If you've worked in corporate America for any period of time, chances are you've known a coworker who loves to say things like:
- "Guess who just strolled in 15 minutes late -- again?"
- "Her kids seem to get sick an awful lot..."
- "How many vacation days has he taken, now?"
- "Must be nice to 'work' from home." (The quotation marks around 'work' are crucial.)
- "Well, I've been here since 8:45..."
These lovely little bits of self-righteous judgment are what is known as "sludge" in the the Results-Only Work Environment (or ROWE) philosophy. Sludge is any statement meant to belittle someone or measure their worth as an employee solely by the amount of time they spend with their butts parked at their desks. And even if ROWE is a new term to you, I'm willing to bet this attitude is one you've encountered before.
Some people like to paint themselves as model employees simply because they follow the schedule to a military T. You've heard of absenteeism? Well, sludge is a form of presenteesim -- the belief that a good employee shows up at 8:45 a.m., leaves at 5 p.m. on the dot, takes precisely one hour for lunch and not a second more -- and anyone who fails to play by these rules must clearly be a slacker.
Presenteesim is, quite frankly, ridiculous. And it's about a century behind the times. Here's why:
Anyone can be a loyal butt-at-desk-parker.
I've known plenty of people who show up precisely when they should, are at their desks every second they ought to be, make plenty of comments about colleagues who aren't as punctual... and get absolutely nothing done over the course of the day.
You can be a model presentee employee while playing Farmville and reading up on celebrity gossip; as long as you minimize those windows in time, the only thing your boss sees when he walks by is that you're hard at work at something. And that wins you points over Frank, who takes an hour and 15 minute lunch every day. (Nevermind that he puts in twice as much work when he is at his desk).
It gives people no incentive to work smartly.
If anything, it does the opposite. When you need your work to get you to 5:00, there's always the temptation to stretch it out (or find lots of non-work-related ways to amuse yourself when you're done with that day's projects).
Sadly, "face time" is still unfairly weighted. Not only does this discriminate against hardworking telecommuters; it lets all sorts of shoddy employees slide because they're diligently at their desks every day. Why should they bother learning shortcuts or developing systems to increase their efficiency, when that only means they'd have to take on extra work that the slower workers aren't assigned? It's so much easier to just coast till clock-out time.
The world has evolved past it.
Sure, back when there were no GoToMeetings or remote access, you had to be at your desk from 9-5, because that was the only place you could get your work done. But with the advent of things like smart phones and cloud computing, anyone can work from anywhere at any time -- and many people do.
The antiquated notion that "work" can only happen between the hours of 9-5, Monday through Friday went out the window a long time ago. Ask any working mom who's had to field emergency calls from the office while her kids scream in the background over when dinner will be ready. Or any dad who's been stuck staring at his Blackberry while he sits in the bleachers at his son's baseball game. So often we're expected to be on-call, all the time; it only seems fair that we not be forced to adhere to expectations invented in the age of the typewriter.
Results matter more than face time.
Being present does not necessarily equal "working." Just because you don't see Jenny at her desk at 9:00 doesn't mean she's slacking off. For all you know, she could have been working on a presentation until midnight the night before (when all the good little presentees were fast asleep in their beds, having left work at work the instant it turned 5:00).
John may have taken a half day to take his kids to the doctor (yes, again), but did you know that while he's in the waiting room, he's answering emails and coordinating the projects that are going on back at the office (while you're having your daily coffee klatch in the break room)?
People no longer need to be in the office to be working -- and, on the flip side, just because someone is in the office doesn't mean they are working. But until the old guard accepts this, presenteeism will continue to unfairly judge people based on how often their backsides meet their desk chairs.
Kelly Gurnett is assistant editor of Brazen Life and runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don't matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger extraordinaire here. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work -- this isn't your parents' career-advice blog. Be Brazen.