Recently, I was offered the opportunity for go to Berlin to represent our company to a partner interested in showcasing our product to their potential clients. There, I would make a fifteen minute presentation.
I was very excited — I’m passionate about our product, and I was keen to demonstrate how amazing it was. Sorting flights and hotels was left to me, with a budget guideline to stick to.
My boss wanted me to fly over at the end of the workday on Monday, present first thing on Tuesday morning, work remotely for the rest of the day, and fly home in the evening. I didn’t have a problem with that — until I asked him how I would go about claiming the time back.
There was silence on the other end of the Slack channel. Five minutes later, my boss messaged me, “I’d look upon this as an opportunity to gain more experience. Sometimes, the company does expect that sometimes travel isn’t counted as work. Sometimes you are expected to work away from the office on rare occasions.”
He pointed out that while I was travelling, I actually wouldn’t be able to answer emails, do conference calls, or even be available by Slack! So it wasn’t actually work.
I respectfully declined this opportunity, and said I believed that my other colleague might be more interested in pursuing a working relationship with this partner.
It’s not an opportunity.
I’m not sure which opportunity my boss thought he was offering me, but whether it was building a relationship with the partner, or polishing my presentation skills, there’s no opportunity I couldn’t fulfil from home.
Frankly, in the digital age, we build relationships with our clients the new-fashioned way. Conference calls, Skype sessions, emails. I’ve presented dozens of times, and I’m constantly improving my people skills through a variety of media both in person and online.
I’m not saying it doesn’t help to be in person — I prefer face-to-face meetings whenever I can get them. But to claim that I should embrace this nebulous opportunity, I first needed it to be cleared up how it was my opportunity rather than the company’s and how it was so special that it demanded I lose six hours of my own time.
My time is valuable.
While literally in an airplane, it’s true that I couldn’t actively be contributing to the workplace, but the time was also not my own. I was not doing exactly what I wanted, like I would at home during weekends — I was on duty.
While at any place that offered WiFi, I would still be expected to be instantly available to anyone who needed me during business hours. The time was still not my own.
So not only was I expected to fully work two days as usual, I was also expected to absorb a six hour loss under the guise of an opportunity. As someone who lives in 2019, there are plenty of other things I could be doing to earn money, prep to earn money, or even just relax completely off-duty to rest and rejuvenate.
I shouldn’t be expected to be grateful to work more.
In all the time I’d been working at the company, not once was I offered an actual opportunity without having to flat-out beg for it. From the beginning, when they saw the quality I could bring to the table, they did not offer to bump up what they were offering — I had to ask.
They did not once offer me any training courses in other skills, and even though my yearly review is coming up, where I’m contractually allowed to bring up increasing my salary, I fully expect I’ll be the one to bring it up, not them.
In other words, my company is in the business of trying to get the very most out of me for the very least they can manage to pay me. I don’t take it personally — that’s just business, after all. But I do take it personally that I should be asked to view the chance to spend time away from home, in public transport and in budget hotels, all on my own time, as an opportunity.
Any actual opportunities are seen as the employee’s responsibility to pursue (and the company’s privilege to deny), whereas any “opportunity” that would benefit the company? Non-negotiable.
They pay your wages! you might say. And they do — but not a penny more than they need to. They pay exactly as little as they think they can get away with — yet expect me to go above and beyond every day.
Older generations expected this.
Honestly, I called my dad when I was first asked and I balked. (I often call my dad when I’m out of my depth in business matters.) He didn’t have the words of comfort I thought he would. First, he asked me if I didn’t genuinely think this was a great opportunity? Then, he couldn’t seem to understand why I objected to spending upwards of six unpaid hours travelling for this company I had no allegiance to.
It caused me to sit back and think. Maybe I should view it as an opportunity? I could read, write, even sleep on the bus, train, plane, taxi, bus, that would get me to Berlin, and then the same on the way back. I wouldn’t be too late for dinner on Tuesday.
But then I rallied.
I really do think it’s unreasonable that a company will not make a single overture or gesture of goodwill, but expect me to look forward to giving my own time up. I don’t think that’s a wild opinion.
It’d be different if they offered me to extend my travel, or had even said, “Look, I know it’s your own time and it’s not fun to physically travel, but it would mean a lot if you could do this for the company.” If he’d even said that as an experienced businessman, he knew it would be beneficial for me, personally, to build an in-person relationship with this partner of ours, I would have taken it a little better.
But he tried to package it up as an opportunity. For me. As though by letting me do this, he was doing me a huge favor and even a small sacrifice for him.
I was expected to see it as an opportunity. It wasn’t.
A vague opportunity, not for the company, but for me personally. I do not see it like that, and I doubt I ever will.
I consider myself a good employee. I work hard, I produce results, I am passionate about what I do. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my management not expect me to not only do an unpaid favor for them, but be grateful for it.
When a company has refused to earn my goodwill on a number of occasions, I can be relied upon to do the same.