Freedom at work: The 40-Hour Week.

Posted by jlubans on December 03, 2013

20131203-IWW 4daywk.jpeg
Caption: The IWW may not be far off the mark.
A young friend landed a job at a software development company.
When I asked how it was going, he’d always enthuse, “I’m pumped!” He was loving it, putting in long hours fixing bugs and producing bushel baskets of code. He told me the organization was a great place to work, free coffee, free parking, cool co-workers, free gourmet lunch. They even let him bring his dog to work.
This went on for months – I’d ask and he’d gush, “I’m pumped!” He was really liking the job and the boss was always telling him what a great team player he was. A great guy, the boss.
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Caption: Saying No to Hans und Fritz.*
One day something changed. My friend was downcast and discouraged. “I’m not pumped!” he told me, even before I opened my mouth.
How come? Well, after weeks of sleeping at his desk or in his car in the free parking lot from working into the early hours – “death march” was his term for the marathon work sessions - he had a bit of a relapse.
He figured he just needed some sleep in his own bed and all would be well. After a good sleep, he took the morning off to pay bills, online of course. While he had some money in the bank, it was not much considering the hours he was putting in.
When he divided his usual 80-hour week by his salary, his hourly rate dropped to below entry level!
He was doing the work of two people and getting paid for one. Unpumped!
He left the job, gave up the on-call barista, the free laundry service, the super cool co-workers, the free shopping service and found a job in IT support for a non-profit. He works a 40-hour week and does good, solid work. While no longer daily “pumped” about the job, his overall quality of life is much improved; he has time for friends and family; and, on nights and weekends, he’s off the grid.

My friend’s story is not unique. There’s been much concern of late in the popular press about people putting in long hours, brown-bagging in the cubicle, not taking vacations, and of being technologically tethered to the workplace 24/7. Some pundits claim the workforce is fearful of being downsized; others claim it’s supply and demand: too few jobs for too many workers (many of whom have already been downsized at least once!) The feudal spirit has returned to The Office.
So, it is a healthy indicator that some companies – especially democratic work places - are slowly returning to the 40-hour week, giving a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. This new “norm” can attract the very good worker who’s tired of owing his “soul to the company store.” Who’s tired of recrimination about leaving the job at 5 instead of 7 or for taking a long week end or – worst of all - for going “off the grid” – for any reason -when away from the office.
There’s a payoff for the company. Research suggests that workers are happier, and that productivity, creativity and innovation soar.
Piling on hours does not improve our work; it can have the opposite effect, a loss in productivity because of fatigue-induced errors.
Early in my career, (my first professional job advertised a 37.5-hour week) I was all for working extra hours, taking work home, writing reports on weekends. Why? To get ahead; to finger the brass ring.
I think that was good discipline for me as I learned about my business, but after a while, the extra hours and effort became burdensome. I cut back some, but not really enough.
I do hope the trend back to the 40-hour week flourishes.

* Source: “Pumping Up With Hans & Franz.”

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: College of Southern Nevada.

Copyright John Lubans 2013
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