This is a guest post written by Dorothy Krajewski.
Full Time Work
Full time work is a joke. I don’t think it works for anyone, but it’s a standard a lot of us accept because our need for security outweighs our need for happiness or well-being. I lived it for many years with a fully able body, without a family, with undiagnosed depression and anxiety and hated it. It took a huge toll on my body and mind and I lived for my days off and holidays.
When I started full time work after university, I was a stickler for the system’s rules. I worked only the hours I was required, took every day off I could and always used my holidays. When flexi-time came in, I took advantage of it to the fullest. I never fell prey to the “you must be seen in the office late to succeed” fallacy and merrily left work at 4 or 4.30 pm, having worked my 7.36 hours.
My bosses always took great pride in pointing out to me exactly how early I was leaving and how late others were staying, but some of them also noted that I arrived much earlier than most people to work my allocated hours. I literally watched the clocked and saw work as a means to an end, never as an end in itself. Even though I was in the Graduate Program and therefore on the fast track to the Executive Service, I never understood why working long hours should be part of the deal. I did the work, I reached my goals and didn’t know how to play office politics. I suspect my undiagnosed autism had something to do with that.
Of course, I never made it to management, although I was a team leader for 2 years.
It was during that time that I asked my boss if I could work part-time. It wasn’t because I had a family to look after. I wasn’t studying or anything like that. I just wanted more time to myself. Of course, I had to prove to him that my work wouldn’t be affected. I would do 5 days work in 4 and would still be contactable on my day off. I did take a pay cut and was in the office for one day less, but I still carried a full time load.
What I did was very unusual at the time and I suspect it still would be today. Back then, only women with children worked part time. My boss, while somewhat of an arsehole, was kind of a nice arsehole. Maybe he wanted to be seen to be providing a flexible work environment, or had some other agenda. Regardless, I really enjoyed working 4 days a week. I used my extra day off to go the movies, to lunch or just to enjoy my own company. Being an extreme introvert and working closely with my team, took its toll, so time on my own was priceless.
Throughout my career, I was allowed a modicum of flexibility in my working arrangements. Working from home was a thing when a big project came around. I was always amazed how much more I could get done there instead of a busy office with constant interruptions from phone calls, bosses and colleagues. No wonder I took to freelance work like a duck to water.
The phrase “portfolio worker” was coined by Charles Handy – an Irish author/philosopher specialising in organisational behaviour and management. I first came across it in the 90s. Of course, it suited me to a tee and it described a hopeful future I might actually live one day.
A portfolio worker is someone who doesn’t just have the one job for life, or even many jobs one after another, but someone who does several things at once to make up a “portfolio” of work. This might include a part time corporate job, some freelancing, some research, volunteering and other activities that would make up a well-rounded worker. He believed that we would see the end of the full time culture in the 21st century and see many more jobs that were part time, casual and freelance.
He was partially right. There are certainly more jobs that are part time, casual and freelance, but the full time corporate culture hasn’t changed and the large scale casualisation of some workforces has been a disaster for those individuals who crave security. In most situations it has been implemented as a way to save money on employee benefits rather than create a flexible workforce. I know stories of people who have worked long enough to have earned long service leave while working on sequential 6 month contracts.
Flexibility: Not Just for Parents
“Serious” professional jobs on the other hand are rarely offered on a part time or any other kind of flexible basis. They are almost always full time, on site and not at all family friendly. So many organisations, in both the public and private sectors, espouse the family friendly rhetoric. But when it comes to the crunch, this “family friendliness” is limited to existing employees, has certain pre-established boundaries and immediately belittles the status of anyone holding such a position.
Why should flexibility and work/life balance only be offered to those who have families? Or people with disabilities or chronic illness? Why shouldn’t everyone want a life that doesn’t revolve around their job? Spending 40 hours a week at a job you don’t necessarily love is not healthy for anyone, especially if you have to do it in the same place, with the same people, during the same hours, day in, day out. The routine itself, the “rat race”, is what most of us hate.
“Every Monday through Friday, I put on my Adult Working Lady costume, and most days, I think I pass. I keep up, manage, do the tasks (sometimes really well, even), and have good days. […] At the very same time, I can’t help but believe this Full-Time Working Adult system punishes more bodies than mine — bodies in pain, bodies that get pregnant, need to breastfeed, have periods, get cramps, have different eating rhythms, need naps, breaks, longer toilet times, more inclusive toilet spaces and so the list unfurls. We’ve built a system that equates our worth with the amount of work our bodies and minds are able to produce within a narrow parameter of time; it punishes all of us. You can always do more, and you’ve never done enough. Sleep less, do more, push harder, what are you DOING? .” Rebekah Taussig
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why don’t more of us question it? Especially those of us who don’t depend on full time hours for a secure income, who could make do with fewer dollars in the bank, with an older car, a smaller house. Why the race for bigger, better, more? Because we want to be seen as committed to our employer or our organisation and be taken seriously? At what cost?
I want to challenge the sacred cow of why must we be committed to work. Why can’t we produce good outcomes for our employers, or indeed ourselves, without the word “commitment” hanging over our heads? As we now know, nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at the office, whether it’s their employer’s office or home office. We’d rather spend time with our family, take more risks and travel. Plainly, we all want to enjoy life more, not work more.
Why must a good employee be one who is “committed” to their job? There have been a few, rare times where I was truly committed to a workplace and a job, but I have always been committed to excellent outcomes. For my bosses, for my colleagues, for my clients and for myself. Do any of us really live to work? Work should be a means to an end. An enjoyable means, hopefully, not something you dread every day.
This is why so many people, disillusioned with the corporate world, start their own businesses. And not necessarily because they want to work fewer hours, but they want to work on their own terms. They want to pick their hours, their location, their company and their clients. We can’t choose our bosses in the corporate world, unless we quit, but, as entrepreneurs and freelancers, most of the time we can choose our clients, or at least have such a combination of them that the good ones outweigh the bad.
Access to flexible work
True flexibility in the corporate culture will come when we stop calling it family friendliness and start extending it to all workers. We also need to stop questioning their commitment to the job or the organisation, just because they want more flexibility in their work arrangements. In fact, the only commitment we should demand from our staff is that to excellent outcomes. If I can achieve my outcomes in 3 hours a day, compared to someone else’s 8 hours, then that is what I want to be judged on, and paid for. My efficiency is a skill that should be rewarded, not punished by giving me more work, often “busy work” I hate, just to fill those extra 5 hours.
If I were to ever go back to working for “the man”, I would like it to be in a job where:
- my skills were valued, ie: I was paid to do what I was actually good at and wanted to do,
- My wage was based on outcomes rather than hours worked,
- I could decide the location of my work and was trusted to perform it
- I had access to full employee benefits like sick leave, annual leave, superannuation.
Most of what I’m writing here is about so called “brain work”, because that’s the work I am most familiar with. I realise that there are many jobs where presence counts, but flexibility in those jobs is not impossible. Whether through part time work or job sharing, flexibility still can be achieved.
I have read many articles encouraging workers to apply for full time work with their friends, proposing job sharing. Why must the onus always be on the job applicant? Why can’t the employer advertise the position as a flexible one and then come up with the best option based on the specific pool of applicants they get? Yes, it means extra work for them. But they will get a much better selection of skills and happier employee(s) as a result. Job-sharing employees might even have a better collection of skills than a full time applicant!
Let’s talk about shift work. Why are standard shifts 8, 10 or 12 hours? Who does that serve? Why can’t shorter shifts be offered as well? Why are those only offered to casual workers?
The main reason full time work still exists is that it’s the only way some people can make ends meet. What if we paid people more? Or if people could earn the same for 20 hours of work as they now do for 40? Imagine if childcare and aged care workers were paid as much as teachers? What if teachers earned the same as doctors? What if CEO’s salaries were not so ridiculously high? But salaries are a whole different article that I’m not really qualified to write.
For now, let’s start questioning why we need to be working 40+ hours a week. Take money out of the equation and you’re left with job security and being seen to be committed.
They’re the things I want you to question. Work is not the object of life. Life is.