woensdag 27 februari 2013

Flexibility at work: trust your employee to reach the goal

"But how do we know they're not slacking?" employers always end up asking whenever flexible hours and working from home are discussed. "How do we know they're putting in the hours they're paid for and that it's not burdening the fulltimers with an extra work load?"

This question actually really annoys me, as it shows a severe distrust between employers and employees. 

Because the answer, unfortunately, is: "You have to trust your employees to do their job." 

An employer does this by focusing on result and end goals and by letting go of the process.

You have to trust your employees to feel enough pride in themselves and their work to want to make sure that deadlines are met, products and reports are delivered and customers served in the best way possible. You have to trust your employees to not see you as simply a source of easy money, but as a source of job satisfaction and meaning of life. 

The employer who's afraid his employees will take advantage of him, does not trust his employees. So this employer needs to take a good look at herself and ask: do I inspire my employees to do the best they can? Do I make them want to work for and with me? Because if the answer is yes, she does not need to fear to be taken advantage of.

In the end, what matters is that the job gets done, that customers are satisfied, that deadlines are met. How and when an employee does this, is immaterial. So the employer who focuses on result instead of on hours and work sheets is focusing on the goal - the other employer is focusing on the process. Focusing on the process instead of the goal, policing your employees to make sure they stick to the letter of the contract instead of to the spirit of the company, does not guarantuee reaching the goal. 

I used to work at an office where I'd be kicked out at 5pm and we weren't allowed to take work home. I know, this sounds like everybody's dream, but it was my nightmare. I never managed to finish my work at 5pm, so each morning I would start with a back log. 

A lot of my work involved very concentrated, nitpickingly checking of big stacks of paper (I was working in publishing and somebody has to make sure there are no typos in those books and that all pages are numbered correctly and several hundred other little things like that). I would have much rather done that in the quiet of my home instead of in an open plan office with ten colleagues. I would have probably been much faster (and better!) at it in that scenario. But I wasn't allowed, so every day I fell further and further behind. 

My boss's reasoning? If I didn't manage to finish my work load within the eight hours he gave me, I wasn't doing a good enough job. I wasn't allowed any other time frame than the one he gave me.

Time frames for tasks were a whole other story, though. He wasn't very clear on those at all. For my first big task, I asked what the deadline was. "As soon as possible", he said. But when exactly, I insisted. "Yesterday", he answered. It took me two weeks. Afterwards he told me I was supposed to have done it in a day or four. 

My boss focused on the process, not on the goal. He told me in great detail what had to be done and how, and would check my work continuously and comment on it. He told me to get to 95 percent perfect and leave off the last 5 percent. He never gave deadlines, but told me to "take my time" and "figure it out". I never quite understood what he meant by 95 percent, so I erred on the safe side, took my time and diligently worked towards perfection taking far too long on even the most mundane of tasks. 

In the end I was fired. 

Focusing on the process give the employer a feeling of empowerment, a feeling of being in control, a feeling of doing all they can to make sure goals are met. When in fact the employer might actually be working against that very goal as my former boss did.

Since then I've worked at several other places and I have learned that I work best if given a task and then left alone. Some days go easy and I slack (a little), some days are more difficult and I need to really pull myself together, skip lunch and other breaks and stay late in order to get things done. Usually, the tally ends up to the employers' advantage. 

Because I took pride in my work, because I liked my employer and because we could trust each other. If I needed to leave for an emergency, I could, no questions asked. If I needed to work from home, I could (I preferred not to however). If a seminar I was attending ended at 4pm, I wouldn't have to come into the office to fill in the last couple of hours of my contract but could simply go home early. If I needed to stay for dinner or drinks to network however, I would.* If I needed to come in early to take a call, I would. If I needed to stay late to cover for a colleague, I would. If I needed to catch up on my reading on the weekend, I spent the weekend reading.

They always did right by me. So I did right by them. There was trust.

The work got done. And then some.

*I never was paid over time. Technically, I was allowed to compensate late hours by leaving early on some other day, but unless I really put in several extra hours, I generally wouldn't ask to compensate. It seemed a bit petty to keep track of every minute in that way, especially since they never seemed to either and always took my word for it.

maandag 25 februari 2013

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Baby J. and baby E.

So do they look like each other? We thought not. We could be wrong.





The amount of clothing and the woollen blanket is an obvious giveaway - baby E.'s on top, baby J.'s in the bottom picture.






And this is now, a mere five weeks later! Again, the clothing is probably clueing you in as to which is which - but it's baby J. in surfer shorts on top this time, and baby E. in the bottom picture, wearing a spiffy Miffy shirt, even if I say so myself.

So, what's the verdict?

woensdag 20 februari 2013

Singaporeans do things differently: the holiday season

The holiday season ended last week. And no, even though I'm from Brabant, I'm not including Carnaval in the yearly line-up.

In Europe the basic holiday season lasts from Christmas to the day after New Year's Eve. The Dutch include  Sinterklaas, so our season starts on the 5th of December (or actually, two weeks before, which is when he arrives in the Netherlands in a nationally televised event). More Anglofied countries start the season with Halloween and the proper English precede that one with Guy Fawkes Night. So, generally, there'll be parties and get togethers and presents and the like from November to December. But it all ends on January 1st. (Well, unless you're French and into celebrating the Three Kings on January 6th, but after that it's really over.)

Carnaval isn't the continuation of the Winter Festivities but more the start of the Spring Clean-up (by making very very sure there is something to clean up and atone for).

Singapore's holiday season is a bit more, well, elaborate, thanks to the equal rights of several major world religions. In order of appearance in 2012 and 2013:

October
Hari Raya Haji (Muslim; the festival of sacrifice; public holiday)
Hungry Ghost Festival (Chinese; to honour the spirits of our forefathers; Tamtam impression)
Mid-Autumn Festival (Chinese; to eat moon cakes and light lanterns; Tamtam impression)

November
Deepavali (Indian; festival of the lights; public holiday)
Halloween

December
Christmas (public holiday)
New Year's Eve (public holiday)

January
Thaipusam (Indian; the walk of faith)

February
Chinese New Year (Chinese; the start of the lunar new year - the most important festival in Singapore and not one, but two days of public holiday)

There were a fair few holidays in August and September as well (such as National Day, Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Suikerfeest, and of course the Great Singapore Sale and Fashion Festival!) so really, it's been one big glug of festivities and parties and celebrations of religious and secular kinds around town for about half a year now.

We're missing out on Carnaval, but to be honest, this year I don't really mind. It's been mindboggling busy so far and we could use the break and the seeming return to normalcy.

But not too long of a break or too much of a return to the daily grind, mind - the next public holiday is scheduled for March 29th: Good Friday. Happy Easter everybody!

maandag 18 februari 2013

Baby J. is regulating

Baby J. is big and beautiful, he can lift up his head, has strong legs and big lungs.

I know these things because one of his favourite tricks is to push down hard with his legs while seated in manduca or sling, beat his fists on my chest, open up his mouth and yell.

He's five weeks old today and on the cusp of evil week 6, when fussiness and crying hit their peak. He has his fussy evening hour. And a fussy morning hour. Or two. Or three. A fussy afternoon hour. Or two. Or three. Until the evening hour.

He also has lovely (half) hours: the one after the day has started and we do tummy time. The one after his long, exhausted midday nap, when we lie on the floor and look out the window. He has lovely minutes too, like the several minutes when he's kicking back in the bath, the ones just before he goes to bed at night and he's slowly falling asleep after having had three feeds in an hour and a half, or the ones when sister E. is trying to cuddle him before she starts yelling at us because we won't let her pick him up.

This morning she sat on our bed next to baby J. and pushed me off. "Daddy has set the table", she informed me while hugging J. uncomfortably close. "It's time for your breakfast." And when I didn't make a move: "GO!" She swats us away when we try to cuddle him. There is Only One Designated Baby J. Cuddler and that is she.

But, oh, the crying. I can't stand it. This morning I jumped up and down in frustration in front of the National Library (while holding on tightly to baby J.'s head who was seated in the manduca) because he wouldn't let me stand still long enough to pay my library fines. Or maybe the cold inside had woken him up. I don't know. I only know that it had been several hours of on-the-brink-of-wailing, only warded off by S. and my own constant efforts at soothing and I though I had finally lulled him back to sleep by walking from home to the Library. No such luck, apparently.

I explained to S. that baby crying jumpstarts every molecule and adrenaline gland in my body and that I can't "just accept it". I, and I think many mothers with me, am simply not wired that way. (And yes, I deliberately typed "mothers" instead of "parents". I'm too tired, but I'm quite sure there is research backing that claim up.)

Whenever I complain about his sleeping, people commisserate about broken nights. But Baby J. actually generally sleeps quite well at night (by newborn standards, obviously), has one night feed, an occasional late evening feed and is usually back in his crib within the hour. Sometimes even within the half hour. But clearly we pay for this luxury with day-time wakefulness.

I had him checked by the doctor, on the off chance that there was a Medical Reason For His Crying. There isn't. And as our pediaetrician happens to be specialized in gastroenterology (stomachs and stuff) she helpfully also ruled out cramps.

"He's regulating" she said with a besotted look (did I mention Baby J. really is gorgeous?). "Regulating?" I asked. "He's trying to find his routine", she clarified. Did you know newborns actually don't know how to fall asleep? Apparently that is learned behaviour. So, your basic six weeks old crying fits so. We're just going to have to sit this one out.

And in the meantime, we've got a part-time helper coming in a couple a times a week so my arms get a break from jiggling the crying baby and I get a chance to nap. Or to feed the firstborn.

Today was her first day. Her experienced nanny verdict?

"He just doesn't want to close his eyes even though he's definitely sleepy." She looked at the calm but wide-eyed baby draped over her shoulder with a indulgent smile.

"I think he's sleeping with his eyes open now."

maandag 11 februari 2013

Lessons learned: Baby survival mantra's

Rule number 1 when dealing with a newborn: do not want.

Because I'll not get it. He won't sleep when I want him too, whereas he'll drop off for hours when I'd prefer him to be awake, he'll not go on a practical nursing schedule, he'll not forego pooping during the night and he'll cry whenever he wants too, whether or not that breaks his mama's heart (I know, I know, I promised I wouldn't do this this time around - but I am doing it. It's stronger than I am.)

I have stolen this mantra from E., actually, who'll frown and pout and push offending objects (quite often her plate) away and mutter darkly "don't want". I find myself muttering the same around half past four in the morning, when baby J. is on his bi-hourly feeding schedule. But, like E., I don't have much choice in the matter.

With E. I had a different, altogether more friendly, mantra: "I will never regret time spent cuddling my child." 

Baby J. is seventeen days old today. So realistically, I should not want things from him yet. He's growing like a maniac, feeding like there's no tomorrow, he likes the bath if it's hot hot hot, he has gorgeous blue eyes which inspect the world around him. 

He is strong, can almost hold up his head and when he smiles, which he already does, he has dimples in his cheeks. He is beautiful, big, healthy. 

He fights sleep with every ounce he's got in him. The pram works during the day, if it's a proper walk. He'll do one or two fairly long stretches at night (a couple of hours each) if swaddled to the hilt. If he escapes the cloth, he'll wake himself up by fiercely throwing his arms around. 

His sister was the same - big, healthy, beautiful, open to all the wonders of the world and ready to fight sleep at every corner. She turned into a good eater, a good sleeper and an all round wonderful person. So why am I worrying? 

I am not the only one to hang on by the skin of my mantra's. Other people's include "sleep is for the weak" and "this too shall pass". What are your mantra's? How do you survive the worrywart stage? How should I relax? And how do I conquer the fear of being without grandparental help, i.e. how do I cope when my mother leaves?

maandag 4 februari 2013

Singaporeans do things differently: Post natal massage

"Your uterus is already back to its normal position", marvelled our Dutch confinement nurse a week after giving birth. "Usually that takes about two weeks."

We agreed it was probably due to the post-natal massage I had enjoyed after the birth. This is by far the best present I have ever given myself: an hour-long full-body massage on five consecutive days, followed by binding the tummy (and all its entrails) to shore everything up a bit and stuff it back into place. A friend told me she couldn't stand it for more than a few hours - I left it on overnight, because it felt wonderful.

Our little giant managed to come out without any side effects to my nether regions - but my pelvic bones have been hurting ever since. They weren't too comfortable before the birth either, which according to People In The Know was because the cartilage-filled joint at the front had weakened in order to enable my hips to spread far enough to let baby J. out. It worked. But now it has to toughen up again and it's hurting (it's also interfering with my ability to sit on anything but our utterly comfortable couch. I know, this sounds like a lousy lazy-person excuse, doesn't it?) The Javanese binding (two different pieces of cloth reinforcing each other, slightly similar to the way we used to mummify people with toilet paper way back when) gave my body some much needed support, so I could get up and around.

The massage on the other hand was mostly a gentle, relaxing rub (S. took care of baby J. during this time, while E. joined in the gentle rub thing by patting my legs and getting her hands repeatedly smeared in massage lotion - we thinks she takes after her physiotherapist grandmother). It was nice, it smelled wonderful, it was indulgent and it forced me to lie down for an hour at least once a day.

The belly bit (I declined on the booby bit) was slightly more painful and lots more vigorous. The massage therapist was really molding my body back to its original shape. Interestingly enough, she'd burp during this part of the massage, as if she was bodily emitting the "blockages" she told me she found in my belly. My belly did feel a bit sore for the next few hours and itchy because of the lotions she applied, but I am much much thinner than I was after E.

I loved it. I heartily recommend it - I went with Babies Bellies, who don't charge too much compared to other companies (around 400 SGD including travelling costs and the coverage for the binding), whose massage therapist spend considerably more than an hour working with me and who managed to arrange for everything in a quick and timely order.

I was pampered, my uterus went back to its proper place, and I got to be thinner and slept better. In the Netherlands I had never heard of this before - probably because our eyebrows tend to rise at the mere mention of a non-medical or non-lover-related massage. I would have just waited it out - and had considerably more pelvic pain and sleepless nights into the bargain.

Sorry, no pictures. I am not *that* much back to my old self yet.

vrijdag 1 februari 2013

Delivering baby J. in Singapore

Including my favourite TMI-subject: peeing. So what was it like, having the second one in Singapore?

In some ways it was very similar. Like when the contractions just wouldn't kick in properly and I had to keep on walking walking walking to irritate the uterus into action. Every time I sat down, the tiny painful period-like contractions subsided and the gynaecologist would shoo me off again.

Exasperated, he decided to give me another pill to induce me even further, which decision finally scared my uterus into submission and all of a sudden it started to contract like a maniac every two minutes or so. Again, from nought to sixty in a few minutes. Or, from 2 cm to 10 cm in an hour and a half, which is FAST. Pushing baby J. out was a breeze, like last time, no tearing, no episiotomy, lovely baby at the end. S. missed the end of the movie he was watching, just like last time, but fortunately, like last time, he'd already seen the movie several times (The day after tomorrow).

I didn't watch. But this time I wasn't offered a mirror to watch myself in, which I appreciated.

The whole thing took about twelve hours, counting from induction, and two hours counting from the onset of serious contractions.

Other differences: I was hooked up to several monitors (contractions, baby heart beat), an epidural, an IV and some other random stuff that I've forgotten the reason for. The TV was tiny, unlike the big plasma screen S. had last time. I was surrounded by medical equipment, just in case, which was not discreetly hidden into the wall like last time.

I had an epidural which made me an all round much more pleasant patient. Also, they didn't make me wait for the epidural, which was a good thing as any sort of wait would have rendered the whole thing unnecessary. The nurse called the gynaecologist, who came in wearing chino's and a casual shirt with rolled up sleeves, just in time for the delivery.

Speaking of casual clothing: Only the nurses wore shapeless white uniforms. The anesthesiologist wore a skin tight pink velours track suit.

But maybe the biggest shock for S. and me was how little time we ended up spending with baby J. They kept taking him to the nursery for a check, for vaccinations (yes, at a day old! And to think I postponed E.'s first immunizations until she was eight weeks old!), to warm him up under infra red light, to let him sleep, to let me sleep, to do the hearing screening - basically everything was done out of our sight. S. tried to go with him at first, but wasn't allowed in the nursery. It was a tad strange for us, as E. did not leave our sides for, oh, the first few weeks after she was born. Actually, not until S. went back to work and my mother came to kick me out of the house to get holiday presents for the whole family and realize that I could still exist separately from my child. (That was a revelation.)

Also: everytime they returned baby J. to us, we had to check to make sure he was ours. There have been switches (though thankfully not at our hospital).

Last time, the thing I enjoyed most after the birth was putting on my own socks. Bending over! No belly! This time however, I hadn't been able to pee the whole day, as a gigantic baby head was blocking all traffic downwards. The relief after I finally sat on my bedpan is indescribable.

After pains were a nasty surprise, however, especially during nursing. Ouch. The love E. obviously feels for baby J. is wonderful to behold. Yesterday she tried to nurse him when he started crying. Speaking of food: I loved the fact that I could choose from a menu in the hospital but it was still hospital food - or have we just gotten very spoiled with good food in Singapore?

S. stayed with baby J. and me the first night, while the Friesian set of grandparents looked beautifully after E. She is getting thoroughly spoiled, thankfully.

On the whole I am doing well. We had asked a Dutch nurse to come by a few times during the past two weeks, as there is no regulated after care for mother or child like in the Netherlands. This worked wonders for my confidence levels and to remind me of all those nifty little breast-feeding things and baby-care things I had mislaid in my memory box. I also had post-natal massage - brilliant! More on that in another post thought.

Baby J. is thriving, but not a great sleeper - though at least he sleeps better at night than during the day. I had forgotten how horribly difficult I find it to adjust to a newborn. (I had not forgotten - I had just chosen to think this time it would be different. It's not.) We have another two weeks of grandparental help, which again is wonderful - I wish they would move here.