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Time Continued: Good Riddance to the Eight-Hour Workday
If you are under the impression there is such thing as the eight-hour workday for professionals, you have been on planet Mars for most of the last decade. We live and work today in 24-hour time segments, and it really makes no difference if you are behind a desk, driving your car, taking a shower or washing the dishes.
Time is not a thing, but a state of mind. Intellectual work -- that creative and strategic thought you bring to your job -- cannot be lassoed and contained within a glass cubicle any more than it can be sustained in a Petri dish for study. No self-respecting professional looks at the clock on his desk and automatically shuts his or her brain down when the sun goes down. It is, in fact, a misnomer to label work by that traditional name, sort of like calling a car a horseless carriage or a fancy refrigerator an icebox. My suggestion would be to simply call it paid time.
Paid time can and does occur anywhere, and it is a 24-hour phenomenon. To my knowledge, there is nothing written down, biblical or otherwise, that prescribes a workday as consecutive hours, usually eight and usually during the day. We as professionals have become too sophisticated, too mobile, and too global to think in the narrow confines of traditional paid time. Business time is all the time and it has been for at least the last decade or so. Many companies have yet to realize this. Once they do, they will also realize that the paid time of the individual worker can be adjusted to fit global circumstances, and not just the mere convenience of fellow workers, even bosses. For those who prefer the 9 to 5 or 6 tradition, fine, but all should realize that it is simply another option, and probably not the best one.
I Hate Workaholics. There, I Said It.
When I started my work career, I accumulated one week of vacation time only after the first year of service. The other day I had an employee come in and ask for a vacation after two months on the job, which I thought was rather cheeky. I suggested she had mistaken me for Father Christmas.
Vacations represent company benefits, and as such are rewards for service and not entitlements, even though some countries have gone so far as to legislate vacation time, particularly in Western Europe and the former Soviet bloc. Having said that, in the new global time paradigm, the company that is liberal in time off can also anticipate more paid time from the employee, whether it takes place in an office, at home, or simply in his or her mind. The latter is, indeed, where much, perhaps most professional work is done.
As to vacations, in nearly 40-years of full-time employment, self-employed or otherwise, I never had an opportunity to take more than three weeks vacation consecutively, and 90 per cent of vacation time has been for one or two week stretches. In Europe, this is an anathema, but those folks don't take vacations, they take sabbaticals. Employees need to think in terms of the global nature of companies, and the fact that those four and five week vacations mean only one thing: the company can operate just fine without you, and maybe it should operate without you. Ted Baxter might have been right all along.
I have told the next story so often I think I will take a nap as my fingers rap out a couple of lines. It is not how much time one spends at the office, but how much gets done either at the office or elsewhere. Russia's greatest tsar, Peter the Great, lived only until the age of 52. Yet he founded St. Petersburg, whipped the Swedes (one of the most powerful armies at the time), and extended an empire across seven time zones. It should be noted that Peter had the same number of hours in the day that we have - and he drank a lot.
The 24-hour Paradigm
The big silverback's advice to CEOs is that they think of their employees having an entire 24-hour day, and during that span, those employees have all kinds of activities to perform or not to perform. They have, of course, paid time, sleeping time, television time, love making time, goof-off time, card-playing time, cooking time, children's quality time and so on and so forth. Give him or her freedom to decide as much as possible, given usual client and customer constraints, at what time they wish to perform each duty or leisure so long as those crucial deadlines are met.
What, you exclaim! I hear this tremendous echo, followed by a moan and a groan. Finally, you bluster, "There would be anarchy." No, there would be much more order than exists in the traditional workplace. There is anarchy today, even in the most dictatorial of offices. It is fed by dissatisfaction, frustration, and even guilt when it comes to balancing the duties of a good mother with those of a professional career woman. This should not be.
Let me count the reasons. First, the world we live in now is not the same as the one in which our parents lived. Second, the Internet has dramatically changed the world more than we want to admit. Further, with globalization, if your office is not working in more than one time zone, you have a really small business. Finally, competitive pressures will eventually eject you into the 21st century, or they will push you back into the Dark Ages.
My own office is typical, in an atypical sort of way. Some people come in at 7:30 a.m., some at 8:30, some at 9:30 and some at 10:30 or 11:00 or later. I don't stand by the door like a green ogre marking people tardy, though I move about the office enough to give a pretty good idea of the comings and goings of our Kyiv office staff. For the record, we are a small business, with about 65 people in Kyiv, Ukraine; 25 in Moscow, Russia; six in Istanbul, Turkey; and one in Donetsk, Ukraine.
You are probably sending your resume to me as you read that last paragraph. But wait. My colleagues leave office anywhere between 6 p.m. and sunrise, depending on the assignments they have to complete. California, where we have clients, is ten hours behind Moscow. In addition, Vladivostok, where we also have client work, is seven hours ahead of Moscow.
Then, there is the factor of the Internet. Everything I have at the office to communicate around the globe I have at home. With the advent and expansion of Wi-Fi, I have the ability to communicate almost everywhere. Today is no different from any other day, although it is Constitution Day in Ukraine as I write, an office-closing official holiday. Of course, given the mercurial state of that document in Ukraine, it is about like celebrating National Underwear Changing Day.
I have been in contact with our Moscow office, have been briefed on a client crisis, have monitored both international and Eastern Europe news, have discussed an upcoming client project launch, and have written nearly 1,000 words on this book, all while listening to Dwight Yoakum twang away, sipping fresh coffee and smoking my pipe. In between, I have added a few touches to my latest oil painting, watched a really silly half-hour television program, and played with my youngest kid. Said youngest child, a typical teenager, has not emerged from her room except to go to the fridge in the last eight months. Thanks to the marvels of modern communication, I've accomplished all this, and before 2 p.m.
This afternoon I will write copy for several ad concepts; jot down topics for a magazine column; check-in on a new client based in Denver, Colo.; follow up on that brewing client crisis in Moscow; take a short nap; partially prepare the morning memo that greets my colleagues each day by 6:30 a.m.; and -- Finally -- take a 40-minute walk. With the exception of a couple of the above items, an "at work" atmosphere is not at all needed. Unlike a decade ago, I can accomplish the paid portion of what I do anywhere on the globe, as long as I have access to the Internet.
This is not to say a work atmosphere is unimportant. It is essential to commerce.
Most days I would be at my desk, but the fact remains that the office is more what business philosopher Charles Handy called a clubhouse where people need the occasional face-to-face meeting and a client needs a briefing with all the electronic visual technology used for such these days. In addition, an office is a storehouse for the expeditious delivery of business, such as those mammoth copiers and heavy-duty printers.
Additionally, and this is important for all professional managers, there is no such thing as absentee leadership. Napoleon, to my knowledge, never directed a battle from a bistro on the Avenue des Champs-?lys?es. Likewise, business direction, telegraphed from afar, has far less impact than the tone of the boss's voice, which needs to have various volumes, attitudes and continence, from syrupy sweetness to General Patton directness. Maybe a disembodied voice worked on "Charlie's Angels"; but that was, indeed, fantasy. Employees need the office clubhouse to engage fellow employees, to exchange ideas on clients and to, let's face it, plot birthday parties and the next company outing.
However, the modern paid time atmosphere for professional employees needs to recognize the 24-hour rule, that one professional taking a long lunch to shop for disposable nappies is not mutinous but, most likely, necessary. Life is complicated, more so, I believe, for female colleagues where tradition has bestowed on them many more "real life" responsibilities, like grocery shopping and making sure the kids are ready for school. There has been some societal change in this, but it is far from a sea change, particularly in more conservative and non-secular countries.
It all goes back to simply this: Getting the job done, and done well. This should be thought of as a 24-hour assignment, and not the rigidity of the eight-hour workday or the 40-hour week. Not to pick on the French , but by dumbing down of an already irrelevant 40-hour work week to an even less relevant 35 hours for professionals is not only to surrender Waterloo but also toss in a couple of cases of Perrier Jouet Vintage Grand Brut to boot. As I write this, there are some signs that the new French government has also come to its senses.
What about weekends? The word weekend has been around for less than 100 years. Weekends are not sacrosanct, unless the employee wishes them to be. Most professional work is performed in sustained time segments, not in a forced all-day march. Think about what you did today, and most likely you can identify specific efforts put forth, combined with work/personal time (Did you check your stocks on the boss's so-called dime?), a measure of work/relax time (Did you have a couple of tea breaks?), and work/necessary time (Did you have an errand to run that was unrelated to the business?) If you think in terms of sustained time-segments, they can and should occur at any time, even on a Saturday, a Sunday or even holidays. Most of the work we do as professionals occurs within the boundaries of our own mind. I don't know about you, but I have never found the switch to completely turn off work during a weekend. Likewise, my mind wanders--as does yours - during traditional work time. It is in the nature of human beings.
Also, if you like your work, it is not work. If you think creatively about your work outside of what some would consider normal work hours, then it is not an invasion of your private time. It is merely work-related recreation.
If you don't like your work, you should change jobs. It is as simple as that. There is absolutely no reason for a work/serf society in the 21st Century. I know what you are thinking. This silverback old fool is speaking of an idyllic situation, one without the worries of everyday life, such as paying bills, college tuition and the myriad of other responsibilities that hang around us like Spanish moss.
I look at it this way: I once had an old Porsche Targa that could go zero to sixty miles per hour in nothing flat. That's sort of like life. It's over in no time at all. George Elliott said it best: "It is never too late to be who you might have been." Quoting somebody more contemporary, Steve Jobs, chief of Apple: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." Jobs, by the way, knows of which he speaks. He is a cancer survivor.
Can everyone survive in this new liberal world? Of course not, but those folks were also the slackers of the old world. They were then and are now like pilot fish attached to a shark, carried on by the momentum of another. By definition, the term "professional" carries with it minimal obligations, the first being to insure that the company makes a profit. If certain pilot fish don't contribute greatly to this effort, as my restaurateur friend Erwin Asam, proprietor of the Bavarian Inn and Lodge in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, would say on occasion-avoiding the word "fired" - "You quit."
Reality Bite: 1. Time is not a renewable resource. Popcorn is renewable. Have a passion for showing up on time. Don't think of time as money, although it is. That is too much of a clich?. Think of time as stealing your few precious moments from the most exotic mistress your imagination can conjure. Now imagine alimony payments. I guess, in this case, time is definitely money.
Reality Bite 2: Don't be late for life. Push the calendar forward thirty or forty years and look back. Were those hours you spent playing fantasy baseball on your computer really so important. Would it have been better to sign up for a real baseball clinic? Experience that which is important to you.
Reality Bite 3: Stay in control of your time. It is just as important for you not to let someone else waste your time as it is for you not to waste your time. If your appointment shows up 30 minutes late, and you have cooled your heels in an anti-room, don't be bashful about letting the boob know he stole something from you that was as important to you as to him.
Reality Bite 4: Being 15-minutes late for a meeting can, in some circles, be considered rude and inappropriate while at the same time being trendy and fashionable. After 30-minutes those present should figure those late were involved in a sad but horribly fatal accident and death certificates should be immediately issued.
Reality Bite 5: The first object of a meeting is for everyone to show up at the same place at approximately the same time. After that, it's simply riding across a rhinestone prairie on a horse with no name.
Reality Bite 6: Remember that throughout history most battles are lost because someone didn't show up on time, whether it's the 101st Airborne Division or, in the case of Enron, WorldCom and others, an accountable board of directors. They were, as the saying goes, late for their own funeral.
Reality Bite 7: If you don't accept my 24-hour theory of work for the true professional, you also don't accept the principle behind disposable diapers or the fact that Britney Spears is no longer a virgin. Either put a foot solidly in the 21st Century or slip quietly back into the Dark Ages.
Reality Bite 8: A CEO doesn't own anyone's time other than his own. He rents time from a colleague within a 24-hour span. The more freedom the employee has to allocate his paid-time within that period, the better value the boss will receive. This enables the employee to make certain personal, real-life decisions, giving him - and God I hate this word -a certain "empowerment".
Reality Bite No. 9: Not all professionals are professionals. They have over-reached in life and are sucking up that rarified air meant only for the true professional, the one who realizes that with work freedom comes work responsibilities. These non-professionals I call pilot fish. They are very easily recognized by the way they attach themselves to larger fish, but, sadly, have a difficult time being acclimated back to the shallow end of the pool. Take them by the hand, and slowly lead them.
Reality Bite 10: As leader, it is necessary that you show up for your own meetings - and show up first. Forget about making that swaggering entrance as the Grand Pasha of the Royal Order of CEOs. Remember, your wife has been nagging about having her personalized pink BMW. Being on time for one meeting could have made the down payment. If this is a judgment call for you, then you really aren't CEO material.
Reality Bite 11: Conference calls, meant to save time and money, quite often accomplish neither. A few conference call rules: 1. Limit the number of participants to fewer than those who attended the last World Series, 2. Have a written agenda and, at the very least, a minimalist goal as to what you hope to achieve during the call, even if it is simply to purchase a company bicycle. 3. Insist that no one can join the call after the telephonic meeting begins. When it comes to consultants, you will find an amazing number dial in at the precise time if they think there is the slightest chance they will lose a quarter hour of billing time.