Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Away with Long Hours

At Happy, if we find somebody working long hours, we try to work with them to reduce them. It may be the result of a heavy workload but it is as likely to be the result of working less effectively than they could. For myself, if I know I'm going to be at work until 8pm I work with a lot less urgency than if I know I have to leave by 5pm.

Salina Gani, Learning & Development Manager at Paul (the bakery chain), backed up this view when I met her last week. "The most productive time of my life has been the time I've worked less hours", she explained. I used to feel guilty if I left at 6.30, and that was my official leave time. I worked long hours and it made me ill."

"What changed? A new manager who didn't expect those hours. My job is to identify my workload and get it done. I manage my own time. I'm happier, I'm less stressed and I just get more done. My manager says I do the equivalent of several times what she's seen others do at other firms."

The same is true of me. Before we had children my wife was completing an MBA and I worked long hours - and was in the office most Sundays. When our first baby was born, I cut back my working time by around 2 hours a day - and cut the Sundays, to be at home with the baby. But the remarkable thing was, I didn't seem to get any less done. I was simply more focused and effective, knowing that I couldn't just catch up that evening.

Do you, or your colleagues, work longer hours than you would like? is it because you really need to, because its expected at work, or simply because you've got into the habit of it? What would happen if you cut back and did something that you enjoyed and revitalised you?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

One law for the banks

This morning the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) withdrew from its battle against the banks exhorbitant penalty charges, following the court case ruling against them last month.

I have to declare a personal interest in this. I was one of the original group of 5 who set up a Bank Charges Action Group in 2004, following an article by barrister Richard Colbey in the Guardian money section. Here's details of one of the first cases with Stephen Hone, one of the original group members. Though it was, of course, the likes of Martin Lewis at Money Expert who turned it into a compaign involving millions.

There has been much press debate about whether the charges are fair, with some arguing that it is quite right that those who go overdrawn should subsidise the more well behaved account holders. But the argument ahs never been about fairness but about the law. What Colbey pointed out was that, under well establihsed UK law, it was illegal to levy penalty charges that were greater than the cost incurred.

In the early days the banks argued that the charges did reflect their costs. I was one of the first to go to court, in 2005, and NatWest won that one because their barrister persuaded the magistrate that the £35 charge per bounced cheque reflected their actual costs.

In fact it later emerged, from internal bank leaks, that the true cost was closer to £2. A penalty charge so out of proportion to the cost was clearly illegal and so the banks changed their argument, claiming that it wasn't a penalty but a charge for a service provided.

In reality we all know they are penalty charges, and they used to be referred to as such. And we all know, as Peter McNamara - ex Head of Personal Banking at Lloyds - acknowledged on the Today programme this morning, they are used to cross subsidise other personal accounts - an act that would be illegal if they were recognised as penalties.

It is sad that the OFT has chosen to withdraw from the battle to get the banks to obey the law of the land, which could have benefitted millions. So the banks will be able to continue, as John Humphreys put it this morning, to "rip us off".

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Believe the Best ... and Get Paid

A key part of the Happy philosophy is "Believe the Best". The idea is that, however somebody asks, to assume always the best intentions. To assume that, given their experience and the information they have, that they are doing the best they can.

My colleague Diye Wareibi, whose Digibridge company provides our technical support, gave a great example of how this worked for him with a debtor. In fact he changed his debt collecting strategy after borrowing a copy of "How to win friends and influence people" from our bookshelf.

This classic book, written by Dale Carnegie in the 1930s, encourages you to understand the people you work with and to 'walk in their shoes'."I had been chasing this debt for weeks", explains Diye "and it was getting increasingly antagonistic. I had threatened court action and he had responded with 'see you in court'.

"After reading the book I took a different approach. I knew he had been having a difficult time and there had been health problems in his family. So I emailed him and then we talked on the phone. I expressed my concern and my understanding that he had been having a difficult time and to ask if there was any way I could help.

"We had a really good talk and I think that meant something to him because I know others have been giving him a really hard time. I didn't mention the debt at all. But, you know what - within a few days I got a cheque for £1,000 in the post. And, just today, I got a second one paying the debt off in full. Treating him as a friend and trying to understand where he was coming from resulted in my bill getting paid. And hopefully we will continue to do business together for many years."