Swimming Through Treacle


The more astute readers will notice that its been over a month since I posted anything. Clearly the blogging apathy has hit, which any blogger will recognise as something which happens once the lustre of your shiny new blog begins to dull. But there are more sinister forces at work. I fear I may have been infected by the Philippines Treacle Syndrome.

This deadly wasting disease is most prominent on a Friday afternoon. It causes ordinary tasks to take several times longer than they usually should. Here are some examples:

Buying Ibuprofen in Mercury Drug:

You walk into the store. There are 6 staff in the shop, and 2 customers. You stride to the counter, behind which are 4 of the staff. They instantly stare intently at pieces of paper in front of them. Some try to run out the back door. Some duck under the counter. Eventually one will have to talk to you …

“Hello Sirmam. Welcome to Mercury Drug”

“I’d like some Ibuprofen. The generic brand if possible”

“How many pieces?”

“How many in a strip?”

“Ten pieces in a strip”

“OK, give me one strip then”

So far so good. There is a searching process. I’ve been in this branch of Mercury before, and I know where the Ibuprofen is. However the staff seem less sure, and may take several minutes to locate the pills.

“There sir. Advil. 100 pesos”

“Thanks, but I asked for the generic brand.”

“Oh” She goes to search for another few minutes. “There sir. 60 pesos.”

You hand the money over and she takes it to the cashier, who has been calmly sitting there doing nothing for the last 10 minutes, since you walked in. The cashier starts, and stares intently at the pills, and at the receipt. She puts it down, and shouts something to one of her colleagues in the back. A reply, obviously satisfactory. She can now ring up the sale. She passes the change and the receipt to the original counter staff, who brings it back to you.

Executive summary: You just bought 10 ibuprofen which took three staff members and 10 minutes.

The rationale, as far as I can gather, is that it simply isn’t worth trying to streamline a process. Its far cheaper just to throw more people at it. As a result, staff get used to standing around in a semi-stunned state, and getting paid for it, so they have little motivation to do things quickly.

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