Saturday, July 29, 2006

Flexible working

I've been pondering, after my last post, just how feasible it is to have a workplace with different attitudes to working hours.

It's a horrible time of year right now, which exaggerates the problem, but I'm working in a workplace which has (at one extreme) someone who sent me emails at 1.30 am and 3.30 am on different days this week, and who was in at 9 the next morning both times, and someone who works for me who works in the office two days a week and from home one other day. I'm in the middle; I almost always leave the office by 5.30, but work at home in the evenings a fair bit.

I used to be someone who worked long hours when necessary (my personal record was six hours between leaving the office at night and arriving the next morning), although I've never been the most extreme anywhere I've worked. I used to get paid for it, too; I worked in a place where the bonus system did reward the hard workers, with reasonably good ways of checking that the hours were productive. But I used to really resent those people in the same office who declined to work long hours; that meant that the flexible people had to pick up the slack; always. What I wanted at the time was for the shorter people to still work longer if we had too much to do; what usually happened was that I worked twice as hard, and they usually worked their shorter hours, as they had carved out the right.

Can you only make flexible hours work if everyone works short hours? What if you have a few people who are willing to work slavish hours? Can you make it work if you pay them for it? Or is the only way to get flexible hours for the (substantial) minority who want them, make sure that nobody works stupid hours? Or, to put it another way, are we destined to have two kinds of companies - the family friendly and the not family friendly, with two quite different kinds of workers?


When I was the person working somewhat stupid hours, I didn't mind them that much because I loved my work, I worked with friends, and E was also working stupid hours, so I was often going home to an empty house (no kids at that stage). Not to say that I always enjoyed them, but I think it's important to acknowledge in this kind of debate that some people really do enjoy their work, and quite like the hours it entails.


At 2:56 pm, Blogger bj said...

I think more people have to work through the debate your having with yourself here, and am frustrated by those who just ask for the perfect flexible, intellectually satisfying, remunerative job.

I'm also in a field where many truly love their jobs, and are happy working long hours. We can't prevent them, and it's hard to figure how to not reward them, since they will actually produce something with those extra hours (rewards aren't compensation in academia, anyway).

[followed you here from Half Changed World.]


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