Friday, May 09, 2008

Time to Wait

I hate waiting for others, which I sadly do quite often, because I’m always on-time

It’s funny, I’m a contractor, and I have no company loyalty to live up too. I don’t have to kiss anyone’s butt to get a promotion, I don’t have to kill myself putting in overtime if I choose not too – I’m on a contract. I don’t get all those fancy benefits, stock options, and other “perks” of being on staff – so I don’t have any ties to those who use my services other than the contracted time for which I’ve been hired.

Yet, despite my lack of loyalty to any one client for my job security, I am usually the one that does go the extra distance to get things done the right way ‘round the first time. I’m always on time – if not early – for meetings, and I don’t mind putting in the occasional overtime.

But those on the company payroll seem to feel too comfortable in their staff positions. They are always the last to come into a meeting – even if they called it themselves -- usually wading in five or more minutes late. The staffers are always out of the office first, many come in late in the morning and leave well before the business day is done. And often they slack off, waiting until the last minute to get things done, so that mistakes are made and items have to be re-done.

Good thing for us contractors – otherwise the corporate world would fall apart at the seams. I take pride in my work, and although I may not be bound and gagged to my employer, I still believe in putting my best foot forward.

Corporate culture is an interesting thing. Most management consultants will tell you the best way to see what a company’s staff thinks of their bosses, is to watch how they behave when their bosses are away.

From my observations, I’d say almost everyone hates their boss, or at the very least, doesn’t respect their boss enough to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, when their boss is away.

Just about every office I’ve been in on contract – which is quite a lot because I have a lot of clients – is like this. When the managers and other higher ups are out of the office – say on lunch, out to meetings or just working from home – their staffs run around and gossip, hang out and chat about life with their colleagues, surf the net for another job (I have seen this with my own two eyes) even play cards – anything and everything but work.

The word “work” seems to disappear the second the boss does. Yet, whenever I’m sitting in on the numerous project meetings, and people are falling behind in their project deliverables, guaranteed the number one excuse is “we’ve just been so very busy.”

Yeah, you’ve been busy alright – goofing off! But of course, the boss doesn’t know this, because they weren’t around to see all of this card playing, chatting and the like.

I’m a big supporter of freedom of expression, and privacy, but maybe it’s time to install security cameras in more than just the entrances to offices. There usually are closed-circuit security cameras in lobbies, and elevator hallways, but maybe it is high time management video taped their staff while they were out doing work.

Granted, not everyone on staff goes off the deep end and starts to play, instead of work. But there are far more people goofing off when the boss is away, than there are those busy working on the things that need to be done.

As a contractor, it isn’t my place to tell management how to manage their staff. Although I have some say in how we manage the projects, and the resources allocated to those projects. But my hands are tied – if management is convinced that they have the right people on the project to get it done, than I can’t very well tell them otherwise. All I can do is advise them to place more people on the project to ensure we meet our deadlines.

But then, when the boss goes away, even those extra bodies we’ve added to the project decide to play. That is, unless management has the budget to bring on more contractors – we contractors generally don’t goof off.

Funny thing about corporate culture, even the non-managers sometimes think they can manage us contractors. Truth is they have no say whatsoever in our relationship with their workplace. All that legalize stuff goes through the contractor’s and the company’s lawyers – hence the term “contractor” because it is a legally binding contract by all sides.

Still, contractors have to always stay on the ball, because the staff is watching us. Though most of the time they watch us in fear – we’re not costing the company as much as the staff, yet we’re getting the work that they should be able to do, done.

Who needs to kiss ass, when the staffers are scared silly about losing their jobs? Though maybe if those staffers didn’t play like children every time their boss disappeared, they wouldn’t have to hire us contractors in the first place?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Products from Orient Not Up to Snuff

Things aren’t made like they used to be. When I was a kid growing up, we had an old Black and Decker toaster, it must of lasted at least 12 or 15-years before toasting it’s last slice of bread. The toaster we replaced it with, also a Black and Decker, started to show signs of wear only after a couple of years.

Manufacturers have learned it is good to make things last – but if they last forever, they will lose money, because no one will need to buy their products anymore.

Not so with products which carry the infamous “Made in China” label. For many years, we’ve come to expect these products to not last as long as other products, but we get a cheaper product.

Problem is, that lack of concern for quality in the guise of a lower price has now become part of a dangerous trend, towards inferior products which have caused death.

Late last year, pet food made in China was recalled, because it contained anti-freeze in it. Hundreds of dogs and cats across North America died, because their owners opted for a cheap pet food. But some of the blame should be shouldered by the companies which farm out their products to factories in China – because they are the ones which are creating dangerous goods.

Yesterday, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced two separate recalls, which again involve products from China that can kill you.

Health Canada announced a recall involving Chinese-made toys, which can harm our kids. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency made a recall for beef and beef products which have E. coli bacteria in it – also from China. E. coli can kill.

Many have petitioned the federal and provincial governments, asking for an outright ban on products from China. So far, our politicians haven’t had the guts to do the right thing – and ensure the public safety by banning Chinese-made goods.

But we are all consumers and we can take things into our own hands. By refusing to purchase products made in China, we protect the lives of our friends, our family and ourselves.

More often than not, you get what you pay for. Products from China are cheaper, but is cheaper good – when your life and those of the lives of the people you care about are at risk?

It is hard to find things which aren’t made in China. And in some cases we may never know. Something may be made in Canada, but have parts made in China. But at least if we try to avoid things which proudly advertise they are made in an inferior manufacturing environment, perhaps we will not panic, when the government announces yet another recall carrying the “Made in China” moniker.

You can also avoid buying products from companies that have factories in China. And you can also write your federal, provincial and municipal politicians. If we put enough pressure on them, maybe we can save lives.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hard Times – Beer Prices Increase

You know we’re in an economic slump when beer prices go up. One could argue that beer is our national beverage – like hockey is our national sport.

Beer brewers are blaming droughts in Europe for the increase. The key ingredient in beer is hops. And most Canadian brewers import their hops from Europe. With the droughts over the past couple of years, hops is in short supply.

Add in the increases in oil prices and it costs more to ship all those hops over here.

So beer prices may go up by a couple of bucks.

The problem is more than a matter of costly suds. World economic conditions aren’t what they used to be – the costs of living constantly increase, while wages remain relatively the same, if not in some cases even going down.

I blame the oil tycoons in the Middle East. By constantly raising the price of crude oil, they set in motion increases across the board for everything else.

The oil tycoons – through their company’s spokespeople – claim oil prices go up, because demand goes up. They claim they sell their products just like everyone else does, in the supply-demand model.

Oil demand has increase over the years, but if all the increases are really due to supply-demand issues, how come oil companies constantly beat their previous year’s records for profit? In a true supply-demand model, the profits would be reflective of the supply and demand curve – yet they usually beat this curve.

Corporate and personal greed is what is driving up oil prices. Those who have a controlling stake in these companies just want more money. And who can blame them?

We live in a world where those with money have power, and those without money are powerless.

Statistics Canada recently said that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening even further – it has been growing since the 1990s.

So those with money will have more money, but those without money will never have the chance to have.

Makes me wish for a Star Trek-like universe, where money isn’t what drives people. In the ideal lore of Star Trek, people are motivated by exploration, and the constant desire to improve themselves and their worlds.

But we don’t live in a Star Trek universe, and there probably will always be an economic engine driven by dollars and cents.

Which is really tragic in many ways, because the accumulation of wealth may bring happiness to those who can achieve it, but to those without, they will lead lives of misery, desperation, and destitution. And that’s not really much of a life, when you think about it.