Tuesday, 6 May 2014

With a little smile and a human touch life gets better!

Most of us deal with people every day. We pretend that people treat us as they want to be treated. Our children's teachers should care for every single child in the classroom with the same love. The doctor should love us as he loves himself. The lady at the post office should welcome us with a smile. O, yes! Wouldn't that be fantastic? What if all of us put a human touch in everything we do?

Photo: Chiara Petrocchi
I meet a lot of people every day. In the traffic here in Rome it often happens that another driver lets me pass first even if it isn't my turn. At the supermarket I am asked to go before in the line if I only have a bottle of milk in my hands. It often happens that it seems that the people around me know and understand my hurry. Or, maybe they are just understanding people. Perhaps they just want to put a human touch into their daily actions?

I often hear people say that you need a certain vocation to become a doctor, priest, teacher, nurse or psychologist. You need a vocation to deal with people. But don't we all deal with people on a daily basis? I believe that even the post office clerk needs a special quality, vocation to love other people.

Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/emilyrachelhildebrand/

It hit me today when I made a phone call to a Swedish company. The receptionist, Markus, answered me so incredibly kindly and was so serviceminded that I felt I might be the only person he had talked to today! Incredible! A receptionist talks to a lot of people every day, but nevertheless Markus made me feel special. I actually got happier after having talked with him. Isn't that fantastic? I have no idea of who this person is, what he looks like or what his interest in life is, but he made my day brighter by treating me like a special person.

How do we answer the salespeople that call us at home in the evening to talk about the utilitiy bills or the telephone costs? Do we really respect their job and meet them with a smile? I think it is extremely important that we really behave just as we wish others to behave with us.

I do admit that I often choose the shop assistant that has the nicest smile at the supermarket, and that I tend to go to the bar where the barman is always kind to me and cheers me up if needed. What is so strange with that? I think we all like to be met with a smile. But I also think that we are the ones to give the best example. If we smile, people tend to smile back to us. People can hear your mood even on the phone. So....let's smile even on the phone :)

Thank you, Markus, for your smile and the inspiration to this short blogpost!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

6 hours working days - is that possible?

While "Karoshis" - suicides due to too much workload and too many working hours - increase in Japan, some Swedish companies are keen on having their staff working 6 hours a day.  When the young Japanese Yuji Uendan took his life at the age of 23 , he had been working for 250 hours a month! It is terrible to read and unthinkable to live just to work! In the OECD chart below, however, I can see that Italy is not much better than Japan.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stavos52093

When comparing the amount of hours worked per employee in the diagram in the link above, we can see that Italy and Japan are very close to each other. Considering that many employees working for the municipalities or the state have shorter working weeks than 40 hours, you understand that a lot of workers in the private sector indeed work long hours. I have worked for companies myself here in Italy that pretended I should stay for more than 8 hours, often without getting extra money, so I know what I am talking about. Unions do not exist if you are less than 15 employees per company so if you need to eat, your only option is to accept the conditions. The working hours in Italy are also very uncomfortable. Most offices are open from 9 am to 6 pm and with the traffic in larger cities like Rome or Milan, it can take you hours to get home. At the end of the day a lot of Italians only have time to have dinner with their families before going to bed. After some sleep a new working day starts. Shops close at 8 pm and a lot of shop assistants work the whole day or have to take 3 hours off, from 1pm to 4 pm when the smaller shops are closed.  I am now starting to wonder if it's worth the while ...
Bertinotti Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elenatorre/

Some years ago, the Italian politician Fausto Bertinotti wanted to implement a 35-hour working week for everyone.  He did not succeed with this project but was, on the contrary, blamed for the failure of Prodi's government. He wanted to create more job opportunities and give families more free time. He was not understood and Berlusconi came to power instead.

I recently read an article in a Swedish newspaper about some companies willing to introduce six-hour working day. I read with interest about the company Brath, a small consulting firm in the North of Sweden, that gives its employees full salaries even though they work 2 hours less per day than regular full-time employees. The company's CEO Maria Westling says in an article in Svenska Dagbladet that efficiency is higher when you are not exhausted from work. At Brath you work from 9 am to 4 pm. You work 3 hours, have lunch and then work 3 more hours. No time is lost in coffee breaks and everybody works more efficiently. The newspaper SvD asked Maria what the reason for this change was and she replied that if employees feel good they do a better job. In this way we have time to get the children to school, do sports and cook a nice dinner.

I kept reading about Brath and decided to write to Magnus Bråth, the company's founder , to ask if it is ok that I write about them. This is how they describe the advantages and lack of disadvantages of a 6 hour day :

The lack of disadvantages with a six-hour workday

Nobody works effectively eight hours in a row, it is simply not possible and especially not with tasks where you are expected to be concentrated all the time. We are confident that the percentage of effective time increases when working shorter time.

The benefits of our short days

To begin with, it's nice to be able to take it easy. I myself need time in the morning to gather ideas and get started, it's nice to be able to do so instead of sitting in the office all night. This is probably the biggest advantage.

It gets easier for all employees. Instead of queuing at shops during the rush hour when everyone else is doing it, we leave an hour earlier and skip all lines, getting additional time.

We feel better. It's pretty clear that all of us in the office feel better, it is easier with the "life puzzle" and there will be more time for family. There is no problem to catch the train before work, a time when it is empty at the gym. We have one or two extra hours to cook dinner and we are a little more rested than everyone else.

It is easy to recruit really good people. When I tell them that we have a six-hour working day they all shine up. Of course, it is not easy to find the expertise that may be needed in the North but we have priority access to all the best.

I also read in the Metro newspaper that the Red-Green parties want to test the six -hour working day in Gothenburg municipality, because it leads to better health and more jobs. Councilor Mats Pilhem suggests that shorter shifts will improve the working conditions in the municipality. He says that this will not necessarily be any additional costs, because employees can work more efficiently during shorter working hours. If the cost increases, he find resources to cover it.
Picture : Private Sunrise Alba Adriatica
And now I wonder...is it perhaps time to reconsider old ideas about the working days? Maybe life is too short for us to spend most of our woken time at work and in the traffic to get there? Would we be more effective if we had more time and were happier? What about having the time to look at the sunrise before going to work? What do you think?



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