Thursday, 19 July 2018

Respect My Authority

Working late again?

Taking a bit of work home with you, just to catch up?

Spending some time at the weekend on that important presentation?

You know that you should really stop doing it. You know it's not good for your stress, or your family, or your career. Although you keep telling yourself that if you're seen as someone who works really hard and goes the extra mile, you'll get recognised for it, eventually.

Well, you are being recognised for it. You're being recognised as the idiot who is prepared to give more, and more, and more, while your employer reduces headcount, thanks to people like you who do the work of two people. Or maybe more. Why would you get a promotion when you're doing very nicely where you are?

You probably think that you have to put in the hours, you don't have a choice, and I'm going to explain to you now why you're wrong.

Go get your employment contract and have a look in it. What does it say your working hours are? 40 hours a week? Monday to Friday, 9-5? Something close to that?

How many days holiday do you get per year? 20? 25?

What would happen if you just decided to work 10-3? What if you decided to take 50 days holiday this year?

You wouldn't be allowed. You'd be breaching the terms of your employment contract.

When you agreed to that contract, who was it who set those terms? Was it you? The chances are that your employer told you your working hours, and told you your holiday 'entitlement', and told you lots of other stuff that you had to agree to, if you wanted the job. These were the conditions for the job offer. Once you agree to that, you do not have the authority to vary the terms of your contract.

You cannot, on a whim, decide to work 20 hours a week.

Therefore, you cannot, on a whim, decide to work 60 hours a week. If you attempt to do so, you will be in breach of your contract of employment, and can expect to receive your first verbal warning.

Now, you don't want to lose your job over something as silly as your working hours, do you? You don't want to threaten your family's security, and your own career prospects, just to sneak some extra working time in, do you? And you certainly don't want to earn a reputation as the idiot who gives and gives and gives and asks for nothing in return. Oops. Too late.

Imagine sitting an exam where the allowed time is 3 hours. What would you say if another candidate snook into the room early and added an extra hour to their exam time? Would that be fair?

So stop working late. You simply do not have the authority to do so.


Peter Freeth is a talent and leadership expert who used to work too much and probably still does. His book on organisational change, Change Magic, explains why, when employees are allowed to work late, they hide a resource and performance problem, and when that discretionary effort is no longer available, organisational performance falls off a cliff. Overwork leads to stress which leads to premature death, and who wants that on their conscience?

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Dead or Alive, You're Coming With Me

I'm sure you've heard of Schrödinger’s cat - the famous thought experiment devised in the 1930s by physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In the basic set-up you take a cat and place it in a box containing a radioactive atom, a hammer and a vial of poisonous gas. The atom decays, and this triggers the hammer to fall and break the vial, suffocating the cat.

Radioactive decays are random processes described by quantum theory, so we can’t say when one will happen. Quantum theory suggests that before you observe or measure an object, it exists in a “superposition” of all its possible states. Before we open the box, the atom is both decayed and undecayed – and the cat is neither dead nor alive, but in a superposition where it is both, neither, who knows. The act of looking seals the cat's fate, one way or another.

Part of the thought experiment is about the concept that information requires an observer. Atoms only become dots on a screen, and photons only activate cells on your retina because you exist to observe these phenomena from your unique viewpoint. These words do not exist as information without you, the reader.

You're probably wondering why I'm telling you this.

I realised recently that long before I knew anything about Schrödinger’s cat, I had an intuitive belief, an idea which seemed to serve me well, and I would like to share it with you.

Long ago, if I was awaiting news, such as a letter about a job application (in the days when we had letters, and when employers actually kept candidates informed), then I figured that up until the point that I opened the envelope and read the letter, the outcome of the interview was still undecided. I somehow felt that the letter would coalesce into reality at the point at which I opened the interview, and therefore I could somehow influence the outcome of that decision right up until the point at which I read, "Dear Mr Freeth, I am pleased to...."

I know what you're thinking. It sounds crazy, and if the letter turned out as I wanted, it just fuelled my confirmation bias, and I ignore all the times the letter carried unwelcome news.

I suppose the thought experiment that I am asking you to conduct is this: What if it were possible? What if possibilities only coalesce into reality when you the observer are present to turn patterns of matter into information? If a tree falls in the forest, you're thinking. What nonsense. Of course it makes a sound.

No, my friend. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, it does not make a sound. It creates a shockwave through the surrounding air, but that shockwave is not a sound unless someone hears it.

What in your life could be influenced simply by your belief that, right up until the point that you look at the information, all bets are off?