Is there a right answer to how much we should work and how much time we need to spend away from working? With the passing away of Margaret Thatcher recently we have heard numerous stories through the media of how the “Iron Lady” famously got by on only four hours sleep and rarely stopped working. Her husband Dennis was often said to have to remind her to go to bed.
Another recent news story that caused a fair bit of comment has been the change in attitude at Yahoo! where new CEO Marissa Mayer, a person who has been known to spend large amounts of her time at work has banned working from home at the corporation. This has been met with criticism that a company with a modern image such as Yahoo! can adopt a seemingly backward approach to telecommuting.
But what is right? Marissa Mayer says that employees need to physically be together in order to get the best out of each other and that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”.
Mayer’s detractors on the subject say that employees losing the ability to work from home will lose more of their time commuting. Mothers and fathers will sacrifice time with their children, from not being able to pick them up from school to not being able to go to the child’s concert because they feel un-empowered to be able to leave the office due to the strict rules set by the CEO.
The facts however are clear to see, Yahoo! has started to turnaround under Mayer’s stewardship, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that her employees are any happier working for the company. In this case it seems that business results have taken priority over life outside of the office.
A Guardian newspaper survey of CEO’s found that most blur their personal and home lives quite significantly. Frequently they are up early answering emails at weekends and they schedule time with their children and families as religiously as they would a work meeting. These people are high achievers and it has worked for them.
But is spending most of our time at work in the office the only way?
Luckily in today’s technology driven work, the use of new forms of communication means that many people are able to work from home. In many occupations if someone were to work from home they can schedule work around going to watch their children’s piano recital or picking the kids up from school. They can start earlier if it suits them or finish later if there is more work to be done.
Instead of having Sunday off completely this new way of working might see them working for a few hours on a Sunday only to use that time during the week to spend time with the children at meal times.
In this new paradigm of working life there are no set hours. Employees are trusted to be productive because employers know that results speak for themselves. An employer’s biggest fear is that an employee will abuse the system and not work the hours they normally would in an office. But it will soon be clear by the level of work and results produced that someone is not as productive as they would otherwise have been.
For employers it means screening employees closely before employing them which is actually something that Marissa Mayer advocates strongly, even if she is very much against home working.
The policy at Yahoo! has obviously worked for them, but it may not work for every business. It has been argued that employers themselves need to get their own work/life balances right before telling their employees how to balance theirs. Perhaps employers should allow people to have the choice of how they manage their own work/life balances rather than a particular set of regulations being forced on them.
Patrick Martin writes for Clarendon who are a serviced apartments provider in London.