Re: Average Hours Worked ( long )

Subject: Re: Average Hours Worked ( long )
From: Ruth Charles <ruth -at- tao-group -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 11:46:31 +0100

Well, this has certainly opened up Pandora's box, and shifted slightly away from the original question (what hours we work) towards (what do we think are reasonable expectations). We seem to have two schools of thought:

1. Working long hours is the norm, and is a reasonable expectation given a tech writer's salary, the IT industry etc. By long hours here, I'm saying 50+/week.

2. Working around the contractual requirement, with an acceptance that at crunch times, it is reasonable to expect longer hours for which you may or may not get time off in lieu at a later date. What that contractual figure is will depend on which country/region you are based in. So lets just take a ballpark figure of up to 50/week.

Around that we have another series of issues:

Do working long hours increase productivity, or reduce it? The same goes for quality. Another theme is whether long hours help preserve employment when times are tough? On top of that come the issues of self-sacrifice vs machismo and peer group pressure.

Then there is the question of whether we are using a factory production model (tangible goods) for our tech writing or producing an 'intangible'. (I'm borrowing terms from Dick's posting here).

Well, I'd say we are producing a tangible product, and certainly in some places I've worked it felt like a factory production line - at one place we had metrics (and anyone who's is still working there will twitch at the mention of these ) which dictated how long it 'should' take you to write a chapter, topic, take a set of screenshots - you name it there was a metric for it. We were given 'units of work' and a tight deadlines, many things had a metric of 'zero time allocated' - mainly the admin paperwork that can tie you up for half a day or more. You stayed as late as it took to hit these production targets. That's a factory model. I'm not sure I understand Dick's point about the difference between this and the idea that "we contract to produce a specified deliverable by a particular date" . To me this seems pretty much the same thing, and I'm not having a jab at Dick here; instead my point is aimed at the guys at senior level who thought this time and motion model of productivity was the way forward - when treated like factory workers, why is there surprise when we respond like factory workers? Moral of story - you reap what you sow.

I suppose essentially we are looking at the difference between what makes a job, and a what makes a career.

OK confession time, once upon a time, I worked as a researcher in a series of universities. That was my 'career' - I loved what I did, and it defined who I was. Looking back I guess I'd spend between 12 and 16 hours a day working - it wasn't work to me, it was my purpose in life. After 10 years I quit. Why? Because I was mentally and physically exhausted. In my mid 30s I couldn't find secure employment (a tenure track post in US parlance), lived a semi-sedentary life in a series of rented dives, and had a personal life in shreds. I decided that this had to stop, and swore that I would never let myself be brow-beaten into that state again. Its an extreme version of this work-life balance thing.

What I do now I perceive as a job - this is based on my past and present employment experiences as a tech writer. Its a well paid job, which is one reason why I choose this pathway. Other may perceive it as a 'career', and good luck to them! It seems to me that what this discussion boils down to is a matter of perception and self-image. We all set up our own work-rules, and follow them. The clashes come when differing self-perceptions collide.

I've probably said too much, I'll shut up now, and maybe even go do some work.


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