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Weekend reading: Many managers can’t manage much longer

What caught my eye this week.

I suppose it’s because I’ve long worked from home anyway, but I’ve been overlooking a big aspect of ‘back to office’ post-Covid debate.

Hitherto I’ve mostly focused on the productivity [1] angle. How would firms weigh productivity gains from remote work against the loss of culture or development potential, I wondered?

As an active investor, I’ve spent 18 months shifting my money back and forth between work-from-home stocks like Zoom and Atlassian and beaten-up commercial property, reflecting my changing views.

But what I’d forgotten is that people are people. And that some of them are desperate to get back to an office simply to justify their jobs.

I’m someone who has more than once left office life [2] – and killed my career prospects doing so, at least in that dark pre-lockdown era – just to escape the politics, busywork, colleagues I’ve have to carry, and clueless managers.

So it’s pretty dumb of me not to see that those who thrive in such an environment might want it back, pronto, entirely for their own reasons.

Logged out

One class of such people are, more or less, the loafers.

These are the non-working workers celebrated in books like City Slackers [3], Bonjour Laziness [4], and Michel Houllebecq’s Whatever [5].

They need to be in an office because remote work is usually more carefully measured work.

Doing nothing soon adds up.

I haven’t got anything personally against such people. Some of my best friends and so on. Many jobs are rubbish and soulless [6]. Not everyone is cut out to be a cog in a modern machine.

However I don’t want to effectively be paying for them with my output, as the lack of their own drags us all down.

As a freelance I have no choice but to be measured on my own output [7]. At least that way I live or die by my own sword.

How do they manage?

The other type of office denizen who has been drowning for 18 months – while waving all the time – perches at the other end of the org chart.

I’m thinking of high-flying, do-nothing managers.

I’m lucky to have had several great employers in my short on/off work CV. A couple of companies that regularly win/won awards as great places to work.

And largely they were.

Yet their corridors were still patrolled by a few of those passive-aggressive managerial types who climb up the career pole with spiked boots and aren’t concerned with who they gouge in the head on the way.

These are people whose days are packed with meetings where they talk a lot but rarely contribute. People who apparently did something great a few years ago, but always seem to be stealing someone else’s ideas today. People in charge of people that you wouldn’t let look after your dog.

An article from MSN this week brought them flooding back [8]:

Remote work lays bare many brutal inefficiencies and problems that executives don’t want to deal with because they reflect poorly on leaders and those they’ve hired.

Remote work empowers those who produce and disempowers those who have succeeded by being excellent diplomats and poor workers, along with those who have succeeded by always finding someone to blame for their failures.

It removes the ability to seem productive (by sitting at your desk looking stressed or always being on the phone), and also, crucially, may reveal how many bosses and managers simply don’t contribute to the bottom line.

The horror. The horror.

What do you do again?

The CEO of a company I consulted for once admitted to me that he had no idea what a highly-paid mutual acquaintance on his payroll actually did.

This guy was on many projects. Yet looking for his fingerprints in the output was like hunting for the Higgs boson. Younger staff came up with the things that moved the company ahead. Meanwhile our chum was always in a meeting.

The CEO admitted he kept this chancer around almost out of superstition. The company was doing well ever since this chap was hired, even if nobody could say exactly why. The people he managed despaired of him.

I suggested perhaps our mutual contact’s direct reports worked harder under him in order to try to get past him – in the same way you’ll try to overtake a dangerous driver to put him in your rear-view mirror.

The CEO pondered this for a bit. And kept him on.

Poor petals!

Some of these high-flying underachievers do add a sort of social glue that – at least historically – bigger companies have seemed to need to grow.

Others have a brilliant idea every year or two and then fall back into a coma. That might just be enough to justify their salary and position.

But many are simply friction in the system. After a year of sending fifty Bcc-d emails a day or pinging Slack like a teenager on Snap and saying the most on Zoom in meetings but basically saying nothing, they risk being unmasked.

Meanwhile lots of actual workers at the coalface have been working from bed [9] during the pandemic and still turning out great stuff. So it’s not like these unmanageable managers’ fears of the company culture being eroded or destroyed by homeworking are unfounded. Even if it’s actually being replaced by something better.

Often charmers, the best of these people remind me of those flowering epiphytes that thrive high in the rain forest canopy.

Growing on the sides of the trees who do all the proper hard work, they are beautiful and exotic and for hundreds of years scientists have debated whether they are harmless, subtly value-adding, or flat-out parasitic.

If you’re a fancy orchid that bears no fruit, no wonder you’re desperate to get back to the hothouse.

Even as many of the rest of us head for the doors [10].

Have a great weekend – whoever you are!

From Monevator

Best Emerging Market bond ETFs and bond funds – Monevator [11]

An introduction to thematic ETFs – Monevator [12]

From the archive-ator: What I learned about investing from a cult card-based strategy game – Monevator [13]


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1 [14]

Johnson could rethink National Insurance rise after Tory backlash – Guardian [15]

Another platform acquired: Charles Stanley [16] by Raymond James – LSE [17]

House prices now 30% above 2007 peak, says Zoopla – ThisIsMoney [18]

Should you consider this loophole to avoid the rise in pension age to 57? – Which [19]

Over five million people in the UK had parcels lost or stolen last year – Guardian [20]

Physical stores going hybrid with micro-fulfillment centres – Axios [21]


City high-end housing markets bounce back [Search result]FT [23]

Products and services

Lloyds has launched a new credit card offering 0.5% cashback – Which [24]

Why cheques aren’t dead yet [Search result]FT [25]

Sign-up to Freetrade via my link and we can both get a free share worth between £3 and £200 – Freetrade [26]

Homes for the festival season, in pictures – Guardian [27]

Comment and opinion

Tracking spending: a foundational skill of personal finance – Managing FI [28]

The first million is the easy bit – Banker on Fire [29]

How to predict a market crash – A Wealth of Common Sense [30]

Life is a tale of two halves – Humble Dollar [31]

A chat with Burton Malkiel of random walk [32] fame [Podcast]Next Gen Personal Finance [33]

The US has never seen inflation so high with bond yields this low – The Irrelevant Investor [34]

The case for investing your emergency fund – Trek Wealth [35]

Problems buying a house in the UK with crypto gains due to anti-money laundering regulations – Reddit [36]

Gen Z is rewriting the rules for personal finance in real-time – Money [37]

Tim Ferris talks to Ramit Sethi (author of IWTYTBR [38]) [Podcast]Tim Ferris [39]

Americans with a higher net worth at midlife tend to live longer – Science Daily [40]

Naughty corner: Active antics

Cash on Cash return versus IRR – AVC [41]

Carson Block’s take on China’s crackdown on US-listed giants – Institutional Investor [42]

When quality companies face a reckoning – Intrinsic Investing [43]

Eventually, valuation matters – Compound Advisors [44]

Covid corner

95% of British adults still [sometimes] wearing a mask when out – Guardian [45]

The Delta variant is keeping US workers from the office… – Axios [46]

…more US restaurants and bars only serving the vaccinated – MarketWatch [47]

…and Netflix to require all actors and set staff to be vaccinated – Deadline [48]

…while anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers party at the Lake of the Ozarks – Politico [49]

Kindle book bargains

Elastic Habits: How to Create Smarter Habits That Adapt to Your Day by Stephen Guise – £0.99 on Kindle [50]

Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno – £0.99 on Kindle [51]

A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Collapse of Lehman Brothers – £0.99 on Kindle [52]

SAS: Leadship Secrets from the Special Forces by various authors – £0.99 on Kindle [53]

Environmental factors

MPs fear UK grid won’t cope with a surge in electric vehicles – ThisIsMoney [54]

What growing avocados in Sicily tells us about climate change and the future of food [Search result]FT [55]

Plants feel pain and might even see – Nautilus [56]

Climate benchmarks and the big oil companies – DIY Investor (UK) [57]

Off our beat

Lap it up: what’s so special about swimming? – The Conversation [58]

The end of free speech in Hong Kong – The Atlantic [59]

Can you be addicted to travel? – Atlas Obscura [60]

And finally…

“Large, comfortable companies today must stay on the offensive or they might find themselves in the dustbin of dividend history. Just look at Kodak or Nokia.”
– Todd Wenning, Keeping Your Dividend Edge [61]

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. [ [67]]