A plea for balance

1 03 2010

I would like to make a plea for balance.

One of the cornerstones of the magazine is to promote positive work/life balance. By that I mean a balance that allows both men and women to be fulfilled at work and at home; in their work life and family life.

Towards the end of last week a report was published which showed that a huge number of workers in the UK are racking up thousands of hours of unpaid overtime. Despite advances in contracts,  terms and conditions of employment, European working time directive and the like, thousands of us feel compelled to work beyond our agreed hours for zero pay. So what about a fair days work for a fair days pay?

Radio 5live chose to interview ex-Apprentice Katie Hopkins who set out to defend this situation. She pointed out that if you walked past Canary Wharf on any evening lights would be on in most of the offices as employees worked well beyond 6 o clock as a matter of routine. She argued that this was essential in these difficult times to work as long as it took to ensure that the company you worked for made a profit; that if the company didn’t make a profit there would be no jobs.  Leaving aside companies making huge profits at the expense of their workforce and the fact that it took me all my time not to shout “Show Me The Money Katie” in  Jerry Maguire style at the radio, surely the issue is one of balance.

Her argument went on the suggest that in the private sector workers were not contracted to work for a number of hours but rather contracted to produce an agreed outcome – to meet a performance target. If that took 10 hours per day to achieve, then so be it.

A story: At 28 I was Marketing manager for a multinational medical company.  Under my management the division I headed was the most successful in the company and sales were growing year on year in what was a static market.  After about a year of working with the company my boss called me into his office and told me that it had been “noticed” that I was leaving the office at around 6 o’ clock, which was always earlier than my (male) colleagues. Resisting the temptation to lose my temper I simply asked had he got any problems with my work? Answer, no. Were there any jobs left undone that should have been completed? Answer, no? Was there anything extra that he would like me to do that could increase the effectiveness of my division? Answer, no? With that I smiled and left his office. After that I left each day on the stroke of 5! In fact my male colleagues were staying late not because they had lots of work to do but  because they were frightened to be seen to be the first to leave. They didn’t work after 5 o’clock, rather they sat in each others offices and chatted until they felt able to leave.

Thought: If I had been able to complete all of my job by 2pm every afternoon would the company have thought it OK for me to leave early? Surely if private sector workers are contracted to a performance then leaving at early should be as commonplace as working late. If it is expected that a job can, on average, be completed in 5 x 7 hour days, as is in most peoples terms of contract, then leaving early sometimes should balance out leaving late. I don’t see many workers wandering home at 4 o’clock, do you?