ING Chairman Ewald Kist doesn’t want you to be a workaholic.
He employs 115.000 people worldwide. His company is in the middle of an intensely competitive battle within the international financial world. You would think that Ewald Kist could use every hour his employees had in them. But you would be mistaken. The chairman of ING’s executive board says, ‘I’m not impressed by workaholics. It isn’t about how many hours someone works, but rather what they achieve. People need to do other things as well. Everyone needs to get some fresh air sometimes. There is more to life than work. People have families and hobbies, too. The challenge is to balance those elements in your life. I encourage people to take vacations. It’s better for the company if people come in Monday morning feeling refreshed.’ With a smile Kist adds, ‘I’ve always kept up my interests outside work. Apparently it doesn’t hold you back in your career.’
Where does this culture of overworking until all the pleasure is drained from your work come from?
‘Working too hard is a typical symptom of a male-driven society. Women are more balanced. That’s why it’s important that for companies to have more women managers. Only ten of our top 200 directors are women. But half my clients are women. I only use half the talent that’s available in our society. That makes it even worse that now, because of the recession, it’s the women – and the elderly and minorities – that are disappearing first.’
Is less work also an answer to people’s increasing need to make more of a contribution than just increased profits for shareholders?
‘Not everyone needs to work 40 hours a week. Thanks to our increasing prosperity, you can also live well if you work three days a week – especially if your partner works too. This re-division of labour gives people the opportunity to do other things with their lives. And again, it’s also good for companies. In my experience, part-time workers do not perform any worse.’
The trend seems to be towards more technology and less employees. Are more and more jobs disappearing?
‘Of course there is a trend towards automation. I was recently in an experimental supermarket where there weren’t any cashiers; you had to scan your groceries yourself. But there are new jobs being created. My parents had a live-in child minder. We brought up our children ourselves. Today you see more and more families where both parents work and employ au pairs to take look after the kids. Increasing prosperity has given the service industry a boost. People are employing gardeners again. There is more and more security personnel. The social service sector also employs more people.’
But not every ex-bank employee can become a gardener.
‘Re-training is important. People go and do other things too. Work isn’t the only thing in life. I’m not really worried about a lack of jobs in our society. The influx of immigrants – for which there’s plenty of work – isn’t a problem. But you also see in the United States, for example, that it’s the under-classes that end up cleaning the streets. We have to be careful to avoid a split in our societies.’
In ten years time will ING have only 50,000 employees worldwide?
‘In countries like the Netherlands jobs will disappear, but at least as many will be recreated in other countries. The work moves to the new, up-and-coming markets. We employ 15,000 people in Asia. Next year we’ll have even more. Volkswagens are being built in Poland and Brazil. Phillips is moving its factories to the New World. General Electric has already got 30,000 people working for them in India. These kinds of transitions are not bad for the world.’
But the working conditions in these countries are not optimal.
‘I believe in free trade. But trade has to be conducted in a decent manner. Corporations have a bad image in this respect. We have to listen to the protests and take them seriously.’