C. Northcote Parkinson, DCNS, Final Gifts, Fortune, Fortune magazine, J L Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Kellogg, Kellogg School, Netflix;, Parkinson's Law, Pierre Casse, South Australia, work-life balance
With a Government sliding in the polls based on the perception that they are doing nothing, there have been a slew of announcements this week. One that particularly took my eye was the awarding of the building of 12 new submarines for Australia to the French Government owned DCNS at an estimated cost of $50bn. They are going to be built with Australian steel, Australian jobs and most importantly by Australian workers.
Without revealing my sources I have come across a schematic of the new submarine. Probably highly classified I feel justified in leaking it (should we talk about leaking when referring to a sub?).
The sharp of eye among you will spot the obvious and reductionist cultural stereotyping that I have humorously deployed (ok I’m trying to get a few defence terms in here and there). While doctoring the drawing I recalled my time at Business School in the US. We were given a couple of lectures by a visiting professor from the French business school IAE, Pierre Casse. Casse is now Dean Emeritus at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership so he is still regarded as a thought leader in the area of cultural differences. His lecture though went down like a lead weight. At the coffee break between his two sessions the overwhelming consensus was ‘how dare this upstart Frenchman (actually he’s Belgium) come over here and tell us how we should conduct our lives, especially given the Europeans lazy attitude to work.’ By the end of the second lecture most of us had ‘got it.’
Casse was telling us that we need to learn from the European’s attitude to their work which embraces family and leisure time in a much more conscious way. This is often characterised by the European penchant for dining and enjoying good food and wine. Too often, it would appear, our own attitude to food is to refuel to get ourselves back to work, or to get pissed as quick as we can so we can enjoy our night out. Some things the Europeans just get. It’s been too easy to look down our nose at the flailing Greek economy or the amateurish Belgium counter-terrorism.
The implication, of course, of work-life balance is that there is always a trade-off. Sure the Europeans can enjoy their short work weeks and long holidays but that means they are not very productive and what they produce is low spec anyway – their scientists are too busy enjoying the bon vivant of Parisian bars.
So it is a bit of a shock for some to discover that the French won the submarine design and build bid out-gunning the hard-working Japanese and more industrious Germans. Even harder to swallow must be the fact that the French – so preoccupied in their endeavours to get a work-life balance – can build the submarine cheaper and in less time than our own smart, hard-working South Australians much vaunted in the country for their industrial prowess. What’s more DCNS is some lazy old government-owned enterprise. Sacré bleu!
I can’t recommend highly enough Callahan and Kelley’s book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying. Far from depressing it is an uplifting book with much wisdom to share. I cannot recall any mention within its 256 pages of a dying patient reflecting and regretting they didn’t spend more time at work. And yet we continue, in Australia, to work longer and harder. The technological aids that have enabled us to enjoy our leisure time e.g. an ipad to watch Netflix, simultaneously becomes a really easy interface device for typing out substantial emails or reports. We seem too willing or too pressured into the latter over the former.
Fortune magazine ranked 36 countries for average hours worked and Australia was 25th highest at 32 hours per week compared to France at 28.33. (This includes full-time and part-time workers). Suffice to say the laid-back Australian way of life does not prove factually correct when we analyse the hours we actually work. Herein lies the enigma though. With the French working on average fewer hours they appear to be able to put a high-tech submarine together quicker and cheaper than what we can.
Perhaps then, and I’m speculating here, it comes down to how we spend our working hours rather than the hours made available to us to work. In a spooky quirk of circumstance here I turn to British naval historian C Northcote Parkinson to explain. In his infamous text Parkinson’s Law he espoused that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Perhaps if we paid the workers in South Australia the same amount of money for building the submarines but gave them fewer hours to do so we could get our submarines quicker and as a result cheaper. Sounds illogical but I think management theory backs this suggestion.
Next time you are out at a French restaurant or quaffing a lovely Burgundy just reflect that the nation that spends so much of its time sitting in chic cafes watching the world pass by is the ultimate designer of our coastal defence system. I’ll drink to that!