undeniable contribution to well-being of an organisation.

Polish banks have accurately copied the way laid-off staff are handled from their HQs. Waves of redundancies became the order of the day after the 2008 crash when violent cost-cutting had to be pursued to shield profits, in the absence of adequate revenues. I once described how it looked in Poland and the practices in principle do not differ with how sharks are given the sack.

While going through the book, I naturally sought the answer to the ever-nagging question, whether the system or the people were to blame for all malpractices that had sent the global economy on the verge of collapse. The interviews prove most workers (who had agreed to be interviewed) were genuinely righteous people, with moral spine, abiding by ethical principles in their own job, yet they were cogs in the immoral machines, trying to hold back from wrongdoing while doing their bit.

Interviewees, decent or indecent, in unison blamed the whole chain of institutions for all evil financial sector has done to ordinary people. No one, including politicians, regulators, shareholders, employees and clients (people living beyond their means), in their opinion could feel innocent. Yet the most destructive part of the system were built-in incentives and disincentives (they even came up with lack of fear not greed as one of major causes of financial crisis, yet the book was released in 2011, while I published my concept in early 2010). It paid off to chase profits in short-term while calling for long-term sustainability was inconvenient to everyone in good times. The foregone conclusion, which I have reached on PES several years ago, is that the financial system is still wicked and no major reforms have been done to preclude the reprisal of financial tornado from 2008.

I have found quite interesting the passage on passionate bankers whose relish on their jobs, working late hours, travel to distant parts of world, celebrate closing jumbo deals; zealots who toil away not just for seven-digit yearly compensations but who draw genuine satisfaction from what they do. The only question is, whether such time-consuming profession (working until midnight during working week, spending weekends in the office, being on every beck and call of your boss) can be combined with happy personal life and for how long one can withstand it. This is a part of general question about priorities in life, not confining just to popular work-life balance.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Malta


Never ever, have I made my way to a travel agency to have my holidays organised by a bunch of experts in trips abroad. I do not avow to never resort to enjoy the convenience of having someone else arranging flights, transport, accommodation and local sightseeing for me, but until time permits and vision of company of Janusze and Grażyny (let alone their children Karyny and Seby) puts me off, collective voyages, chartered flights and hotels with all-inclusive services are not the preferable way of holidaying.

The recent holidays in Malta were also self-organised. Finding flights via Wizzair and a room at Airbnb did not take more than two hours, while the latter resulted in savings on accommodation of some 50% compared to cheapest decent hotels found at booking.com. The rest you need to find out before leaving abroad is how to get about (local public transport and fares) and what sights are worth visiting. For a person who knows English and is not afraid of fending for themselves in a foreign country, a piece of cake.

The very Malta (and the other island, Gozo) in terms of area are of the size of Warsaw, yet a week-long stay proved too short to visit all places worth a tourist’s attention. The reason is not necessarily the high number of attractions squeezed into small area, but the travel times between them. Unless you hire a car (which apart from high costs has one tremendous drawback for me, which is steering wheel to the right and left-hand traffic), you need to fall back on public transport, namely buses. Firstly, they do not run frequently, which extend journey times, secondly their routes are winding, which means a distance of five kilometres as the crow flies is taken with a 10-kilometre-long route, which is covered within 40 minutes. Add up waiting times and bus changes and you will get the average speed of moving of 10 kilometres per hour or less.

We rented a room in Marsaskala, a city on the south-east edge of the island, less than half a mile away from a beach. Maltese beaches are hardly ever sandy (those can be found on northern and western shores), the one snapped is rocky. Besides, many beaches are out of reach since in order to get there, you would have to fall off a cliff (or fly off it, or swim, or take a boat).

Marsaskala, as most Maltese coast-side cities, has a marina with tens of yachts moored on it. In the background, architecture typical for the island, Arabic rather than European. Buildings are plain, made of yellow bricks, never insulated (what for?), but oddly enough air-conditioning is not prevalent.

The capital of Matla, Valetta, is just a small part of the bigger agglomeration and has less than 10,000 inhabitants. The city is picturesque and gives off unique climate. To the right, the main pedestrian precinct of the city, surprisingly not chock full of vacationers.

One of more marvellous sights of Malta is Blue Grotto located on the southern shore of the island. The combination of cliffs, caverns and sea is one of more breath-taking things you can see. The very place is far away from civilisation and you need to walk down a steep descent to reach a port where you can board to boat which takes you to the caverns.

Within a walking (arguable, whether an optimum way to get there in early-afternoon heat) distance from the Blue Grotto lie the restored ruins of megalithic temples which trace back to 3000 BC. The rebuilt remnants of temples are sheltered from elements of weather by giant tents, which also give shelter from heat.

To the right, on our way to St. Peter’s Pool, lying some three miles from our dwelling. The beach is overhyped (droves of people, swimming hampered by waves, long descent), yet the path from Marsaskala runs mostly along cliffs. Typically, there is no fence nor any other form of protection from falling off. On your way, just stop over and lap up the view!

During the week of our stay, there was just one day when it rained, and just until midday. Here, the snap taken from the viewing terrace in the fortress of Mdina, the former capital of Malta. Currently the city has around 200 inhabitants and the area of less than 1 square kilometre. The suburb of Mdina, Rabat, is some 10 times larger and if you venture there, do visit legendary catacombs.

Few know Maltese islands are an archipelago consists of several islands, of which the second biggest is Gozo, reachable by ferry. Because of the lousy public transport, it takes three hours to get there from the other end of Malta. The other island seems to be a bit more civilised, yet lacks significant sights or places of interest.

On top, a few curiosities for those weighing up whether to visit Malta.

1. English is the second official language, hence language barrier in day-to-day communication does not exist, but do not expect fluency in English from locals (they cherish their independence from the UK).

2. Litter is scattered all around. Sights like this one are sadly commonplace in Malta (once again I appreciate such rubbish dumps are getting less frequent in Poland). You can hear of rats running across streets (I have not seen any), and I had to kill three cockroaches (dwellers of sewage pipes) which hung about in the shower booth.

3. The island is not plagued by tourists, yet the large percentage of visitors are Poles (at some moment, while running across Poles on nearly every step, we got afflicted to allergy to our compatriots).

4. Nightlife is witnessed only in a few holiday resorts. Except for this, when it gets dark (in the second half of September after 7 p.m.) the island almost comes to a standstill.

5. Prices in restaurants and entry tickets to tourist attractions are on moderate level, comparable to Western Europe, but prices of ordinary food produces in shops (no difference in pricing between cornershops and discounters) are far higher than in Western Europe – this probably reflects the cost of transporting all goods to the island and definitely do not correspond with average yearly net-of-tax salary of around EUR 17,000 per year.

6. You will struggle to find traditional Maltese food (they have their own beverage, Kinnie and some local wines), so in most restaurants you would find typical Italian meals (pastas, pizzas, etc.)

Besides, next holiday due in 2018. Time to immerse in the corpo-world for the last quarter of the year.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Turin


Ventured to North Italy in business earlier this week. The very decision of the senior management to fork out money and command me to take this (truth be told) useless business trip has taken aback many in my department, as our budget for travels to clients is rather tight. But then out of the blue it transpired splurging nearly five thousand zloty for a three-day foray was absolutely doable and coming by all sign-off despite strict cost savings turned out achievable.

The total cost was quite absurdly high (for five thousand PLN you could arrange two-week holidays in Italy for one person, provided they travel with a companion and share accommodation) because flights and the hotel had been booked less than a week in advance. Hence… Failing to plan is planning to… pay over the odds. But who cares if no one’s money is spent (if the travel budget is not fully spent, someone will cut it next year, so it is better to expend money foolishly than to pursue savings). If you can get a foray for free (or actually earn on it as you receive foreign travel allowance) who would not seize an opportunity to some nooks and crannies of a distant country?

Since there are no direct flights to Turin from Poland, one option to get there is to take a flight from Warsaw to Milan and then take a fast train which runs between the cities, or, arguably more conveniently, buy tickets from Lufthansa and catch a connecting flight in Frankfurt or Munich – we opted for the latter. “Catch” is the apposite word, since on the itinerary my imprudent workmates from sales department booked, the transfer time between connecting flights in Munich was 40 minutes.

Needless to say, after a delay in take-off from Okęcie airport on our way to Munich, we were late for a flight to Turin. Lufthansa kindly rebooked us for a flight three and a half hours later and equipped us with a snack voucher for 7 EUR (try to buy something reasonable to eat on the airport for such amount of money!!!). We ended up then flying with a cheap airline one hour later than planned (in total four and half hours later), missed a dinner with a client and checked in to hotel at 10 p.m. On our way back the first flight from Turin to Munich was delayed, but to our luck, the flight from Munich to Warsaw was even more delayed, therefore we landed in Warsaw mere 45 minutes later than scheduled.

The agenda of the visit was stuffed with meetings morning-till-evening and I only managed to take one brisk, long (15-kilometre) walk around the city in the evening the day before flight home. I need to confess for the first time since many years I ventured somewhere abroad without getting familiar with stuff such as local transport, local sights to be seen and other knowledge coming in useful while travelling (logistics was taken care of by the workmates).

Forgive me the quality of photos. I did not take the camera with me, all pictures snapped with a smartphone. To the right, Piazza Statuto, one of more famous squares in Turin, but I have no idea why (pardon my glaring ignorance).

I stroll (no, I rush) towards Pad river (with hindsight I have learnt it is Pad, not “some river”) and pass by a building which resembles a town hall. In fact, this is Madama Palace, now playing host to senate of Italy. So inconspicuous…

Less than half a mile closer to Pad, I stop by at Veneto Victory square. Should look like a life-bustling place on Tuesday around 6:30 p.m., but few tourists roam around, some local teenagers hang out, besides the place is quiet.

The day I turned up to Turin, a friend advised me to climb up the hill on the other side of the river to take delight in panorama of the city. Here, having ascended the viewing terrace outside Santa Maria del Monte church. It’s before 7 p.m., nearly one hour before sun goes down. Splendid.

Then I scrambled even further up the hill, to Villa del Regina (my sneakers from Lidl, bargain purchase for 27 PLN did not withstand the two-kilometre steep ascent) to stare at the sunset. The smartphone definitely proved inferior to even a compact camera which would have rendered far better how marvellous sight it was. I grabbed the moment, made it perfect, immortalised it, but with an imperfect device.

On my way back to the hotel (one night per 115 EUR, cheapie, but who cares if your employer pays) I cross the river again. Boulevards are anything but full of people. Conversely, nightlife does not seem to exist in Turin during the working week. On the other hand, I have not spotted any potentially dangerous immigrants, yet saw many homeless sleeping on the street, a disturbingly frequent sight, just as in Madrid.

While moving between meeting across the city and beyond we took taxis (too little time to use public transport). Driving in Italian cities proves to be governed by the law of the jungle, but Italian drivers have got accustomed to chaos well and excel in avoiding accidents (if inexperienced in driving in such traffic conditions Poles were behind wheels, prangs would happen all the way).

Price-wise, I was surprised basic goods in local discount stores were more expensive than in Madrid and Berlin which I visited this year, although I can boast about running across a restaurant where we ate medium-sized pizza and washed it down with mineral water for mere 7 EUR.

Finally, a foregone conclusion that Italy has seen its better days. Every time I travel abroad I appreciate how Poland has moved on and how in many aspects it has not just caught up with Western Europe, but often outshines the “old EU” countries.

Flying to Malta for eight days on Tuesday, next post in a fortnight.

By the way, any gee-up from readers after a few months without a single comment and seepage of inspiration since getting busy with more interesting stuff than blogging?