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Short-sighted, corrupt or just plain stupid?
Have the Greek companies learned anything from the economic crisis of the recent years? What are their plans for the future and how do they function under the new devastating circumstances? The past ten years of working within have led me to some -interesting?- conclusions.
by Nikki Frangiadaki
It is the end of the month again and, as we have come to expect during the last years, people are being fired left and right. No one is leaving their desk. They’re waiting for THE phone call. Two rings and it’s an outside call. One ring and it may be the head of the Human Relations department inviting you to his office in order to fire you. Apparently, contrary to what is expected in the United States, and other developed countries, his duties are confined to payroll, accounting and, lately, firing people.
Those who have been hired during the past decade are lucky for they do not have to worry as much, nor do those who have a monthly salary of less than 900 euros. It is the ones who are not “hireable” anymore, who are older, who have spent 20 – 30 years of their lives working for the company who are at a disadvantage, who are terminated in just one afternoon. The paper work is already waiting for them. One signature and it’s done. An employee demands to know the reason behind her termination, preferably in writing: “We are not obligated by law to tell you” is the cowardly answer. They are not even worthy of that simple courtesy.
This is all happening on the ground floor of the building. At the higher levels the big executives have huge plans: “We want, when people think of the food and beverage industry to automatically think of us. We want innovation, ideas and effort. However, the company does not want to spend any more money. We want cutbacks. All employees are expected to do everything. The workload is going to increase and we are working on bringing in new and fresh people, well-known to the industry and the general public to make a change”.
New, apparently only to them who have taken over very recently. Because for me, these new entries are very old and very out-dated. They are exactly the same people I found when I was first hired, ten years ago. Innovation according to top Greek executives is looking back ten years and doing the same thing again hoping for a different result and a small profit.
One, of the people returning, the biggest name of all, had abandoned the company, along with his whole team to work for the competition. Those left behind were forced to plan the next day. And they did. Successfully. The big shot failed at his new attempt. His sales dropped dramatically. Three years later and he’s back. Along with his team. Those who were left behind are stripped of their duties, titles, without even a word, and are forced to work alongside him as his obedient subordinates. His salary 20 times larger than theirs. This is what it means today to be loyal to a Greek company.
This is also what it means to bring people who are clueless, who have no experience, ideas or inspiration to high ranking positions. Their sole purpose to keep their small, low-paying job, a job obtained by close personal ties to people in power. Yes, this plague is a characteristic of the private sector too. The “dimosio” (public sector) isn’t the only demon here.
And, if you’re wondering, the purpose of this article is not for me to rant about my job, even though, I admit, it is very therapeutic, but rather, to discuss why the Greek professional world is light years behind all advanced countries. It is not that the employees are lazy, privileged, disinterested or because they have less knowledge and capabilities. On the contrary, almost everyone is highly educated, speak many foreign languages fluently and most now have lived (studied or worked), in other countries. They know from personal experience how things are done abroad and how self respecting companies function. It is just that they’re trapped in a system that is as backwards, retarded and unfair as the people in charge of it. I have worked now close to 10 years in various Greek companies and under different circumstances and think I have an idea of what is wrong with them. They were the same before the crisis, they are the same now.
First of all, there are no Human Resource departments. Even in big companies like mine. No, to speak more correctly, there are no HR departments whose duties comprise more things than merely giving out the monthly salary or helping out with the accounting (and, as mentioned before, firing people). If your supervisor, for example, harasses you, treats you disrespectfully, demotes you unfairly, hires friends and relatives with a lot more money and less obligations than you, there is no one to complain to. Employees are so used to nepotism, mistreatment at work and general disorderly conduct, that no one raises an eyebrow. Even as I am writing these words, we are finding out that our new supervisor has decided to hire his wife at a position just under him. This means that if we have a problem with her, the person to talk to is her husband. And worst of all, most think that concepts like a descent HR department, employees speaking out, or seeking legal advise are “amerikanies” (a stupid American creation or habit devoid of substance), not worthy of their time.
Furthermore, there is no room to grow. A typical American employee’s professional life goes like this: intern at a small company, promotion to high rank, moving on to a medium sized company, than a larger one, than becoming partner. Everyone expects and applauds this. One person’s success is a reflection on the whole company because everyone understands that people evolve and that remaining in one position for their whole life is not a badge of honor, but mere stagnation. In Greece on the contrary, individuals with aspirations, who are driven and who pursue personal success are opportunists and when they leave the company, traitors. This is why jobs at the public sector are in such high demand. You get your measly salary until the day you retire without anyone being able to fire you, regardless of how you fulfill your duties. And that mentality has spilled over to the private sector as well. And while employees are expected to be loyal to their companies during their entire professional life, companies on the other hand, may throw them out on the street at any given time without even a decent explanation.
Another big restraint for ambitious professionals is the unfair concept of treating everyone the same. Contradictory? I will explain. Our salary is not a result of our specific talents, education, merits or hard work. Rather, it is determined by the State, politicians and trade unionists in the form of collective agreements. Everyone gets the basic salary according to how many years they’ve been in the field. A fake notion of fairness or social justice, regardless of individual effort. An employee who works harder or is better at her job rarely gets compensated for that. Rather, more work is piled on due to her competency. I guess hard work and efficiency is a punishable crime in Greece.
All of the above, however stem from one specific thing; there is no greater plan for the future. Nobody has a vision, a way of functioning that takes into consideration the long term effects. Short-sightedness is the common, debilitating characteristic. The main purpose and goal, making a quick buck (αρπαχτή), without offering the appropriate services. This leads to the same people doing the same thing over and over again, with temporary gain and then it’s back to the drawing board. No one is brave enough to leap with both legs into the future, to change the landscape of an ever failing system. Even after a devastating economic crisis that should have led everyone to an outside the box way of thinking, to studying the way successful countries and companies do business, to wanting to start over again, we are sticking to our guns like a desperate southern belle trying to keep on to her plantation and slaves (the only thing remaining is to pull down our curtains in order to make the perfect dress).
The mentality of sticking to the beaten path and holding on to the few things acquired hasn’t helped us in the past. And if the business world, typically considered the most forward thinking of any other group in a society, is not willing to take the leap, who are we left with?
Leaving things on a positive note is not my forte. However, by not doing so I would be ignoring a very hopeful part of our population that is worth mentioning; our young entrepreneurs. The main characters of our success stories that leave us with some small hope and anticipation for the future. Mainly, educated professionals leaving their jobs in big companies in order to put their talent into something new, something that is completely their own. Countless people who are moving back to their villages, that are cultivating the land and exporting Greek products of quality to European and American cities (i.e. olive oil and tomato paste that is sold at Harrods, little jars of honey or soap in airports all over the world, herbs and mastic shops in New York, the examples are many). These individuals are taking advantage of their studies (in Greece and abroad), and are trying to find, or rather create, opportunities in the middle of the crisis. And it is only individuals that are taking the initiative to move on to greater things, while the big companies are putting all their efforts into maintaining the failed status quo. And it is through this vital and healthy part of our population that some change may be brought forward.
Until then, Greeks will be divided into four categories: the unemployed, the ones working towards their personal growth and gain through entrepreneurship, the ones migrating to more economically stable countries and finally, the ones at their office in a big company waiting for that one phone call that will change their lives. And as the song says “Τίποτα δεν έχει αλλάξει, τίποτα δεν είναι όπως παλιά” (Nothing has changed, nothing is as it used to be).