Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Live to work or work to live?

I work for a consultancy, which means that the workload varies hugely because each individual client will bring you ad-hoc projects which you need to do to their schedule, rather than asking them if they'd mind until you've cleared another client's work off your desk. 

This means that very very occasionally I have very little on my plate, and a lot of the time I am juggling multiple projects on very different issues on tight deadlines, while still having to complete certain daily, weekly and monthly tasks supporting my colleagues. (For example, I check a large number of websites and compile a summary email of relevant developments every day).

This is to some extent the nature of the sector, but the level of work we handle is also a reflection of the company in general and my boss in particular. My boss works crazy hours - 11pm on a Friday and 6am on a Saturday - and gets frustrated when I'm not immediately responsive. It should be noted also that senior staff are paid by the hour, while I get paid until 5.36 pm and every minute past that is unremunerated.

I think we have very different ideas of a normal workload in this sense - I am happy to muck in on a weekend if a completely unforeseeable crisis arises and we have to do damage control, but not on a regular basis or a matter of routine. I enjoy (most of) my work but I also enjoy time at home, and I need time to unwind, destress and switch off in order to carry on juggling the next day without dropping any of the balls.

I think in many ways we (society in general, not just my company) need to change things around. The goal should not be working until 11pm, but that all team members are stretched, challenged, envigorated and then sent home at a reasonable hour. Whether through taking on more staff or changing how the work is handled, the goal should be for everyone to leave at 5.30 or at the latest 6. When I leave at 6.30 I always feel I have to apologise to my colleagues for leaving so early, even though I know that working late means I don't sleep well and then work much slower the next day.

I don't want to have to choose between a fulfilling and challenging career, and being able to be home in time to eat dinner with my boyfriend, and do a little knitting. Why do they have to conflict, why is there a tension? And this is without having children - I can well imagine that being a far more frustrating part of life to be conflicting with workload.

I would like to see companies reward and incentivise employees who can manage their workload effectively within a shorter working day, rather than creating a culture that normalises long hours and effectively penalises employees who leave earlier.


  1. Interesting timing with this post. I get to leave work bang on time, never have to work through lunch or get calls at the weekend and this is a massive improvement on T K Maxx, obviously. But we found out yesterday that our company has finally initiated a pension scheme (because the government said they had to) and their contributions will be a whopping 1%. For contrast, the NHS contributes 14%. There are a lot of people in my office suddenly looking for new jobs with renewed vigour.

    It's so hard to get the balance right. I don't want to work more. I have enough trouble keeping positive as it is, I do not think working more would help. On the other hand, since part of me still believes I'll never have a long-term partner or kids I have to worry how will I ever afford a one-person place to live, and how will I support myself when I'm older?

    1. It's a tricky question, balancing quality of life now with quality of life (indirectly through savings) in the future. I definitely think we should none of us put blind faith in pension systems of any kind, because companies, economies, currencies and governments can all fail, and we cannot predict the policies that will be in place in fifty years time. So saving and investing for our own futures - whatever they may hold - is just sensible.

      But we shouldn't totally sell our on current quality of life for that. If you're in a job that works for you now, by all means stay with it but maybe try to save a bit more each month. Maybe now is a good moment to look around and see what else is out there offering similar quality of life for better reward, or better quality of life for similar reward?

  2. I totally agree! I worked in a lab, and it was the same way. It seemed like some employees that put in way long hours are praised. For some people, that may be o.k., but not for everyone. I would feel guilty if I didn't stay later..esp. when I was part time. I am glad I'm not there anymore.

    1. Long hours not just praised but expected. You feel like you're doing something illicit if you leave at 6. It's a kind of inflation which can only end in madness...

  3. Such a timely post . I have been working 2 jobs for a while (farm stay and teaching ) . Sometimes you have to do alot of work to set up an environment that has you working less hours.I felt much the same about teaching because there are such long hours involved in lesson prep but I could never cut back because it wasn't my boss I was affecting but the kids themselves. I am so excited that this year I have finished teaching and get to stay on the farm fulltime.
    Don't ever feel bad about leaving earlier to be with your family or partner - you are making the right decision .

    1. On some level, I know that you are absolutely right. This is precisely why we have legislation limiting working hours, after all - the impact on mental and physical health, on social relationships and other important factors.

      On another level, though, I am on a fixed term contract which doesn't have long to run and so far no extension is forthcoming, despite several discussions with my boss and HR. I want to have time for a life but I also need an income.



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