Monday, September 16, 2013

“Computer leave”? It’s Greek to me…

I’ll admit it. It’s exceedingly easy to kick a country when it’s down. But in this case, Greece is more of less wearing a “Kick Me” sign.

Not that they’re not trying to do something positive here – they’re planning to eliminate one of the many truly ridiculous bonuses that Greek – in this case government -  employees have long enjoyed.

Yet the admission that they even gave out such a bonus to begin with is yet another reminder of how profoundly wacky the Greek workers’ paradise was.

Here’s the story:

Last week, the Greek government eliminated a bonus that has been in place since the late 1980’s, when computers were first introduced into the workplace in great numbers:

The bonus, known as "computer leave," applied to workers whose job involved sitting in front of a computer for more than five hours a day—basically most of the staff working in ministries and public services.

"It belongs to another era," Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the administrative reform minister, said. "Today, in the era of crisis, we cannot maintain anachronistic privileges." (Source: WSJ Online.)

The reasoning behind this bonus – six extra days off (with pay) – for using a computer. was that those who work on computers are entitled to a 15 minute break every couple of hours. Since it’s not generally possible to take those breaks – even in Greece, I guess – those quarter-hour missed breaks were aggregated into an extra six paid holidays for civil servants who used screens and keyboards while on the job.

If we had this in the private sector, looks like I’d be lining up to collect 180+ vakay days. Sweet!

Yet while working on a computer all day can be a drag -  tired eyes, carpal tunnel – it seems that there are other things that are more hazardous to your mental and physical health.

How about accruing bonus pay for time served sitting through incessant and boring meetings where nothing is accomplished? Even if you subtracted the hours spent in interesting and productive meetings, most everyone I know would end up with plenty of meeting-wasted hours to spare.

Special time off could also have been given based on the number of times someone else took credit for your work. Again, for the sake of fairness, this one should net out those occasions when you may have done a bit of credit-grabbing of your own. (Lesser points taken off when it was a sin of omission – letting someone think you were responsible for something good – vs. a sin of commission, where you explicitly hogged the kudos.)

I think it would have been nice if women got at least one day off a year for having to put up with the “voice as dog whistle” syndrome, in which a suggestion made by a woman is ignored, until it is taken up a couple of minutes later by a man, at which point it is wholeheartedly embraced.

And speaking of women, in Greece, they had previously done away a perk that surely must come under the heading “anachronistic privilege":

It has already limited the pensions that unmarried daughters are allowed to collect when their father dies.

My father died when I was 21. I didn’t get married until I was fifty.

You do the math.

Even a paltry stipend of $100 a month would have added up for may over the years.

And they also:

… scrapped a bonus for showing up to work on time.


I’ve heard of getting your pay docked for clocking in one minute after the whistle blew, but getting paid more to get to work on time?

It must be hell to be there now, but, boy, it must have been a blast being a Greek while the good times were rolling.

I read somewhere else that there was also a bonus given to some workers if they washed their hands regularly.

Perhaps this would be a good one to institute, given how germy the workplace can be, and how careless some folks are when it comes to hand hygiene. (Grossness alert: I was once in a bathroom where, from the sounds of things, a woman took out a used tampon and put in a fresh one, and then walked out without washing her hands.) But can you imagine keeping tabs on it?

I guess you could do it now by having “smart soap dispensers” and “smart faucets” that read your “smart employee badge” and recorded whether you used soap, how long you let the tap run, and how energetically you scrubbed.

The Greeks are surely being punished now by the spectacularly egregious, economically idiotic, sins of their past.

But when you read about bonuses like “computer leave” and the one for showing up on time, it’s no wonder that Germany and the EU sometimes wish they could wash their hands of the entire situation.

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