Posts tagged with travel

Expenses

June 17th, 2010

I was in discussions with a good friend and worker in the public sector regarding the issue of justified expenses (I don’t mean MP type expenses, just general work expenses.  Before anyone leaps onto a high horse).
“You have it easy,” she said, “You just claim it all on expenses.”

Oh really?  I asked for some justification on what “it all” was.
“Well…your travel, your food and drink…top hotels, entertainment, gym membership, telephone calls, drinks with clients, clothes, dry-cleaning…”
I mulled it over.  Entertainment written onto expenses?  Taking clients wining and dining?  Where was she getting this from?  Then I realised that she was getting consultants confused with investment bankers.  The subtle difference between investment bankers and consultants is that the two industries are dissimilar in every way.  I don’t know where in the annals of tertiary sector work this mix up originated but it seems to once again perpetuated by the media who presents overfed coke head party boys (and girls) who spend their spare time in strip clubs as the only type of professional services worker out there and indeed given the rest of us a damning reputation…either way you can read more about it here.

It’s time to set the record straight on expenses.
Firstly, on a rather whimsical note, most consultants are honest and conscientious people which is why they ended up in consulting and not investment banking.  Sorry, bankers.  On one level, we know that expenses money ultimately comes from the client and most of us feel pretty bad about stuffing it down the knickers of a third rate bleached blonde tangoed lap dancer.   On another level, it’s nay impossible to claim anything over and above the approved rates for things as our computer system simply won’t let you enter it in.  That’s jumping ahead though.  Let me backtrack and I’ll start by clarifying what is and what isn’t classed as an expense.

“Travel – planes, trains, taxis, busses and boats” – Which is fair enough.  We work away from home, someone has to pay the airline to take us there.  What ISN’T true is that we’re living it up in business class with 7am classes of champagne and toasted cashew canapés.  Anyone above manager grade can choose to travel business class, but only trans-Atlantic and within reason.  Lower grades can occasionally travel business class with manager approval but you can bet how often that happens.

“Top Hotels” – Ok, I’ll be honest.  We get to stay in some really nice hotels.  I don’t mean top of the range gold plated and brocade hotels but we do get nice four star business getups in central areas and a good helping of mod cons.  But then again, if you’re being made to work away from home you want to be able to live as normally as possible.  Nice hotels get boring when you can’t leave them because you don’t know anyone or are working so late you literally fall into bed at half one then roll out again at half six.  You’d better be sure I’ll be after a clean bathroom and nicely folded towels waiting at her majesty’s pleasure under those circumstances.

“Food and Drinks” –We can charge for one meal a day and one alcoholic drink with the meal.  To put this into universal purchasing power parity, this is the equivalent of a large pizza, a side and a drink in a chain takeaway.  No sign of the world famous eateries and Michelin stars here – unless the manager takes you out on a “team dinner” which happens usually once during a project during which you’re stuck with your work colleagues talking about work.  We cannot charge for coffee, tea, lunch, snacks or breakfast.  We can attend some industry events which are usually well covered by expenses but who wants to go to work after work and talk about work (see the theme here…) for a free glass of Pinot Grigio?

“Gym Membership” – you can get half subsidised gym membership for one gym which the company chooses but that’s useless as we tend to work away from home a lot.

“Telephone calls” – We can claim calls from the work mobile within a reasonable limit which I bet isn’t as much as your monthly contract.

“Drinks with clients” – If you are of senior enough grade – as in if you’ve spent years slaving over a hot laptop and working 60 hour weeks you can – sometimes -  take clients out for a drink.  The average length of time it takes to get to a grade which allows you to charge for expenses with clients is twelve years.  However, I have heard about client entertainment events such as taking client to box theatre seats at top productions, but it’s only done by the partners and it’s usually with a business agenda.

“Clothes and drycleaning” – Are you serious?  Even if I had the time to go shopping no one is going to pay for my clothes.  There was one circumstance where I had been away from home for four days and my manager asked me to work Friday in a different office then work the weekend doing something else.  His entire suggested reimbursement was that I could buy some clean shirts to wear.  No mention of overtime (which we don’t get paid) or relocation reimbursement.  No, I’m female so obviously the offer of new clothes is going to rope me in.  I said no.

When it comes to entering claims, there is a defined list which much be checked and entered into our systems, along with the provisions of receipts and covering letters where necessary.  Any value which comes as unusual is pulled through an audit process and scrutinised.  Which is fine in my books– there’s no such thing as a free lunch and if such procedures catch out anyone trying to overclaim when the honest ones are doing the best to enter everything in to the penny then it gets my support.
I’ve realised that what I’ve written can almost be construed as negative.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s simply trying to explain the truth behind our work expenses.  I wouldn’t feel right writing of large sums of client money into filling my belly and even if I had the freedom do so I doubt I would.

Travel.

April 19th, 2010

Travel
Travel is not luxurious. I promise you. Unless you’re flying trans Atlantic with the pretend crew of Virgin airlines from the advert and things like check in services, waiting lounges and delays have mysteriously disappeared don’t even let that thought cross your mind. I know you do though – you sort of want to commute via aeroplane to work. And I know why.
Films are great at presenting the romanticised version of travel. Sleek looking people in sharp business suits stepping of the plane and striding through the airport talking on tiny phones; tall women in sunglasses and trolley cases clicking their fingers at PA’s and rich looking middle aged men in top to toe tailoring who always seem to know where they’re going and how to get there.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s consider a travel diary I noted down last week whilst catching a domestic from my home town to the client:
2200h night before.
Pack suitcase. Remember to bring antibacterial cream, painkillers, laxatives and anti diuretics. There’s nothing like travel to mess your internals up. Fold all clothing into small balls and sit on suitcase to make it close.
2400h night before
Try to sleep. No chance. Go over the contents list of suitcase again and again. Check alarm clock is DEFINITELY set. Definitely.
0430h
Wake up. Phone taxi, get dressed (and I mean full makeup/hair/business attire – can’t be seen to be letting the side down!) and throw coffee in the general direction of your face.
0500h
The check in machines at the airport have went down. Join the long, long check in queue of boredom death. Talk to annoyingly chipper attendant who sings when she says thaaannkkkyyyoouuu.
0515
Join the security queue
0530
Still in the security queue
0545
Arrive at the scanner, panic as you attempt to remove belt and trip over your shoes, rip your stockings, kick the man behind you and drop your boarding card. Haul your laptop out of the bag and empty the contents of your pockets into a tray. Realise that you forgot to put the laxatives into the little plastic bag which is now the sole repository of your cleaning essentials. Check in guy insists in checking your bag and putting the laxatives in the plastic bag before making it go through again. Congratulations, your bowels have held up the airport.
0550
Start redressing yourself.
0600
Arrive in waiting lounge. You’re not a manager so can’t use the business lounge. Sit in the cattle class coffee area and pay three times the high street value for coffee and a muffin. Feel too ill to eat it anyway.
0615
Check the board. No delays. Yet. Fat guy shuffles in beside you and snorts whilst reading the paper.
0630
Boarding commences. Time to stand in another line of morose business people and watch the plane being refuelled and de-iced. Get confused over whether the crew want to see the boarding pass or passport or what. Get a snarky look when you hand them both. This one only wanted boarding cards.
0700
Listen to the safety announcement AGAIN (you still don’t know it and quite frankly know the chances of surviving a plane crash are slim to ha-ha-ha) and fall asleep with a jumper over your head and your mouth open.
0830
Land. Try to pull yourself together. Check reflection in the terminal building. Baggy eyes-check. Greasy skin-check. Lank hair-check. Realign cuffs with jacket sleeves and drag weary body to rail station.
0845
Fight for a space on the train. Annoying man is loud on the phone. You imagine jumping on the phone and nailing his ear to a wall. Smile to yourself and get a funny look because people don’t smile whilst commuting.
0915
Arrive in the office. Your manager is snarky because you weren’t there before nine. He can get there before nine apparently.
…and that’s a good day. That’s when the flight isn’t cancelled and delayed, the guy beside me on the plane isn’t trying to talk about the weather and I have remembered all my essentials.
Yet I still get people telling me that it’s so cool to travel as part of work. I don’t understand it. Genuinely. You get to spend a week away home in a generic business hotel, get whipped into working even longer hours because “you’re not going to be doing anything else,” abandon your friends, family and relationship several hundred miles away and eat sandwiches from the supermarket because you don’t know where the nice restaurants are.
I’ve heard some arguments to the contrary. Some people who simply refuse to hear that travelling for work is like a knife to the soul.
“You can go to the gym”
Really? After being up for eighteen hours and working twelve of those you can go to the gym? Even if you have time for the gym you have to find a gym. A public gym you don’t have to join or complete inductions for. You have no car, don’t know the transport links, opening times or area. Good luck to you, sir.
“You can go to the cinema”
With who? Your manager?
“Go for a drink”
Because it makes getting home in a strange city even more interesting.
“Don’t you get expenses?”
So I get my flights and hotel and transport covered. I get a generic amount towards one meal a day. Yes. “Expenses”. I can feel another rant coming on about the expenses myth. Hmm.
The best thing that can happen to a business flight is it that it’s cancelled (unless it’s the one taking you home). Next time someone tells you that they travel with work spare a thought for them. When you’re just about getting up and thinking of getting up to go to work they’ll be half way there on a 500km commute and the content of their lives in a rattley trolley case. Not cool.