Win-Win situation!

In life, there are many things which need a bit of tweaking or thinking out of the box. By doing so, the situation sometimes improves by some percentage and sometimes drastically. Businesses or offices want their efficiency and profits to go up. Humans wish to have a better work-life balance. Many times, these things do not happen because organisations don’t want to experiment. Status Quo is always good!

Recently I came across a couple of articles. One of them is about a  proven system, and the other one has been tried only for one month.

Around 1995, in the state of Quebec in Canada, the state government started implementing a scheme. In Quebec, French is the first language. Like all other states in Canada, there are a lot of migrants in Quebec too.

But because of French being the primary language, many ladies remained unemployable. In addition to that, there was a problem with looking after the children. Quebec is the only state who came up with a great solution. Till 1995, about 15% of  Quebec ladies used to work.

The solution was interesting. The government started offering French tuition to people either a part-time course or a full-time course. Those attending the full-time course and who were required to keep their child in a creche were paid up to CAN $1100/ per month. The payment made to these ladies encouraged the ladies to attend courses. The number of ladies attending classes increased very fast. As they learnt French, they started becoming employable. But where is the win-win situation?

As the ladies started working, many of them got jobs; they started earning salaries. In Canada, there is a high income tax, and it starts from the base level; unlike in India, where the certain initial amount can be earned tax-free. With the French education scheme, now the % of ladies working has gone up to 80%. It indicates that including men and women, the number of people employed has gone up substantially. It also shows the business activity, and the economy size has also increased. Now the Win-Win situation. All this larger working population started paying income tax. What the government did was to spend money on people to make them employable, and the people are paying the money back to the government by way of income tax. It is now well documented that French tuition scheme has become a great success wherein both the government and people both are benefitted.  The government gets back the money Canada spent by way of taxes, so almost nothing goes out of their pocket.

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Another similar story I read recently about Microsoft, Japan. They wanted to implement a four-day week work for one month, and they declared that all employees would have five Friday’s off during that month with full pay. There were 2300 employees involved in this experiment under the name of “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019”.

The shortened week led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%, the company concluded at the end of the trial. As part of the program, the company had also planned to subsidise family vacations for employees up to ¥100,000 or the US $920.

In addition to the increased productivity, employees took 25% less time off during the trial and electricity use was down 23% in the office with the additional day off per week. Employees printed 59% fewer pages of paper during the trial. The vast majority of employees – 92% – said they liked the shorter week.

In 2018, New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day workweek over two months for its 240 staff members. Employees reported experiencing better work–life balance and improved focus in the office. Staff stress levels decreased by 7%.

During the last 15 to 20 years, with the advent of computers and cell phone, the culture of “always-connected” started. Blackberry made it even more complicated by bringing the corporate email on their devices. During the night, it was essential to embrace Blackberry rather than your spouse! The global companies operated 24/7 and night time washroom break turned into one-hour email exchange session. In short, the work-life balance went for a toss. The importance of the person in the organisation was based on whether he or she had a Blackberry! The situation worsened when all smartphones could easily do what Blackberry did and more! Blackberry has now become history, but it established the culture of 24/7 into 365 days!

Are humans physically and mentally designed to work in such a culture? The answer is plain, no! Medical science says that humans need to sleep eight hours every day to work efficiently. But with global companies typically having offices in the US, in Europe, in India and China/Japan/Hongkong area, interdependent work is being done 24 hrs a day. So, on a conference call, people would be talking at 8 am, 5 pm or 1 am from different time zones.  Such calls were routine during 2-3 days in a week. On weekends along with picnic hamper, battery-pack became an essential item!

Thank god the people have started understanding the effects of imbalance, though the progress in the right direction is slow. The result of such endless working, round the clock, throughout the year brought out a lot of family issues plus health issues. Sudden heart failures, stroke or nervous breakdowns were classic symptoms. Business and offices are to be run efficiently and for better profits. But was working 24/7, 365 days the solution?

The answer is no because the human body and mind cannot sustain such situations. The new life-style added travel requirements to increase. Now, people have the internet available on flights. Before this availability, people had at least some time to themselves away from the Internet!

The experiment in Microsoft Japan is a life-changing attempt to make life easy and less stressful for everybody. Every family has its things like quick picnics, getting repairs done at home, going to attend PTA’s (Parent-Teacher Association) in their children’s school. Maybe they want to go and see a game in which the child is taking part. Once a week you may wish to take your child for music class. Over the weekend you would like to meet your parents.

Living life is a mix of work, making money and many many other things. But if you do not get the time for anything else other than work, it is not worth it. Organisations have started realising this critical aspect of life. But global organisations have offices in all continents. So, there will be issues of synchronisation. But if there is a will, it is doable. Bajaj Auto has managed to do this synchronisation in their plants. All their plants are shut on Sundays!

Microsoft, Japan’s one-month experiment, has shown very encouraging results. If it is done in the long term across the company world over, the results may not be as good as they seem at one location. There could be contradictions; there could be difficulties!

But the feeling of having correct work-life is on the increase. I have been reading about millennials negotiate work from home facility, work hours to be put in weekly is also being discussed.

We can see that the Quebec system has helped people and state both in improving people’s life. New ways of doing work in businesses and offices are also being discussed. Such actions will lead to more happy people and happier world.

What will be the perfect method? There is nothing perfect in the world, but it is good that the discussions have started in the right directions. Let us hope that people and systems will begin thinking out of the box.

It is itself Win-Win situation as far as I am concerned.

Montreal musings, day to day life IV!

I had expected that day to day musings III would be my last of the musings in the series. But so many new things came up, and many of them were unexpected to me. Hence I am going ahead with this blog.  

I met one family yesterday evening in the garden where Rhea practices with her cycle and the couples son also practices. So Nikhil and Priya know the parents. We were introduced yesterday with them, and we chatted for some time. He asked me a question. He said, “Which is that small country between India and Iran, not Pakistan.” I said, “ I don’t know such a country.” Then he suddenly said, “Oh! It’s Kashmir!” I explained to him the whole situation briefly then he realised the issue. Incidentally, he is a Jewish person, and we know their views about certain people. He and his wife are both educated, but their knowledge about our part of the world is imperfect. They know about India’s progress in general as they meet a lot of smart Indians these days in Canada!  

I came to know one more information. Thanksgiving day is celebrated in the US and Canada on different days. In Canada, it will be celebrated this year on 14th October, and in the US it will be celebrated on 28th November. Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in Canada, the United StatesIt began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.  The concept is the same as we have in India, where we celebrate Onam, Lohri, Makar Sankranti, and so on. While checking on the net why these are celebrated on different days, there was a cryptic description on one Canadian site, “We don’t have to follow the US in everything.” 

Similarly, now shops are full of items for Halloween festival. 

Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of Hallows’ Even or Hallows’ Evening), is also known aAllhalloween. All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in several countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day.  

It begins the three-day observance of  Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.  

Halloween is celebrated by attending Halloween costume parties, trick or treating by children. The children go to every home in the neighbourhood and ask the question trick or treat? They are given chocolates, cookies and such treats. 

Carving pumpkins into the jack-o’-lanterns, lighting the bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories, as well as watching horror films are some of the other activities. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although elsewhere it is a more commercial and secular celebration. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, a tradition reflected in the eating of certain vegetarian foods on this vigil day, including apples, potato pancakes, and soul cakes.  

We have similar time in Hindus what we call Pitru Paksha when we remember the dead. But in our country, it is not a celebration but is considered inauspicious. No new investments are made during those two weeks. 

We get surprising experiences once in a while. Today Jaya and I went to a famous French Bakery in the central area of Montreal. While making payments, I was told that they do not accept credit cards; they take only debit cards and cash! Luckily we had some Canadian Dollars in my wallet at that moment. It was reasonably large establishment. While on the subject of payment retired people here too, like in the US, prefer to pay by cash and not by cards. Weather conditions change a lot during a week, but Jaya and I always find it cold. The main reason being, on sunny day, temperature could be around 10 Deg C, but in the shade, we feel cold because most of the times it is windy.  

Last week Jaya and I went out for lunch in an Iranian joint. We always try different foods. While trying to explain the dishes, the owner asked me, “Where are you from?” I said, “We are from India.” He straight away shifted to Hindi. He said that he had lived around Delhi for ten years. After that, he said, “Don’t worry, I will serve you excellent food which you will like.” Food was good. Then he also served us sweet Iranian Kolache!. It looked like biscuit but was stuffed with Dates and some other dry fruits. Some Iranian sweets look like Maharashtrian Diwali sweet Anarase. 

Another surprise was the restaurant was an Iranian addaBy the time we finished our food, about 15 Iranians had formed a group and were chatting and eating and having tea! In the background, TV was running an Iranian channelMy friend Veerendra told me that Canada has a large number of people from different nations, spread all over Canada, living peacefully.  

One pleasant surprise is the quality of vegetables. Priya was saying that these are generally produced in QuebecWater content in all this produce is on the higher side than what we get back in Pune. But Cauli Flower, Cabbage, Capsicum and all such vegetables are very tasty much better even than what we get in and around Delhi! Tastes of most of this stuff are much tastier than what I have generally tasted in the US! Of course, varieties are available in the US are amazing. The fad of organic food has not caught up in Canada; it seems. 

Because we are in Quebec, European culture is more prevalent. So are social norms! In our lane, neighbours are quite friendly with each other, and life, in general, appears to be less hectic! Since winters are harsh for longtime people, try to continue outside activities until the snowfall begins.   

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One unique facility we saw which can be there only in rich countries. There is an area in the garden where people bring their dogs, and they can release the leash; dogs are allowed to do whatever they want except of course, poo poo! (It has to be cleaned by the owner!)

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One strange thing. I thought Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Starbucks are known by the same never all over the world. Their menus may change to suit the local pallet. But the above photo is of KFC whose Quebec name is PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky). Even in France, it is known by the name KFC! Strange are the ways of this world!  Similarly, I am told that road signs in France say, “STOP” but in Quebec, they are written as “Arrêt”!

I could not resist displaying these two beauties!

Au revoir et faites attention jusqu'à notre prochaine réunion! 
Probably they say bye and take care till we meet again in France ! 

 

 

Montreal- musing of the day to day life!

Nowadays travels have become more relaxed, comfortable and all of us try and create our bucket lists of things to do, places to visit. But one of my bucket list items is to try and understand the details and issues of living in different countries and cities. At my age now there is a zero chance that I would live in any other city than Pune. I am taking this opportunity of my longish stay in Montreal to understand the local details. Everybody writes about Niagara Falls, Golden Gate Bridge and Eiffel Tower, so I thought I will jot down my observations about day to day life in Montreal.

All over the world, basic things remain the same; human nature is the same. It is the reactions to the events, dialogues that make the difference. Human emotions and conflicts will always be there. It has nothing to do with the city, state or nation. But one interesting statistic that I read about Canada says that the crime rate compared to the US is very low, which makes life safer and the cities more livable.

It seems that there is a unique donation culture in this area. The boxes shown are to put the items people want to donate. From these boxes, the needy people can take whatever items they want and whatever quantity they want. The remaining items are taken to the shop. The shop mends the items, and these are then sold in the shop as used stuff at a very reasonable price.

Road repairs are a regular activity in any city. Depending on availability, technology is used to perform the activities. On the street where we live, major pipe repair work is going on. The first thing noticeable is how the safety of people is handled. After the digging is completed, wire mesh cages are put around the dug area. For one day, the water supply had to be stopped entirely. Two days in advance, every house was handed over a letter about the same. Small flags were put (middle photo) indicating which pipelines are to be changed and which were not to be touched. There were parking restrictions from seven to seven; proper no parking boards were prepared in advance and put everywhere. Also, bright colour markers were placed on the road to indicate the presence of safety cages.

Local transport of course changes with the city to city!  Montreal Metro and Bus service have a common pass which makes it a composite service, no big deal. But what I found interesting was that to buy that pass, I had to buy a ticket called Opus. It is valid for seven years, whether you are a citizen or a casual visitor. So next time when I visit Montreal, I only need to do the top up! Modern cities are expected to have different arrangments. But what I found interesting was the availability of cycles, electric cycles and electric scooters, like the ones used by kids. These are readily available, and like rental cars, these can be taken from a place and parked where one finishes the trip. These vehicles have marked areas with cycle stands. Using an app, these can be used by everybody.

One thing I am going to enjoy is the leaves changing colours. I have seen this change in Boston, Maine and Seattle area. Though we know why and how the colours change, each region has a different kaleidoscope of colours. The leaf above is what I found today, and the blood-red colour is marvellous! It is the famous maple leaf of Canada! I will share some more pictures later when autumn sets-in!

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Many western countries have arrangements in public areas where wheel-chair access is provided. In Montreal,  I found it on each footpath at the end of the footpath, there were slopes, which allowed easy access to wheelchairs, cycles, prams, electric scooters, and so on. On each footpath, there are poles provided to tie-up your cycles.  It is no rocket science but detailing is where these arrangements succeed! We know about the sad story in Pune when such cycles were made available, recently.

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During the third week of October, there are federal elections in Canada. I remembered our election campaigns, but here I saw only small posters of the candidates hung on the poles on roads or I saw one small sticker fixed in a bus. On further checking, I was told that the campaign is mainly done on radio shows where the candidates give speeches or have debates. It is about the thought process. I remember having read an article by one of the leaders of a very aggressive party in India. He had gone to the US for the first time with a delegation. In the article, he wrote, “How do people make protests here? How do they take out processions? I could not see a single area where stones were available for pelting.”

There are of course equivalent of Deep Mini markets available for buying day to day stuff. But these are much larger though they may not be from a chain of stores. Standard facilities like trolleys and baskets were visible facilities, but they had provided entry and exit doors with motion control sensors. Doors opened with a motion sensor so that people going out with bags or a trolley found it easy. Again no rocket science! Yesterday we wanted to buy an item which we could not locate. Their employee spent 15 minutes with us and found it; it was worth only six dollars!

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Since many people don’t use cars in Montreal, I saw many of them using a trolley. You buy your stuff, fill up your trolley, and you are on the way though there was one difficulty. In certain areas in the Metro system, escalators are not provided. One has to pick up the trolley and take it up or down! I asked my daughter how does she manage this when going with her daughter. Yesterday I helped her carry on the stairs. She said that she uses it only when her husband is with her!

I feel that modern society is one where detailing is done for the comfort of people who live in the city, these need not be fancy or elaborate. These are to create ease in our day to day chores, like buying, throwing garbage, managing road repairs! It has its humane angles where poor and needy are also looked after, and there is a system for that. I saw a young Gora beggar who looked fit, was about 30 but these things probably remain the same world over. Why this would happen in the advanced world is a surprise. Those who want to work can get a job in these cities; they have almost free medical system for all citizens. We talk about the diversity of people in India and our cities. But slowly, I see similar diversity in many so-called western countries due to migration and refugee issues. But one thing you need to do, assimilate. My daughter is in Montreal, Quebec, since three months. Here the first language is French. Her immigration advisor told her, “Doctor, you will be dealing with the local population so you must know French well. You start work after you have mastered French.” In three months she has picked it pretty well and understand at least 80% of what is spoken when she goes out. By the way, the Montreal population is about one point eight million!  One important thing, people looking at their phones on public transport is much lower about 35%!