Category Archives: Miscellaneous observations

Why you may not want to hire passionate people

In my industry, “Passionate” is one of the most overused words in job adverts. Recruitment blogs are overflowing with advice on how to find these precious employees. It seems every company wants to hire people who are not just enthusiastic, but passionate about their work. The assumption is that people who describe themselves this way will produce better quality work and go the extra mile to get things done. A person’s passion can often be infectious, boosting morale for the team. In my experience these differences in attitude are real and I can see why they’re attractive to an employer, but they’re not the whole story.

There’s already some debate about whether it’s reasonable or healthy to expect passion from employees or if it is simply a way to demand more work for less renumeration. Maybe “we’re looking for passionate people” is code for “unpaid overtime is expected”. Could the idea of passion for a job be counter to achieving a healthy work-life-balance? I’m sure most modern companies would say that people can and should be passionate about their work and have a fulfilling home life. Hence well worn phrases like “work hard, play hard”.

Let’s assume employees can be “harmoniously passionate“, have a healthy lifestyle and devote a good portion of their time to friends and family. Would you necessarily want to employ them?

Passionate employees care more about what they do. They care about how it’s done. They may even care about the overall mission of the company. Often companies encourage people to get involved and to care deeply about these things. Not everyone takes this to heart, of course. For some this kind of talk is like water off a duck’s back. They roll their eyes as the CEO stands in front of PowerPoint slides depicting the moon landing or how they’re going to use quantum computing to cure cancer.

But some people do feel passionate about their company’s mission or technical vision. They will understandably have stronger feelings about how things are done or whether they are done at all. It’s unlikely that they’ll always agree with leadership on the direction the company takes or decisions that are made in their behalf. Sometimes the inspiring promises that the company makes don’t pan out.

“Sorry, but the quantum computing solution turned out to be too expensive, so we’ll be using 1970s mainframes instead.”

Any​ employee who is professional and responsible would say, “we’re doing this wrong, this is what we should do instead”. If management decide to ignore their advice many would shrug their shoulders and get on with the next task. A truly passionate employee will campaign for change, research the best options in their own time and make the case for improvement as forcefully as they can.

“It looks like we won’t be directly curing cancer, but gathering statistics on the cancer drugs prescribed over the last ten years.”

Whether it is the leaders or the employee who has the better argument, the difference of opinion can become a serious impediment to progress and morale. The employee may become disgruntled and start looking for a new job or, if they’re making a lot of noise about it, be forced leave the company.

This is unlikely to happen with less passionate employees. Those who work to live rather than living to work. Plenty of my valued colleagues over the years are not at all passionate about their work and I don’t think they should feel guilty about that. I would say they are professional. They want to do a good job, because doing a good job is more satisfying than doing a shoddy one. Being liked by your colleagues means being helpful and responsible. However, they’re not so wedded to the company mission that they’ll feel any great loss if the decisions of senior management put the project or even the company at risk.

The professional rather than passionate person may move on, of course, but it will likely be for more practical reasons – salary, benefits, location or career development. Those things are probably easier to measure and manage than factors like how realistic the company mission is or how inspiring the technical challenges.

“I know you guys are master carpenters hired to carve unique furniture, but we urgently need you to assemble flat pack wardrobes.”

To be clear, I’m happy to work with anyone who is responsible and ethical at work, whether they’re passionate or not. I think it takes all sorts to make a good team. What I dislike is the obsession with passion at the expense of the merely professional.

Passion may be a great motivator, but it is hard to manage properly and can become a destructive force when it is not.

Miele washing machine repair

This is following up on my disappointing experience of trying to get our four and a bit year old Miele W5740 washing machine repaired. When I got back to Miele, they offered to send an engineer for a free inspection and let us know what they could then offer us. Nothing to lose, I thought.

I wasn’t sure what they might offer to do and how much they’d charge, but I was weighing possible costs against that of a new machine. I’d previous looked up the cost of the failed part and service, which would be at least £417. Without any further guarantee, that doesn’t compare well to a new machine.

For example, John Lewis sell the Indesit XWD71452W which gets good reviews, for £209. Even if it failed just outside the 2 year guarantee, its cost per year would be around £100.

If the Miele W5740 proves uneconomical to repair it will have cost £203.83 per year (£958/4.7). If the £417 repair worked and it lasted a total of 20 years as implied by Miele’s website, then the cost per year comes down to £68.75, but all the risk of any further repair or replacement is on me, the customer. Consumer rights law suggests that you should be able to insist a machine lasts for a reasonable length of time, based mostly on the cost of the machine. However, enforcing this might require a trip to the small claims court, which isn’t expensive, unless you end up paying the company’s legal costs.

We’d already decided that I’d rather spend less than the full £417 repair cost on a new machine with some kind of guarantee, possibly selling the old Miele one for parts on eBay.

As it turned out the Miele engineer took a look and confirmed our suspicions that the main board had gone. He also said he’d phone his boss, saying we’d likely get a better deal than asking customer services. They offered to provide the £300 part which had broken for free and only charge us the £117 call out charge. Not a great deal, given there’s no guarantee it will work for any length of time, but less hassle than buying a new machine, so we went for it.

In future I won’t be taking much notice of how long a company’s marketing material suggests their products will last. Instead I’ll be looking at long-term reviews and how long the guarantee is.

Life span of a Miele washing machine

I’ve long been annoyed by throwaway culture and things not being built to last or made easy to maintain. So I’ve been trying to buy products which buck this trend and last a decent length of time, or are at least economically repairable.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised in two recent cases. Our Hope Vision One light suffered from water ingress and Hope repaired it free of charge, even though it was bought some 7 years ago for around £70. More recently the 10-year old Rohloff SPEEDHUB on our tandem came apart when the nuts holding the cap on mysteriously undid themselves on a ride. We sent it back to SJS Cycles expecting a bill, but were told that Rohloff had paid for the repair as goodwill. We got it back a couple of days later with a new gasket and thread-locked screws. I recently heard that Brompton did a free repair of an aging frame which had been taken off-road and cracked the rear triangle. Not only did they fix it free of charge, they replaced the worn chain and brakes too. I’ve experienced similar good service from Carradice. The idea that products should last well or be maintained by the manufacturer is not limited to cycling brands; Patagonia encourage customers to repair their clothing or will even do it for you (that might be US-only).

German appliance manufacturer Miele have been trying to market themselves as a reliable brand, boasting that their washing machines are tested for “20 years equivalent usage”. That strongly implies the machine should last better than most. On this basis we bought a Miele W5740 for the princely sum of £958.98 back in 2011. As you can probably guess from the fact I’m writing this, ours didn’t last that long. In fact, after 4 years and 8 months of moderate usage – much less than the 5 washes a week they test for – it refused to turn on. On closer inspection by a local repairman, it seems a chip on the main board had exploded, along with an adjacent resistor.

Miele W5740 exploded chip

Miele W5740 main board with exploded chip and resistor.

We got in touch with the retailer and Miele, explaining the situation. The Co-Op Electrical said some nice things to give the impression that they cared, which sounded rather insincere when they added.

As the item is out of its guarantee period, at this stage you would have to pay and arrange for an engineer call yourself and upon providing evidence that the appliance is faulty due to an inherent manufacturing defect, then we will gladly reimburse you this loss you have suffered getting an item repaired, upon supply of the invoice. This is in line with the Sales of Goods Act 1979 (amended) because the appliance is more than 6 months old the onus unfortunately falls onto the consumer to prove that the fault is inherent. If the engineer cannot confirm that the appliance was faulty at the time of purchase then we will not be able to cover the cost of the call out and repair. I must advise that for us to be able to reimburse any cost to you there must be proof supplied of an inherent manufacturing fault, if this is not supplied or if a report is supplied that remains ambiguous we will not be in a position to assist you further. The report supplied to us must state: what the fault is, what has caused the fault, what is needed to rectify the fault and how much a repair of the item would be. Failure to supply a report with this information will mean we cannot assist you.

Miele themselves were similarly kind, caring and utterly unhelpful.

I can confirm that the quality of the after sales support offered to our customers is of paramount importance to the Miele organisation. Whilst we make every effort to ensure that all of our components are of the highest quality, we cannot guarantee that breakdowns will not occur in individual instances, as even with careful use and regular operator maintenance, parts can fail or wear out from time to time.  However, we are confident that following the repair to your appliance, your machine should give you many years of satisfactory, trouble-free service.

We are constantly reviewing and updating our processes and procedures to offer the best service to our customers and as a result your comments will be used as part of our ongoing service auditing programme.

We wouldn’t be able to do this repair free of charge due to the age of the appliance.

I’ve replied to them with the following:

Apologies taking so long getting back to you.

I’ve pasted the text of my receipt from the Co-Op below. Here is my address and the serial number of the machine as requested.

For your reference I’ve also included a photo of the exploded chip.

You say “the quality of the after sales support offered to our customers is of paramount importance to the Miele organisation”. In the light of my recent experience, I find those nice words rather hollow. Your website boasts that your machines are tested for “20 years equivalent usage”. Failing in less than five years is not something a customer should have to pay for. It seems you’re unwilling to stand by your bold claims of quality and reliability.

I’m also not impressed by your confidence that, once repaired the machine “should give you many years of satisfactory, trouble-free service”. This presumably does not constitute any kind of guarantee. So if some part of the machine was to fail in the next few years, would I be looking at another sizable bill to repair it?

I’d be interested in what you can offer me in terms of repair, how much it would cost me and how long you’d be willing to guarantee the machine after that.

A new mainboard is about £300 and Miele’s callout charge alone is £117. So if it’s a quick job, I’m looking at well over £400 to fix a machine which has already proven itself to be unreliable, paid to a company who, it seems, are unwilling to stand by their bold claims of quality and reliability. If it fails again in a year’s time I have no confidence that Miele would do the right thing and fix or replace it for free. Miele appliances are usually more expensive than other machines of equivalent function. They certainly feel solid and well-made, but if they fail outside of guarantee it seems you’re no better off than with a cheap and cheerful brand.

Companies looking to establish a reputation as honest and reliable should treat repairs as an opportunity to show how much they care about their customers or at least the duty of a responsible manufacturer. Too often, in spite of boilerplate appeasements, repairing faulty products is considered an additional revenue stream.

I’m hopeful that Miele will see the sense in maintaining their “reliable” brand and differentiation from the competition, but time will tell whether they’re a Brompton or a Volkswagen.

EDIT: See follow-up: Miele repair.

Everyone is wrong about birthdays

It occurred to me about a year ago that the English-speaking world is counting birthdays wrongly. On the day that a person turns one year old, most of us are in the habit of saying that it’s their first birthday.

This is wrong.

Surely their first birthday was when they were born and were only a few seconds old. If that isn’t a birthday, I don’t know what is. My daughter is one year old tomorrow. I won’t be making a fuss if anyone calls it her first birthday, but I admit that when she was born I was pedantic enough to wish her happy birthday.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s not our counting that is wrong but the word birthday. The French use Anniversaire, which, like a wedding anniversary, doesn’t include the initial event.