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OK, you might say ‘Oh here he goes again, throwing his toys out of the pram. Be grateful for what you have. Many locals would jump at the chance to be in your position.’ I understand that. What’s more, compared to said locals, other colleagues that is, I’ve had a fairly easy ride of it. Yet, when we experience first-hand rather questionable practices, are we just meant to let them slide?


“A few hours into this marathon overtime I was opting for almost undecipherable Google translate suggestions.” (Image from web.)

What I’m referring to here is the way that many Colombian-based employers, from a private sector perspective in any case, expect their employees to go well and truly beyond the call of duty. From my days teaching English to business professionals, I’d heard about this culture where spending the majority of one’s waking hours at work was par for the course.

Some of this I put down to inefficiency. You know, workers not really working when they’re meant to be which then leads to panic when it comes to home time. A lackadaisical Latino approach, it could be said.

Warrior workers
With one year down in my first full-time office job in this country, I can say, in this marketing agency at any rate, that inefficient practices do indeed play a part in this. However, it’s only part of the problem. A bigger factor appears to be a general acceptance that people will work well over what’s stipulated in their contract, resigned to the ‘fact’ that ‘it’s just the way it is’.

“Speak out about long hours and you’ll be viewed as a troublemaker.”

For sure, fear and the need to pay the bills are significant in this. If you start making a fuss about having to work another 15-hour-plus day, you’ll more than likely be viewed as a troublemaker by management, one not pulling for the team. With plenty of eager young folk waiting in the wings, you’re easily replaceable. ‘Like it or lump it, bucko.’ Some people may even find a purely chaotic work environment more advantageous.

Linked to this is the idea that putting in ridiculously long hours is a sign that you are a ‘true warrior’. Such thinking is skewed, it’s of the short-term gain, long-term loss variety. Indeed, it may not even result in short-term gain.

In the ‘creative’ field I’m in, for one, having a mind as fresh as it can be to write texts, be they from scratch or ‘non-literal’ versions of Spanish, is crucial. Working hours on end in front of a computer with an unrealistic deadline looming doesn’t lead to the best results. It’s the kind of work, for me anyway, that’s best done in short bursts.

“Rather than earning extra for this overtime, I’m actually at a loss.”

For example, I recently had to burn the midnight oil, nay add to my employer’s energy bill and my own burnout, when having to work on an ’emergency’ presentation. (It never ceases to amaze me how such non-life-or-death things turn into ’emergencies’. The client or whoever gets what the client wants, I guess. My ire was aroused even further when I subsequently discovered it wasn’t quite the emergency it was made out to be.) 17 continuous hours at the office.

The last six of those were spent solely on the presentation, so obviously enough I was starting off on a low-energy base with that particular task. While I did my best in the early part to write the English version as appealing as I could, a few hours in I was opting for almost undecipherable Google translate suggestions. The brain couldn’t really function anymore.

Apparently I’m entitled to a ‘bonus’ for those endeavours. The princely sum of 10,000 pesos, less than three euros, to be precise. While I wait to receive it, I’ve been studying where best to invest it. One must make one’s money work for oneself, mustn’t one? (I’m actually technically at a financial loss considering I spent money on snacks that night, snacks that I wouldn’t have had the need to buy had I gone home at my usual time.)

Dirty dealings
Now, this was the first time I had to put in such a shift. For a good number of my colleagues, many of them earning even less than me, it happens with worrying regularity. All this in the multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing industry. Somebody’s making a killing out of it. Capitalism at its best, eh? ‘But guys, you’ve never had it so good!

It’s important to note that, in theory, I’ve no major issue with giving a little bit extra every now and again when there is a genuine need to do so. This is much easier to do, of course, when the work is your own or it’s something you truly enjoy. As I’ve said before, marketing for third parties, doing somebody else’s dirty work, is not a major passion of mine. Not in the form I’ve been experiencing it anyway.

Alas, with the lack of a reliable alternative at this moment in time plus the fact that my current employer is a relatively easy route to a visa that allows me to stay in the country and carry out some of my labours of love, walking away right now might be a rather rash move.

Ride out the frustrating times, control the controllables and aim for better. Something to that effect. ‘Toys back in the pram now, good boy.’
Podcast: The Colombia Cast

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. Unfortunately, that’s the Colombian slave-driver labour culture, where if you don’t stay way past your shift, your boss would think “hmm, this guy doesn’t have much on his plate, let’s give him more responsibilities.”

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