Present and Incorrect

It’s thirty seven and a half hours per week.  Monday to Friday, nine until five with half an hour for lunch.  It’s important that you are here on time every morning.  At 9.00am precisely.  And I don’t mean walking in the door at nine or making a cup of coffee, but coat off and logged on and ready to go.  I’m less concerned if you stay behind after 5pm of course, that’s up to  you.  Your lunch break is 12-12.30.  Please make sure that you stick to that timeslot so that I know where you are if I need anything and I can manage other people’s expectations.  The business needs to know when people will be available.  I do like to see you at your desk.  Visibility is important.  You should be aware that I can see your screen from my office, so I will be able to see if you are on one of those social media sites.  That isn’t work, so keep it for after hours please. When it comes to the dentist or the doctors, make sure that you book the appointment at the end of the day, and please make the time up within the same week.  Personal calls and emails should be limited to official breaks.  Working from home?  I know people just want to watch Homes Under the Hammer.   It doesn’t work for this sort of job you know.  And if you are not here in the office, then I can’t assess what you are doing and the contribution you make. If it’s the Nativity play or parent’s evening, then it is best if you take half a day’s annual leave.  I can’t set a precedent because then everyone else will want it and I won’t be able to say no to anyone else.  What is really important is how long you are at your desk.  Then when it comes around to your annual performance appraisal I will know you have been working hard or not.

Won’t I?

I sit at my desk, therefore I am.

Why do we persist on judging people on the amount of time they sit at their desk, rather than the contribution that they make? Presenteeism is alive and well in 2013.

You may have seen the recent research showing that a quarter of women feel that they have suffered discrimination or disadvantage at work when they have a child. Am I surprised by this? Sadly, no. Over the course of my HR career I have heard expressed many negative opinions of women, and men, taking time off for family reasons, that it would be hard to be so. I heard recently of an example where someone with a young child applied for, and was granted, a flexible working request. The employer said yes, but the person was subject to a wave of snarky comments from colleagues of the ‘it’s all right for some variety’. Why? Why do people assume that flexible working means taking it easy, sloping off, not pulling your weight, or working from home equates to watching the Jeremy Kyle show?

Technology now allows us to work anywhere, and any when. I am no longer defined by my desk, the 9-5.

Holding out for a hero

The presenteeism attitude is of course not just about flexible working or respecting people’s rights to find a life work balance. It’s about organisational culture; for so many organisations work must be seen to be done. A hero culture is created around those people that work long hours. They are committed, a good egg, a hard worker, the right stuff. A perception arises that long hours equals superhero, equals the right sort of performance.
The problem is compounded with it is the leaders of a business that are burning the midnight oil. The shadow casts long and wide, leading to the feeling that doing the same is expected.

In HR we talk about engagement, discretionary effort, getting our employees to go above and beyond. But we must not confuse this with working excessive hours. Being passionate about your job does not mean working until midnight.

Working excessive hours is not good for you. This isn’t my opinion; there is plenty of evidence to support it. Working excessive hours also isn’t good for productivity, good decision making…. I could go on. So here is my message to you. If you don’t take a break, take your holidays, but work till midnight, every weekend, never put down the Blackberry, you are quite simply not going to be performing at your best.

Reserve Judgement

If you feel you need to judge me, then do so based upon the results that I achieve. Not the hours I work to achieve them, the time that I sit behind my desk.

If you raise your eyebrows at me, think less of me, because one day I arrive at work at 9.15, then shall I expect you to chase me off home tomorrow at 5pm prompt? Will you pop over to my office to make sure I take my full lunch hour? I guess not.

If you email me at midnight, I won’t think you committed, a good corporate citizen, a hard working hero. I will think you have an issue that we should discuss.

Let us finally make the break the perceived link between performance and the hours people work.

It is 2013, after all.