Punctuality vs. Presenteeism

When I was at school, my teacher was very strict on punctuality – she would lock the door to the auditorium at 8.50am, sharp. She claimed it taught us an important life lesson, that we would need to be on time for work every day when we eventually found ourselves out in the working world. I remember being dismissive of this, thinking“what employer would rate their employees on their ability to be at a desk by a certain time, instead of their ability to do their job well?”.

It turns out I was either extremely forward thinking, or very naive, because it appears after my 15 years since leaving school, that timekeeping is actually very important to a lot of people! And in some cases I can understand it – for prearranged meetings, it’s a mark of respect to show up on time and well prepared. But I disagree with early starts being expected simply as a sign of diligence – particularly when it’s accompanied by late finishes! I think this archaic notion of putting in facetime is counterintuitive and actually makes us under productive and increasingly prone to making mistakes. Where possible, we should encourage flexible working – it helps with home life balance, not just for working mums but also working dads, and working people who don’t have children, and working single people! It’s good for everyone!

At the WIPM conference last year I was struck by the number of people who mentioned the need for flexible working and asked how we even broach the topic with the ‘old guard’. The answer was simple, but not easy, particularly after so many years of conditioning: Just do it. Just arrive later, and leave earlier. Do your work of course. But be more structured about your daily schedule and use your time well. Make sure you are clear on your deliverables – weekly/monthly. Allow time to be more strategic and plan ahead. Discuss your progress with your client/manager, so they know what you’re achieving. And then just stand up, and leave.  Because if we keep doing exactly what we’ve done, then people will keep expecting exactly the same in future. We need to make the brave decisions to change things, if not for us, then to make it easier for future generations. Less presenteeism and more being present.

How does it work at your office? Is flexible working encouraged and facilitated? Or is still a case of ‘if you’re not your desk then you’re not working’?

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