Friday, November 27, 2009

Thunderstorms and the cost of work

How much exactly does your work cost you and how much do you need to earn to live?
If some people in the world subsist on less than a dollar a day, why do we need more? It is of course not that simple and everyone will have a different answer. Balance arrives when we reconsider Maslow's hierarchy of needs and where we are in the process of reaching our own individual potential ( self actualisation).

Thank you Ceridwen for your comment yesterday.

Personally - I have had enjoyable work on the one hand and I have had paid work on the other hand - but the two have never coincided and I have given up hope by now that they ever will.

Employers are steadily imposing: health hazards at work (on people who never previously expected it)/antisocial hours working/micro-managing peoples time/cutting salaries in real terms or maybe even physically cutting them - and so a high proportion of extra people have been put in the position that the World of Work has now become unbearable. The "cost" many of us are having to pay to earn that steadily decreasing amount of money is becoming higher and higher - and too high for many of us to "pay" any longer.

So - since you have found "your place" then - enjoy.

The question I ponder over is where exactly are we on Maslow's triangle as a result of the financial crisis? What are the consequences to businesses and people?

The credit crunch effect has been like being hit by an enormous thunderstorm. Its effects are not just felt in business, on balance sheets but have an aftershock effect on each person on the edge of the epicentre and it questions our perception of normality.

So just as your sight can be distorted and vision impaired by sheets of rain, hail and thunder, and the feelings associated with that, there are also opportunities to rise from the ashes.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. ( danish proverb)

So far many companies still in the running have done all they could to minimise the effects on staff by cutting bonuses, outings, luxuries yet at the same time ensuring that all the rules and regulations they have to abide by by law are satisfied as a lawsuit would push them over the edge. This increases tension.(So if you are still in the storm, it is gathering dark clouds and more rain is forecast.)
Add to that that assets have reduced on everyones balance sheets, and you can see that the pressure is on for survival of the fittest with opportunities for others. Business costs are still rising and profit margins are still being squeezed and people are feeling that intensely.

Companies are reacting by monitoring and trying to push people and resources as far as they can. If profit is your number one, then you have to squeeze and it hurts somewhere. Other companies have so far managed to restrict cuts to their direct costs as well as assets and not their staff but the next step is to tighten up on costs in the staff department. Problem with that is that people do not feel valued, end up demotivated, stressed, get ill, and feel a mix of emotions that tip into the negative. (Thunder and lightning comes to mind as well as crashing rain. Whatever the weather you are likely to get soaked.)
People on short term contracts do not get their contracts renewed or staff are put on shorter days and if you have targets they are likely to be unforgiving.The result is that people are asked to work harder for less reward and tensions rise.

So what can you do if you are feeling undervalued, working as hard as you can but are facing a tough time. You probably wonder how you will manage if your job is cut from 5 to 3 days,or worse case scenario if you lose your job.In that case it is hard not to take if personal and to panic. From personal experience I would say that panicking is a normal response. (Umbrellas are now useless and you are truly soaked.)

If you are still standing in the rain I urge you to stay on because this is where you are going to need to focus in the madness because you either will find shelter or get soaked to the skin.

There is a balance between time and money and although voluntary simplicity allows us to gradually adapt to more time, less money the above scenario is probably going to floor some people because as where a downshifting path is a gradual process of adaptation the credit crunch is drastic and brutal and more painful.

First of all, it is extremely uncomfortable but if you can,check where you are, what your priorities are and start finding a solution that works for you. My experience with ME/CFS is simply that frustration is energy draining and the planning of slow, persistent actions creates a very slow path to progress.

Being an optimist,it is my personal opinion that there is no such thing as personal failure, just feedback even in a critical situation.

The overall difficulty is compounded because when consumers start reducing their spending, it increases the effects on businesses as lack of consuming reduces orders etc etc etc see above.

Is there a way forward you ask? How long before the situation turns around and sunshine appears?

The point to remember is that there are certain elements in this picture that you can build on and others that are beyond your sphere of influence. Believe me when I say it is hard to see sunshine during a thunderstorm.

“Just as the tumultuous chaos of a thunderstorm brings a nurturing rain that allows life to flourish, so too in human affairs times of advancement are preceded by times of disorder. Success comes to those who can weather the storm.”

-- I Ching No. 3

As ships wrestle in stormy weather the sight of a lighthouse makes you long for home. You could be battling crippling waves to reach that light, but surprisingly the light is incredibly bright. Find your lighthouse and point north.

What sets humans apart from animals is the ability to work together to find a solution and really all hands on deck are needed now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Profit or yield?

Happiness is working in a shop.

If you are wondering whether we are still enjoying what we do, the answer is a resounding yes. Apart from relentless days, weeks, months and years of working without a significant break, the life of a shopkeeper is a happy one with some surprises. It has been a transforming experience in more ways than one. 3 years ago we simply could not see how we could re-enter a working environment due to health issues until we realised that combining our strengths and working with our weaknesses as a family we could make a valid contribution to society. Family businesses are the oldest business model in the world and despite long working hours the rewards go beyond mere profit. Its an opportunity to try ideas, to involve all family members in business discussions and to get a broad view across the generations. It constantly amazes me how when we put a challenging situation on the table, many solutions arrive from all participants and we can then decide how challenges can be solved. If you want to know how to market toys to children, what better way than to take a 10 year old to the wholesaler and let him choose products for that market share. It also provides an educational tool to discuss how businesses work. If you want to understand the challenges faced by teenagers in their shopping habits, you only need to ask to receive an answer. Website design can be discussed with family members who grasp html..

When the going gets tough, we can work together as a team, each with our own individual roles to continue to serve customers. Each team member’s skills are valued and respected and their weaknesses offer opportunities for personal growth through mutual support and encouragement. A sense of humour helps.

What does the future hold in these uncertain and changing economic times? There are definite changes in supply lines as some suppliers go out of business, products are withdrawn and choice reduces but overall it is a never ending process of adaptation. We cannot anticipate completely what our customers want and when we fail , we see it not as failure but as feedback to consider change. We can see some of our suppliers struggling in this economy and we can see how that will affect our supply lines but by supporting local suppliers and by strengthening relationships with local suppliers we aim to create an interdependent local economy.

Someone’s output can become someone else’s input creating a circle of resources. Big businesses tend to rely on surveys and on secondhand information but to us having direct contact with our customers and suppliers informs us on their views on the products we offer which in turn can inform our business strategies.

As an example we recently were approached to market a new local muesli and before we agree to stocking a new item we take it apart and each family member gives some feedback. Is it local, what are the consequences of its packaging, what is the shelf life, where will be put it, what is the best possible price? Each team member has a view and brings some valid points to the discussion.

One of the best comments made by one of our sons was how lovely it was that work could be enjoyed. He had observed how many people are sad, stressed and unhappy at work and how he was not particularly looking forward to becoming a ‘groanup’. Seeing us smile, happy and contented in our work despite our challenges has given him a different perspective. That is simply a fantastic moment to remember and worth getting up for.

That is a bigger investment yield than profit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For the love of books

As the nights draw in and TV just really is not an option, I can be found in a rather tatty chair next to the wood burner, cosy hand knitted socks on my feet, a small glass of damson gin and a good book.
How do you go about getting books to read without spending a lot of money?
I recently joined readitswapit, an ingenuous way to revolve your books and exchange them for other reading material. Its really simple, you list your books, you make them active and people send you an email when they want to swap with you, you look at their list of books and if anything grabs you, you just swap. You send the book in the post and you receive your reading material in the post. When you have read the book you can make it active in your swapping library and so it goes on.
The result is that I now have 9 new books to read which is promising.
A definite alternative to the library and no addition of stuff on the shelves. And if your interests have changed you can go and explore a whole new world.