It was Loverboy who, in 1982, had a hit with the song “Working For The Weekend” but, 38 years later, it seems that their sentiment has been replaced for many people. It seems that for many, there is an expectation that “everybody’s working ON the weekend” … and in many cases, after hours during the week as well.
Why have we allowed this to happen? At a time when businesses are, more than ever, making a stand to support the mental health and well-being of their employees, many of my friends and associates are telling me that they go home and get the laptop out and get a couple more hours work done after dinner. At a time when some countries are working towards four day weeks and six hour work days, I see people working many hours beyond what they are paid to do. At a time when obesity is becoming a major health issue, I see people using their leisure time to sit in front of their work computer instead of getting out and doing something active.
Now, I get it when you are running a small business, especially during its period of establishment. The whole “working in the business vs working on the business” dilemma means that you often find yourself working the extra hours – but that is a choice you make on a project that typically involves your passion or your determination to get a new business up and running. But these are not the people I am talking about.
I am talking about mid-range to senior employees in a range of organisations across many different industries, feeling that there is an expectation – typically unstated – that you complete a full day’s work in the office and then go home and keep going. That you’ll get the laptop or tablet out on Sunday evening, withdraw yourself from family activities and get your email under control for Monday morning.
I put the blame on a couple of factors here.
First of all, many larger organisations run platforms like Yammer, Workplace, etc which are designed to provide a sense of community and a forum for news, thoughts, updates and leader communications. One of the advantages of this approach is that instead of emails going backwards and forwards, people can share their news and views in a central location. The downside is that these platforms seem to insist on telling you every time there is either an “important update” or when you have chosen not to log in to the platform for a day or two. So, like clockwork, throughout Sunday (because it has been a day or two), the notifications start popping up on people’s phones that there are updates – some of them “important updates” – waiting to be read.
But I also point the finger at senior leaders here. They may choose to get their laptop out on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday night and get themselves a head start on their week. They may choose to log on after hours during the week to keep on top of their workload. But the problem is that this means that their example is often being followed by their colleagues. It almost seems that if Helen or David are sending emails during the evening or weekend, I should be too.
I’m sure that if I mentioned this to Helen or David, they would tell me that they aren’t expecting their teams to do that … but that’s not the point. Many employees, certainly some of the younger ones who are aspiring to a leadership position, see this as normal behaviour.
One counter argument is that it suits the leader and/or the employee better to work flexibly … and if that is truly the case, I am all for it. If someone wants to start their day later so that they can spend time at the gym and catch up on their work later in the day, I’m very happy to hear it. If someone wants to have breakfast with their kids, drop them off at school and then catch up on work after they’ve gone to bed on Sunday night, absolutely go for it.
My concern is not for people doing work at home or outside of “normal hours” – my concern is about what appears to be a growing expectation that people are paid to do a full-time job and then they are expected to go above and beyond at the expense of spending time with their family and friends, at the expense of being able to get to the gym or go for a walk, at the expense of being able to participate in a hobby or club.
If this sounds like you, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because it is expected of you? Is it because you think it is the right thing to do, to show how committed you are to your job? Is it because you have fallen into a bad habit? If you are a leader, have you considered what impact your work habits are having on your teams?
These are questions that, in my mind, are critical indicators of an organisation’s culture. It ties in with my recent post about treating the people who work with you as people and not resources, workforce, FTEs or any of the other euphemisms that are regularly used. Your colleagues are first and foremost people and their work should only represent an appropriate proportion of what they do with their week.
Are you allowing them to do that? Are you allowing yourself to do that?