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?


  1. Anonymous10:43 AM

    What do I get? You know, it's a good question. I'm sure that your story about almost being fired even though you were clearly dedicated and hard-working is not an unfamiliar one to a lot of people. The fact is, giving so much of your time to your company for free doesn't actually make your job more secure, doesn't actually ensure that you'll get a raise, and is no guarantee of a future promotion or even recognition. We have all learned this little lesson at one point or another, and yet we still work for free. Why?
    Honestly, I do it because I feel bad if I don't. I feel as though, if "it" hits the fan, and I can't say to myself, "I got up early, I worked late, I worked in the off hours..", then I won't be able to feel that I did the best I could when the company decides to downsize people. Or when I have to agrue for that incremental raise that doesn't even amount to a cost of living adjustment.
    I think there's some strange mutation that's happened somewhere along the way in the evolution of the modern work ethic. The threat of losing one's job may not even be real, and a lot of times there's nothing that you could have done to prevent your job loss (or secure a raise). Yet, the (irrational) idea persists that a company will take care of you if you give it your all. This just isn't true, and I think it's very difficult for people to accept that they can't somehow change that by working harder.

  2. Good thoughts, thanks!


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