Birthday Beercake

At work today some of my colleagues surprised me with a birthday beercake — locals brews configured to form a kind of layer cake, with a special sour beer as a quasi-candle on top.

What a thoughtful and artistic gesture!  They insisted, however, that I leave their creation in my office for a few days, so all visitors can enjoy it.  I wonder how the nightly cleaning crew will react to the new addition to my desktop art?

Death By Overwork

Here’s an amazing fact:  Japan is, only now, looking to limit how much overtime employers can ask employees to work.  And, even more amazing, the first-ever proposal to limit overtime would set a cap at 100 hours per month.

p1010928Japan has long had a curious tradition of a slavish work ethic, with some employers measuring employee hours not by productivity — where Japanese workers trail Americans and others — but by raw hours worked, which the employers associate with qualities like loyalty and dedication.  So even though Japanese law has instituted a 40-hour work week, it is commonplace for workers to spend far more time than that at the office and on the job, with no governmental limit on how much “overtime” employees can be expected to put in.  The social pressure to commit to working crushing hours has even caused the Japanese to coin a word — karoshi — to refer to death from overwork.  Every year, hundreds of deaths from heart attacks, strokes, and suicides are attributed to karoshi, and a recent government survey determined that one in five Japanese companies have employees whose tendency to overwork puts them at risk.

It was a recent suicide, of a young employee of an advertising firm, that caused the Japanese government to propose the first-ever limitation on overtime.  But those who advocate true reform of the Japanese work culture scoff at a 100-hour-a-month limit as almost as outlandish as having no limit at all, because it means employers could routinely require employees to work more than 60 hours a week.  That’s ten hours a day, six days a week — not exactly the kind of restriction that is going to prevent people from suffering the mental and physical health effects of constant overwork.

The Japanese problem with karoshi is an example of how cultures can develop in radically different ways, imposing expectations that would be unimaginable elsewhere. How many countries and cultures have a problem with people routinely working themselves to an early grave?  And part of the problem is that there remain thousands of Japanese workers who accept the culture imperative to work like a dog and try to satisfy its demands, rather than just rejecting the unreasonable expectations and going somewhere where the work-life balance is a happier and healthier one.  You can impose government regulations, but at a certain level individuals have to stand up for themselves and act in their own best interests — cultural imperatives or not.

Requiring A College Degree For Every Job

Recently Washington, D.C. became one of the first cities in the country to impose a licensing requirement that mandates that all child care workers — that is, people caring for infants and toddlers who aren’t yet in a pre-school or kindergarten program — must obtain college degrees.

The college degree requirement is part of an effort to address an “achievement gap” between children that apparently is evident as early as 18 months of age.  The concern is that most early child care workers are treated, and paid, like glorified babysitters, when they actually should be viewed as being more like teachers.  D.C. officials want to focus child care programs more on education and quality of care and “set our young children on a positive trajectory for learning and development.”

The new standard will require many existing child care workers in the District of Columbia, who hold only high school diplomas, to go back to college and obtain a degree — a daunting prospect for many because of the cost of going to college and the low pay that child care workers traditionally receive.  Studies show that a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education produces the lowest lifetime earnings of any college degree, which makes it likely that child care workers who do earn a degree won’t stay in the child care area and will instead move on to better-paying careers.  If those child care workers need to take out student loans to get that college degree, their financial issues will become even more acute.  And neither the District of Columbia, nor the parents of the kids being cared for, apparently have the resources to pay the workers more after they get that required college degree.

This seems to me like a self-inflicted problem.  Of course, making sure that young children enjoy stimulating environments, are introduced to the benefits of reading at an early age, experience interesting forms of play, and so forth is important — but it doesn’t require a college agree to make sure that happens.  People with high school diplomas who are adequately trained and monitored should be perfectly capable of helping children move onto that “positive trajectory for learning and development” through programs that can be set by the supervisors of the child care centers.

More and more, we seem to be requiring college degrees for jobs because it sounds good, and a college degree can be seen as a kind of general surrogate for all kinds of skills — when in reality not every job actually requires a college degree.  This trend pushes more people into college, allows colleges to continuously increase their tuition, puts pressure on wages, and has all kinds of other effects.  We need to recognize that not everyone needs to go to college, and not every job requires college.

 

De-Mented

A few days ago our firm came out with its roster of attorneys and practice groups.  The roster lists all of our attorneys, and for associates also identifies their designated partner mentors.  As I scanned the roster, I saw that this year, for the first time in a very long time, I do not have any designated associate mentees.

As I mentioned to one of my colleagues, I guess this means I am officially de-mented.

I’ve enjoyed being a mentor over the years.  My practice is to take my mentees out to lunch on a relatively regular basis, buy them a good meal, serve as a sounding board if they want to talk about their plans and their problems, and offer my advice if the situation seems to call for it.  What older person wouldn’t like flapping their gums to offer advice to an earnest young person?  My mentees have become friends, and Kish and I have enjoyed socializing with them, having them over to our house for a cookout and cocktails, and hosting them for an annual holiday meal that has become a fun end of the year tradition for us all.

But, in reality, I’m confident that I’ve gotten far more out of being a mentor than I’ve given.  I’ve gotten to know some really fine people who might not have otherwise become friends, I’ve experienced the satisfaction of seeing my mentees move on to success, at the firm and in life, and I’ve gotten repeated reminders of how out of step my thinking is in the modern world.  Unfortunately, I also had to deal with one brutal tragedy that still hurts to even think about, when a wonderful young woman died long before her time — but I guess that’s part of being a mentor, too, in that you have to be willing to take the bitter with the sweet.

The other day I got a call from one of my former mentees who left the firm a number of years ago.  She was asking for a reference, and in her message she said “you’ve always been a great mentor to me.”  Of course I agreed to help if I could, and it made me feel good to think that she still views me as a mentor of sorts.  Maybe I’m not totally de-mented after all.

A February For The Ages

We’ve had a run of unbelievable weather lately, and today was the crown jewel –mid-70s and sunny, in the middle of the normally gloomy Columbus winter.  If you didn’t have a calendar, you’d swear it’s May.  The plants on the Ohio Statehouse grounds appear to agree with that assessment.

Weather like this can’t last, so you’ve got to enjoy it while you can — which is why I decided to leave the office a bit early this afternoon.

Pathetic Proofreading

The Library of Congress recently released an inaugural poster of our new President with a quote from him — and as you can see below it had a big, embarrassing typo in it.

trumpposterIt’s true.  The Library of Congress, for God’s sake!   The home of hundreds of thousands of books, started when Congress purchased the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, apparently doesn’t employ a decent proofreader who knows the difference between “to” and “too.”

It’s sad, but it’s not really surprising.  Proofreading is an art that is pretty much gone with the wind.  People used to pride themselves on zealously catching typos and misspellings and other written errors.  These days, though, people type things up and blast them out, whether via Twitter or blogs or Facebook, and nobody bothers to check them for spelling or grammar or the proper use of the King’s English.  We’ve gotten to the point where we basically accept the casual typo or the misuse of a word because . . . well, because we’re just in too much of a hurry to pay attention to those little, trifling details.  As I said . . . it’s sad.

But really — the Library of Congress?  The official inaugural poster?  If there’s one thing that should be proofread to a fare the well, that’s it.  For shame!

Knackered

A few days ago, the word of the day on our word calendar was “knackered.”  It’s a British word that is synonymous for “tired.”

puppy-fell-asleep-in-dog-food“Knackered” is presumptively an excellent word, because all words that begin with a “k” are.  (Kish agrees with this point.)  It’s a fun word to say and kind of rolls off the tongue, too.  But it’s also an extremely useful word because, especially as you get older, it’s increasingly common to become tired as the work week progresses, and having another word that you can use to describe your condition is very welcome.

When you think about it, there are almost as many words that express being tired as there are for being drunk.  And, there are some fine gradations between them.  I would put “fatigued,” “enervated,” and “weary” at the less tired end of the spectrum, whereas “exhausted,” “dead on my feet,” and “bone tired” would hold down the opposite end, where you can barely stand and have to watch that you don’t nod off at the dinner table (or with your head in the dog food bowl).  “Beat,” “wiped out,” “shot,” “spent,” “worn out,” “bushed,” “tuckered out,” and (Mom’s favorite) “too pooped to pop” would be somewhere in between.

Knackered would be more toward the “exhausted” end of the spectrum, because in some parts of the former British Empire it’s also slang for “broken” and is derived from a word for “to kill.”  And, because it’s of British lineage, you can sound classy when you express the depth of your fatigue.

Feel free to use it the next time you drag yourself home from work and somebody asks how you’re doing.