Email In The Bathroom: Not A Universal Good

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  • The advert is, of course, appalling. There needs to be space in life to be not working, so I hope the advert is more of a joke that a serious suggestion as to how a company might work.

    But the idea that every time someone spends more than maybe 40 to 50 hours in a week working their productivity drops by more than enough to negate the usefulness of the extra hours is pure nonsense. Long periods of crunch mode working have been known to be counterproductive rubbish for a century or more (pity we can't get more managers educated about that) but short periods can be very effective. I know from personal experience that I'm not productive when I'm too tired to think straight, but I also know from personal experience that doing 66 hours a week for two weeks isn't enough to put me into that unproductive state, although doing it for 3 weeks might be. I also found that when I was too far from home to spend time with my wife and kids I could work long hours without getting too tired to be efficient provided I knew that when I was back within reach of home I could take the time back. Having short overworked periods every now and again, provided they are matched by underworked periods every now and again, is not harmful unless the periods get too long.

    So yes, there is a problem (patrticularly in computing - not just in software development, it happens in hardware development too) that there can be crazy overcommitment for which incompetent managers (perhaps the majority, sad to say) attempt to compensate by having eveyone work silly amounts of time for periods long enough to be counterproductive. The answer isn't to prevent people working 60 hours in a week evey now and again, expecially if they can get a couple of extra days off work or a couple of weeks with only 30 hours in compensation, and even - provide it's sufficiently rare - if the only exchange they get is pay for extra hours. It is rather to educate managers so that they don't expect intense overtime to work for months when we all know it only works for a short push (say two weeks, or maybe three weeks if the extra hours are low enough); and of course to educate the junior programmers/engineers who in their early 20s think they can work effectively for three months on 3 hours (or less) per day of sleep so that they know they can't actually do that.


  • Part Time. I returned to the world of IT after a very long hiatus. Working part time during whatever hours I see fit has allowed me to balance work and home. Taking care of my family is my first priority, always. Whether that means picking up our oldest from college, 3+ hours away, taking our youngest to the barn for horseback riding 3+ times a week, 40 minutes each way, or visiting my mom 6 hours away, working part time hours allows me to meet those responsibilities.

    I think it would be difficult for me to manage a 40 hour a week job with just 10 days of vacation annually. Of course it helps that I am not single handedly supporting a family and I don't 'need' to work. However, I like to work. I like to do something productive that I enjoy. When my client asked for SQL help, I was happy to say yes. Am I building a career? Not really, 'been there, done that'. I would like to take the 70-461 certification exam at some point, but the situation I am in probably wouldn't work for folks that are building a career and need to become fluent in many aspects of IT quickly. I am the only one here who knows SQL. It would certainly be nice to have someone else to collaborate with, bounce ideas off of, and learn from. And working part time doesn't mean immunity from time crunches or stresses. If I need to put in a couple of long days, so be it. Once our youngest is off at college, I'll be more willing and able to work more hours if necessary. All in all, this is something that works for my client and for me.

  • I'll step up to the plate and work 50 hours a week, if there is a deadline approaching or when troubleshooting an issue in production. Also when learning a new technology, I'll explore in late into the evening, but that's just me satisfying my own personal craving.

    However, I won't consistently work 50 hours a week regardless, simply because management feels that's the number of hours their staff are supposed to put in. If that's the deal, then this IT cat will wander off and find a new home.

    "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Instead, seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

  • As a counterpoint, I will say that flexible working hours and being able to work from anywhere can be incredibly helpful for work-life balance.

    Perhaps not going as far as working on the toilet or when you're at the bar with a friend. That is plain ridiculous.

    But, for example, I once took a vacation over Thanksgiving. Rather than leaving the day before and coming home on Sunday, feeling pressure to not use up all my vacation days, I left the prior week. Flights were a LOT cheaper, so I saved a bunch of money, and then I worked "from home" for 2 days so I didn't use up too much vacation time.

    I've done the same for weekend trips. Leave on Thursday night, work on Friday from the vacation spot, then enjoy the whole weekend without using a day off. It's less "I must work on vacation" and more "I can fit my work around my vacation rather than my vacation around my work".

    Plus, working with a scenic view - it's very good for the soul.

    Madison, WI

  • I, also, work for a very large company which aggressively monitors employees' hours to ensure nobody burns out. Amazingly, this is the only such company from over a dozen for which I've worked in over 30 years. Most of those companies penalize employees for not working as much as project managers desire. Some of those companies even have lawyers dedicated to labor law disputes. One for which I worked even had a dedicated person in the WA State Dept. of Labor to handle labor disputes. What I've found is that many managers will fire employees for bogus reasons while staunchly stating that they're adhering to corporate guidelines. Gladly, my current company intensely promotes honesty, integrity, diversity, and safety above all else; I'm not exaggerating, either...we even have annual commitment sessions.

    Everyone has the choice to work smarter or work harder: Smarter = proper analysis, design, and implementation; Harder = reactive implementation with little/no thought to design other than repeating what has been done before*. We all know that smarter designs lead to products with more longevity and less maintenance.

    Like consumerism where people vote with their dollars, employees vote with their attendance. If employees give into the "HR marketing folks" and regularly work 24 hours/day (8 hrs per day in the office, being on-call the rest of the time, and routinely working extra hours), that is endorsing the mentality which resulted in every country's labor laws in the first place, and even unions in the US.

    In the end, each person has to choose what is more important to them: their heart & mind, or their wallet.

    Thought for the day:

    "You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime. Is that all you get for your money?"

    -- Billy Joel

    * I've embarrassed more than 1 person over the years whey someone says "I've been doing this for over _ years!", to which I reply "wow, you haven't learned to do better in all that time?!"

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