Overtime Pay for Checking Blackberries?

July 7, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Attention Management, communication, Information Work | Leave a comment

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the widely distributed story about the ABC writers asking for overtime pay for checking their Blackberries.  The New York Times quotes Lowell Peterson, the executive director of the East Coast guild, as saying “the guild is trying to avoid ‘the 24/7 workplace.’” 

Is that up to the guild? Is that even possible?

As options for virtual communication and collaboration increase and mobile/wireless technology improves, it is inevitable that work/life boundaries will continue to be blurred.  As that happens, the question of how much work an employer can expect from an employee (and where and when it takes place) takes a Web 2.0 twist. 

To me, it depends on whether your work is judged on time or deliverables.  If you work the counter at a fast food chain, you are judged on time spent working, not burgers served up.  This sort of transactional work can be more optimized since it is a repeatable process, so there is less flexibility in how and when it gets done. 

If your work is judged on deliverables, such as working code or a TV script turned in by a deadline, there is more slack allowed in how you get it done and how you spread out the time required to do it.  These types of jobs lend themselves to more application of mobile and work-at-home technologies.  However, this probably means a more invasive job that requires more work/life blending.  And even if you want to bypass these technologies to adhere to a strict 9 to 5 schedule, your co-workers may not agree.  Sympathies at the moment lie more with the workers who want to spread things out and do some work from home (and some personal stuff at work) so the “just work at work and leave me alone at home” crowd ends up looking like a heel for refusing to help with a system install from home over the weekend.

A Reuters post on the ABC issue (published here at the Dominion Post) worded this point of view well:

Productivity expert Laura Stack has little sympathy for the employee side of the argument. “Show me one employee who doesn’t waste time at work,” the Colorado-based author said. “I see so much abuse of working hours by employees – personal phone calls, socializing, checking eBay listings, booking personal travel, etc. – that I don’t believe it’s unreasonable for an employer to want a bit of work on personal hours.

“If you don’t want to be on call, don’t be a doctor, a computer technician, or a reporter,” she added. As technology moves ahead, and the days when “having a pager was a great big deal” are gone, said Peterson, “We’re going to have to trust people’s common sense, on both sides.”

Of course, most jobs are a mix.  The bosses know what deliverables they want, but don’t really know how difficult they are so they use time spent on them as a proxy.  Gen Y’ers don’t buy into this proxy.  Us Gen X’ers didn’t either.  I think we’ll see a shift towards more deliverable-based work as well as more blending of work and home life.  Those offended by having to adopt a mobile lifestyle to include work will be welcome to find a workplace that doesn’t have those demands, but those will be increasingly difficult to find.  Would you like fries with that?

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