Get Thee Behind Me, Ebola

Friday, August 21, 2009
My company has a generous policy when it comes to employees taking time off. I get plenty of vacation, in addition to personal time, floating holidays and sick time. It's one of the things I really like about working there, and consider myself lucky because of it.

They also have a policy that requires all vacation days be taken each year or you lose them. This simplifies their accounting, as they don't have to "roll over" unused vacation on the debit side of their ledgers. It's also supposed to force the workaholics to take their time off, since they'll lose it if they don't. That's not what actually happens, though. I work with many, many people who honestly feel like they don't have time to take their vacation days, and end up losing them. Or they work through their vacation days, essentially giving the company free labor. Of course, these are also the individuals that work late into the night, on weekends, and can't remember what their children and spouses look like.

Fuck that.

I'm unusual in the corporate world. I won't work on vacation days. If I have to work because of some emergency, I don't take the vacation day. I won't work late into the night or on weekends unless the issue at hand is a genuine (and not manufactured) emergency. I insist on having dinner with my family unless there's a REALLY COMPELLING reason for me not to (like designing and helping to deploy emergency telephony support post-Hurricane Katrina). I honestly believe that lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine, and I usually behave accordingly.

I haven't always been this assertive about maintaining my work/life balance. There was a time when I would work 14 hours a day, compromise my well-being and my health, and generally behave like a serf indentured to the landholder.

Then the Smart Man explained to me how such choices don't usually result in more money, more promotions, or more satisfaction. Instead, they usually result in heart disease, loneliness, and the feeling of being taken advantage of. Over the years we've been together, I've come to see that he's correct, and I've adjusted my priorities.

That's not to say I don't give good value for the money I'm paid. I think I'm constitutionally unable to do other than my best, and I ensure my skills remain current and pertinent. I just don't live to work anymore. I realize that my priorities have resulted in my hitting a self-imposed glass ceiling, and I'm okay with that. I'm also fortunate that over the years, my performance has been sufficiently good that my bosses have "forgiven" my stubborn reluctance to compromise my private life for the good of the company.

When did every white collar job in this country become indentured servitude? I don't understand why companies (and bosses) think it's perfectly acceptable to have an expectation of 70 hour work weeks, working while you're on vacation, and neglecting your family and your health in order to ensure your company succeeds. And you want to know why it's so all-fired important that employees show such devotion? Compromising everything that's important to you has a hell of a lot more to do with the cupidity of the company's executives than it has to do with your own quality of life.

And it's not "the economy." I've been a salaried employee for eleven years, and I've seen this same attitude in good times and bad. The recession has just made it easier for companies to behave badly without incurring turnover.

This is not acceptable. Unless you're the POTUS or have some other life and death responsibilities, you should be allowed to say "Get thee behind me, Ebola project" when you want to take a day off. And the Ebola project should get the hell behind you, at least until the next work day.

Perspective. Get some, won't you?

8 comments:

Venus Vaughn said...

Interesting.
I hope your attitude catches on.

I recall once upon a work-week when my boss sent out an e-mail informing us that he was scheduling overtime for us to do some cold-calling. Oh, and he'd spring for pizza.

He was going to call in a few other people and pay them extra, but because myself and a couple of other staff were salaried, he'd see us there. I sent him a response saying that I hope he enjoyed his evening, but my personal time is my own and I'd thank him not to take it away.

He fumed.

The company was doing well at the time. There was no emergency. There were no internal or external deadlines to be met - he just wanted to use his staff and thought he'd get away with it because no one says no to the boss. If he'd been paying attention he would have noticed that his staff always sticks around during lunch or after hours when the shit is hitting the fan, just because we take pride in our work. We make sure the job is done and done right, and you don't need to pay us extra for that.

They had the call night anyway. It tanked. They never did it again. He called me in and told me how disappointed he was in me for saying no. I thought about the choice I'd made between gas and groceries that week and didn't back down.

Corporate America has some real lessons to learn in employee satisfaction.

Janiece Murphy said...

Venus, cold calling is the work of the devil, regardless of what time of day you do it.

Good for you for not giving in to fear.

mom in northern said...

Had a boss once who was of the opinion that a good employee had to go
into work every day with the willingness to be fired. Then and only then would you be able to do a good job.

He was a really good boss too.

Wendy said...

Had a boss one time that informed me that as I was salaried, I'd work where, when and how long he told me to. Since I normally take only 30 minutes for lunch and worked a 42.5 hr week and rarely left on time, his attitude was shocking.

So I started leaving on time every day. When he pushed, I simply stated that I was an employee, not a slave. But his daily habit of procrastinating all day then handing me 3 hours of detailed data entry 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave was not accecptable. Further, as I only budget for one meal out(bagged or bought) per day, if he expected me stay past my normal dinner time, I expected him to either compensate me for food or purchase a dinner acceptable to my needs (he was vegan with a capitol V & ate things I was highly allergic to).

Eventually, we reached a truce, he didn't try to abuse me as an employee, I showed up for work every day and provided him stellar service. I found that as the sole employee of a small business I really didn't have any rights to speak of, unless he physically put his hands on me. He was bi-polar with a bad temper, so this was a concern. But I always made sure if something radical happened, the broker that he licensed under knew what was going on.

And after I got over the shock, the day he fired me several years later really was a huge blessing!! Early victim of the sub-prime lending mortgage meltdown. He shut his doors less then a year later, abandoning the other 3 employees on a ten-minute notice.

WendyB_09

Wendy said...

Had a boss one time that informed me that as I was salaried, I'd work where, when and how long he told me to. Since I normally take only 30 minutes for lunch and worked a 42.5 hr week and rarely left on time, his attitude was shocking.

So I started leaving on time every day. When he pushed, I simply stated that I was an employee, not a slave. But his daily habit of procrastinating all day then handing me 3 hours of detailed data entry 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave was not accecptable. Further, as I only budget for one meal out(bagged or bought) per day, if he expected me stay past my normal dinner time, I expected him to either compensate me for food or purchase a dinner acceptable to my needs (he was vegan with a capitol V & ate things I was highly allergic to).

Eventually, we reached a truce, he didn't try to abuse me as an employee, I showed up for work every day and provided him stellar service. I found that as the sole employee of a small business I really didn't have any rights to speak of, unless he physically put his hands on me. He was bi-polar with a bad temper, so this was a concern. But I always made sure if something radical happened, the broker that he licensed under knew what was going on.

And after I got over the shock, the day he fired me several years later really was a huge blessing!! Early victim of the sub-prime lending mortgage meltdown. He shut his doors less then a year later, abandoning the other 3 employees on a ten-minute notice.

WendyB_09

MWT said...

Heh, damn straight. Work isn't and shouldn't be what defines people's lives - but it has become so, I think because the U.S. is so capitalistic/consumerism minded. Absolutely everything is focused on what you do for work and how much you get paid, and anything unrelated to that is devalued or seen as somehow bad. Being the perfect corporate drone seems to be the prevailing virtue.

For me, it's been helpful to have friends in Europe to talk to, for some perspective. Some of them have paradigms that value families - maybe we should try some of them instead of using it as a political talking point all the time.

I haven't defined myself by what I do for work in a long time, and hopefully won't ever have to. And I definitely take all of my vacations.

John the Scientist said...

Well, I have some bad experiences with Europe, such as the time when the entire German office went on their damn all-August vacation and left the US office to conduct some tricky negotiations with the German government.

If you can be gone all of August on vacation and not have a serious workload explosion, you can be replaced. Easily. And to a large degree those people have - we moved to a Pan-EU office, eliminating many of those jobs and keeping only those with a US-type work ethic.

Given their birthrates, the major motivation for those labor laws in the EU is not family values, I'd have to say. People take advantage of those liberal policies and even the single ones scream when told "no, you can't take all 4 weeks vacation at one time" when they come here as ex-pats. Even those that are aimed at families are nuts. In some countries the employer has to hold a job for a year for a woman to use up all her paid and unpaid maternity leave. Once again, if I can do without you for a year, what good are you, anyway?

On the other hand, the US has gotten nuts, and a lot of it has to do with the damn Blackberry. When I started over 10 years ago, you'd get the occasional email from the higher-ups at 6:00 PM, and a couple of suck-ups in HQ might answer at 6:30.

Now I regularly see email from the BB at 11:00 at night. When did THAT become part of business culture? As you said Janiece, bosses take advantage of that carrot of promotion, and while in my company working like that does not automatically result in promotion, not doing it means you won't get promoted. Necessary but not sufficient.

I was recently reprimanded for not making a last email check at 10:00, so that people know I will answer any queries that come in that late by the morning rush hour. What. The. Fuck?

Granted, my project gets a lot of scrutiny all the way to the top, but seriously? Just because the CEO or someone at that level has a passing gas attack and wants to know something ASAP, does not mean that ASAP means working over your sleep hours.

So, the best regime is somewhere between Europe's "I'll get to it when I get to it" and the US "right now, at 11 PM, I'm on the job!".

But in any system, the asshats will take advantage until someone with character puts their foot down.

People suck.

Steve Buchheit said...

I think it started just about the time people started giving 120% "because 110% wasn't cutting it."

Very glad that when I moved into the new position it still held at hourly. While I miss overtime (because of the down economy), I certainly like the equation of "Sure I can do that to meet the deadline you forgot about, just get my boss to approve the overtime." Tends to make people very reasonable.

Of course it also helps that when times were good and we had work, I was working 8-12 hours OT a week.