August 19, 2008

9 to 5

What ever happened to a nine-to-five work day?

These days, I receive a steady stream of e-mail messages from y'all. I get messages at noon PDT from folks in Europe. I get messages at 6:00pm PDT from folks in New England. I get messages at 10:00am PDT on a Saturday morning.

My wife might ask "What are you doing reading those messages on a Saturday?"

In the early part of this decade, I worked seven days a week. I'd work 6:30am to 5:00pm, I'd work every evening, I'd work on weekends. Then my boss tried to fire me. From that point forward, I chose to work 7:30am to 5:00pm, no more. No Saturdays. No Sundays. No checking of e-mail after hours. No checking voice mail, ever.

I'd argue that the following five years were as productive as any.

This job is different, but the number of work hours must be kept under forty.

After nearly being canned in 2002, I pursued a job at a major internet brand located in Northern California. I asked the SVP of Marketing to describe her day to me. She talked about waking up at 5:30am, checking e-mail, having breakfast, getting to the office just after 7:00am, working until about 5:30pm, then having dinner with her husband, then responding to e-mail from 7:30pm to 11:00pm, then going to bed. She mentioned that she loved having the flexibility to not have to be in the office at night like other people, and that she loved not having to respond to e-mail during the work day.

This "multichannel" thing invades our workday as well. We have meetings, dinners, voicemail, e-mail, laptop PCs, dial-in to your work PC, all representing multiple work channels. During this decade, salaries have increased by about 3% per year, roughly at the same rate as inflation. I'm willing to bet you work more hours now than you worked in 1999 --- suggesting that you're truly earning less per hour, after controlling for all competing factors.

Tell me, honestly, unless you love your job so much that you'd prefer to do work over any other activity, what do you get for the additional twenty hours a week you freely give your company, sans compensation? It's easy to see what your company gets. What do you get? How do you benefit?