LONDON COLD, EUROPE COLDER
Issue Date 14 - 20 Jan , 2017 at 2:00 PM
The British are known to be obsessed with their weather and it is commonly known as the nation’s favourite topic for discussion. All preliminary forays by a gentleman towards a lady start with a discussion over the weather and even children find it a subject that takes their interest. Perhaps the main reason is that the weather is so variable, although that is a feature that is found virtually all over Europe.
In the south Asian subcontinent most people see England as a ‘very cold’ country, fed by stories about the weather circulated by the British over the 200 odd years that they loved, but hated to stay in that part of the world. And the stories were not without basis, for cold England certainly is. But although it is cold, the truth is that Britain, even including the northern parts of Scotland, is nowhere near as cold as mainland Europe, especially the east European countries and Russia. Currently the temperatures there are hovering around an unbelievable 25 to 30 degrees Celsius below zero and even the Arctic circle doesn’t get much colder than that. Moscow has had minus 30 Celsius and Romania was shivering in minus 28 Celsius; many deaths due to the extreme cold have been reported across eastern Europe. Meanwhile, we in southern England were enjoying a barmy plus 10 Celsius, although the weather is expected to turn ‘cold’ by the middle of next week, it will be nowhere near the horrendous temperatures being experienced by Europe where even traditionally warmer countries like Greece and Italy have had heavy snowfalls. Snow these days in southern England is pretty much a rarity. What makes the British winter particularly beastly is the unending dampness which seems to get into one’s bones, especially if one is getting along a bit. As the saying goes, we all have our crosses to carry.
Like the British winter, the British workplace can produce its own trials and tribulations. In most workplaces, one has to spend a fair amount of money to remain ‘one of the group’. This money is more often than not spent very grudgingly, and even on people one would be only too happy to see the back of. The custom in British offices is to present anyone leaving, whether on retirement or to another job, with a ‘gift’ money for which is raised by donations from his or her office colleagues. Then there are Christmas parties for which money is similarly raised and office colleagues sometimes decide to dine together where if you do not join in, people do not look on you very kindly, even though the last thing you may want is to spend an evening with your colleagues. Eight hours in the office is about as much as most sensible human beings can take, but sadly, all human beings are not sensible. Then there are those who raise money for birthday presents, mainly for senior functionaries, as a way of ‘pleasing the bosses’ and although everyone may not subscribe to this form of ‘appeasement’, few have the courage to deny a contribution going towards the boss’ birthday present. Those taking the lead in this sort of activity, of course, make it known to those who matter that they took the lead and the nasty ones would not hesitate to let it be known that so-and-so did not contribute!
Thus, a recent study shows that a typical British employee can expect to spend more than £14,000 during their working life on the daily costs of being in the office, including afternoon tea runs, cards and gifts for leaving colleagues and sponsorship for co-workers’ charitable pursuits. This last mentioned item perhaps needs an explanation. Many people in the UK do what are known as sponsored walks or bike rides for particular charities. They may walk say 10 miles or ride a bike for 20, and they will ask people to give them money to do so and all of the money thus collected then goes to a particular charity. Wives who do this seldom fail to hit their husband’s office colleagues for sponsorship donations for such events and that is a request which few can refuse as a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. And while a charity is the ultimate beneficiary, the credit goes to person doing the walking or the bike riding or whatever, and raising the money. That sort of thing in the UK looks good on the CV where it is always mentioned. But there is nothing in it for the people making the contributions towards the event except a brief ‘thank you’, which soon, like Coleridge’s flower, wastes its sweetness in the desert air!
The £14,000 figure quoted above comes from a survey of 2,000 office workers across the UK which found that the combined cost of Christmas parties and dinners, cards and presents, coffees and teas, and sponsorship requests totalled to more than £350 a year. Over the course of a 40-year working life, that would amount to about £14,500. In more lavish establishments where salaries and bonuses were high and where there was a higher emphasis on teamwork thus encouraging work colleagues having a night out together, the average cost per head could be as high as £1,000 per year or around £40,000 over a 40-year working life.
Men generally tend to be unhappier than women about spending money at work, but women are more likely to feel pressured into paying out for work-related items. Two-fifths (42 per cent) of men said they were unhappy about spending money at work Christmas parties, compared with 34 per cent of women. Overall, more than a quarter of people surveyed said they felt pressured when it came to contributing towards birthday and leaving gifts and nearly a third (32 per cent) said they felt pressured into contributing money to help their colleagues’ charity fundraising efforts.
None of that is pleasant but it is a jolly sight better than minus 30 Celsius! •
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