Monthly Archives: December 2008

My resolution for 2009 is to reduce significantly the amount of time I spend waiting for other people. I always arrive punctually at internal meetings and am enraged to have to wait five or 10 minutes until my colleagues roll up. When I go to external meetings I am sometimes left waiting in reception until my host is ready to see me or, worse still, am made to wait for guests at restaurants. I could,of course, simply opt to be 10 minutes late for everything myself. However, this goes against the grain as I believe punctuality is a virtue. Are there any alternative ways of encouraging others to be as punctual as I am myself?

Manager, male, 51

Lucy’s answer

On January 1, people resolve to change their behaviour, in spite of the fact that such resolutions hardly ever stick for more than a day or two. You have wisely skipped this stage and are resolving to change others instead. The popular belief is that changing others is harder than changing yourself, but this isn’t true – at least it isn’t if you are the boss.

Punctuality is about power, and if you are in a position of power over your colleagues it should be perfectly possible to get them to show up on time.

You simply make sure the meeting starts promptly, and that the door is then firmly closed – or, better still, locked. Latecomers will have to knock and be admitted in disgrace. You can make a big deal of every late arrival, and say in the most schoolmasterly fashion “so kind of you to drop in” or similar. That should do the trick.

However, if you are not the boss, you can do whatever you like and it will not have the slightest effect. Punctuality, or lack of it, is deep-seated. I have a friend who is so terminally late for things he even missed his own wedding.

Whereas I am like you: consitutionally incapable of being even 30 seconds late and enraged by a lack of punctuality in others. I have experimented with being five minutes late, but found it so stressful it wasn’t worth it. I have also tried making the other party feel bad by saying “what kept you?” or by looking at my watch and sighing. Mostly this makes me feel petty, so it isn’t the answer either.

The only way out is to arrange fewer meetings. This way one saves not only the time one would have wasted waiting, but the time in having the meeting too, leaving one free to get some work done instead.

I run a PR agency and I am trying to cut £300,000 off my salary bill. I could do this in one swoop by axing one of my “stars” – a man who has worked here longer than I have and who has some great client relationships (though some of them are in such trouble they may not survive). He is charismatic and quite difficult and will not go quietly. For the same money, though, I could axe six or seven more junior people, which might be easier politically. Yet some of them are talented, and the loss of so many will put an intolerable strain on everyone else. Any ideas?

Chief executive, male, 41

Lucy’s answer

Which is worth more: a star or seven grunts? There is no answer to this question in the abstract. If the star in question brings in enough business he is worth more; otherwise he isn’t.

However, most stars are not as bright as they are cracked up to be. The boom years have encouraged us to believe that the workforce is divided into stars and everyone else. In reality the difference between the two is more murky.

In your shoes I’d definitely keep the seven grunts. I get the idea that you do not like your star much, so the recession offers you an excuse to do what you might have wished to do all along.

I am not sure I like him much either: it’s just about OK in a boom to be “quite difficult” when you are earning 300,000,but there is no excuse in a recession to earn that much money unless one’s behaviour is quite impeccable. As he is only “one of” your stars, it sounds as if you will be left with better behaved ones in your firmament once his light is put out.

You say some of the juniors are smart and getting rid of them would put too much pressure on those remaining. This suggests your agency still has plenty of work. If you have talented people to do that work, why get rid of them?

Most businesses cut too many jobs in recessions. They waste money on redundancy payments, weaken the business and then have to hire people back who were less good than the ones they expensively fired.

Assuming you have done all the other things to cut costs – closed your expensive offices, eliminated bonuses and so on –  you should put out your star at once. Comfort yourself with the fact that you have ruined only one person’s Christmas. By cutting the grunts, you would have ruined half a dozen more.

The most dreaded event in my social year is the office Christmas party. I loathe the fake camaraderie, the excessive alcohol consumption and the hideous vulgarity of it all. Far from making me bond with my colleagues, it makes me dislike my boss and feel alienated by the drunken behaviour of my underlings.

Last year I vowed: never again. But I wasn’t bargaining for the recession, which has put all our jobs at risk (and has also cut the party budget, which will make the wine filthier than ever). My question is this: if one is interested in holding on to a job, does one have to turn up? Or what counts as a decent excuse?

Senior manager, male, 48

Lucy’s answer

You ask if turning up to the Christmas party helps one hold on to a job. No, of course it doesn’t. Even in the most paranoid times at the most dysfunctional company no one decides who to keep and who to dump on that basis. The main risk posed to one’s career by the Christmas party is not from failing to show up. It is from showing up and then throwing up – or worse.

Yet in spite of this, I still think you should decide to go along, but only if you can adopt a new attitude first.

When I was 48 I used to feel just like you do about Christmas parties. I thought that the office was for working, and that alcohol was for drinking when not working. Put the two together and the mixture is horrible: stilted, embarrassing and potentially calamitous.

However, something odd happened to me at last year’s party to make me change my mind. I talked to a senior manager whom I had previously viewed as impressive yet impersonal, indeed as bordering on sub-human. Yet at the party he was animated, friendly and even quite funny. On subsequent meetings he has reverted to his chilly ways, but as I remember his behaviour at the party I’m inclined to forgive him.

There is a certain sort of person – and I wonder if you are one of them – that is born two drinks short. Only with a couple of glasses of vile plonk inside them do they warm up to normal levels.

 To let both your bosses and your underlings see your soft underbelly (assuming you have one) will not necessarily mean that you keep your job. But it might make all the hardness that is to come a little less unpleasant.
If I have it wrong, and you are beastly even when slightly drunk, then stay home. You won’t be missed.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.