It would be hard to disagree in theory with today’s news piece by the Campaign Against Longer Working Hours – and the fact that they are urging us to head home on time for once and enjoy a good old home cooked family meal (the fact that the campaign is sponsored by Bisto may have something to do with the last bit…).
But in practice, how easy is it to be the one that leaves a meeting first? That stands up and dons their coat as the rest of the team are still huddled over their screens, typing furiously. Can you honestly say that if you turned access to your work emails off at 6pm at night, it wouldn’t reflect badly on your career? And let’s flip it, too. How would you feel if it were your child’s teacher that didn’t work 14 hours a day, but instead refused to see parents after school, keep up with their marking, or spend time ordering essential equipment and planning the next day’s lessons? What would you think of a social worker responsible for your elderly mother who regularly spent the evening out with her husband rather than updating that week’s case notes…?
The harsh reality is that a day’s work no longer fits into the standard hours of a working day.
In truth, not many of us are workaholics (although lingering over the most satisfying parts of one’s work can be deliciously seductive) – it’s simply that many more of us are ‘good girls’, loathe to let the side down, anxious not to do anything to rock the boat, terrified to turn down a freelance assignment where in reality the day rate you’re charging will never cover the hours you’ll spend on it…
So whilst it’s ever so tempting to encourage one and all to cast their work aside today and spend quality time with loved ones, adding to the guilt load is certainly not the aim of this site. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on how much time that is rightfully ‘ours’ we spend giving our time ‘for free’ to work and work-related tasks, and how much time we actually spend free from the ties of work life, even when at home or out with friends.
In the past week a friend who works in Japan talked about being the first one, every night, who leaves the office, and how that makes him feel as the only ex-pat at work. It’s simply not the culture in his Tokyo firm to be seen to leave and spend any time in the evening with our family, but if he wants to see his children at all, he has no choice but to go against the cultural grain. Another friend has told how her boss puts the team under unbearable pressure by always saying yes to unrealistic deadlines.
Until we get over the heroics of ‘having to be at work’ ‘pulling a late one’ or ‘bringing it in against the odds’ and the glamour (and associated need and perceived popularity) of always being busy, it’s unlikely that the working culture of long hours and can-do will shift much.
But for those of you that can bear it, it’s worth asking – what’s the worst that can happen if you did just get up and leave on time today…?