Committing the sin of efficiency

The Trader: 'Ideas from the board give more trouble than the markets'
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The Independent Online

Rory's e-mail announces its arrival with a delicate beep. As this coincides with an outburst from one of the FX boys - several pods away but still painfully audible - it's some time before I notice it's there. But once the shout of: "I said brown sauce, you dozy tart, not ketchup", has died away, and I've sighed and wondered again why I work in a dog-eat-dog hellhole like this, I catch sight of the flashing icon in the corner of the screen.

Rory's e-mail announces its arrival with a delicate beep. As this coincides with an outburst from one of the FX boys - several pods away but still painfully audible - it's some time before I notice it's there. But once the shout of: "I said brown sauce, you dozy tart, not ketchup", has died away, and I've sighed and wondered again why I work in a dog-eat-dog hellhole like this, I catch sight of the flashing icon in the corner of the screen.

It's a message to the team. "Warning," it reads. "This is a Management Thinking Alert. Please gather in the goldfish bowl at 11am for more details." Luckily, the suspense hasn't enough time to kill anyone; it's barely 10 minutes later that we're all slouching around the small glass meeting room waiting for Rory.

"Sorry to be so mysterious," he says as he rushes in, clutching a small bundle of papers. "Only that was as indiscreet as even I dare be over the wires. You never know which ones the in-house spies will read... Anyway, I don't know if you noticed the staggeringly good US productivity figures last week, - if any of you who trade dollar instruments say 'No' at this point, you're fired - but, unfortunately, the boys upstairs got terribly excited about them.

"Seems the average American worker has been more productive this summer than for 17 years. It's given our board some big ideas."

There's a murmur of disquiet. Big ideas from the board have given us more trouble than anything the markets have thrown at us. Heaven knows what they've thought of now - well, heaven, the board and Rory, who now lets us in on the plan.

"They've decided we need to boost productivity here, too," he says, "even though we're not average American workers. So you'll be pleased to hear that they've appointed a team of management consultants." There's a collective groan from the team. "Exactly," Rory continues. "Just what we need to add to the normal daily stress of trading: weeks of several people barely out of university standing around with clipboards and getting in the way, followed by a lengthy report that suggests we move the coffee machine."

"Followed by a big, fat bill," I say forlornly. On that note, the meeting fizzles to an end, and we slowly drift back to our desks as the gloom deepens.

"It's just so discouraging," I wail down the phone at Laura, who makes suitably sympathetic noises. "I mean, we're working hard enough as it is. I tell you, you're well out of this at the moment."

Laura gives a little strangulated laugh. "Oh yes," she says. "I'm sure I am - apart from the lack of sleep and the fact I seem to spend my whole life cleaning up one end or other of a howling baby. But I don't have anyone telling me what to do except the maternity nurse, and as she knows more than I do that's absolutely fine." So we chat a lot more and fail to think of a name for the baby, and Laura admits the only thing she really misses about work is Mrs Hughes's chocolate cake.

So I'm surprised to hear Laura's voice again on the line a few hours later. Even more incredibly, she sounds furious. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to kill her," she says.

"Explain," I say.

"My sister-in-law," Laura says. "She's been following me around the house all afternoon, and now she's told me I have to move the furniture because I'm not being efficient."

* thetrader@hotmail.com

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