I attended the informative and inspiring Working Families National Work Life Week conference today and was reminded (!) that tomorrow, 5 October, is "Go home on time day". The ex lawyer in me screamed internally at the label and queried the definition of just what going home on time meant. I suspect many of us wonder what is perceived within our organisations as "on time".
But, of course, the ex lawyer who lived some years ago in the professional services world where people were valued based upon their utilisation, would want a definition wouldn't she? That ex lawyer felt safe in a prescriptive and structured world where there were universal definitions, a shared understanding of what the norm looked like and an inability or a reluctance to question whether the norm needed to be that way. After all, that ex lawyer wanted to be perceived as successful in that working environment.
But it doesn't need to be that way. Any organisation which is populated by a diverse set of individuals will inevitably have different perspectives and approaches and certainly different rules and benchmarks when it comes to definitions about abstract terms such as "on time" - no matter what their carefully drafted employment contracts say.
Each of us needs to define this according to our own internal contracts. We need to question what we are doing and how we are doing it. Just when did it become so normal for us to work 60 hour weeks, and perhaps, more importantly, when did it become so normal for us not to challenge the way we are working or the assumptions that are made about us if we want to work in a slightly different way? Different that is to those who have laid out the path as to what is perceived as normal in that working environment. There has to be a balance and the needs of the business met but I fear that all too often "what is normal" is followed and individuals are never given the support or the permission to say what would suit them. This balance can compliment rather than compete - valuing the individual, allowing them space to work in a way that works for them is likely to be beneficial to the organisation. Even the most sceptical must surely recognise the more valued one feels the more productive they tend to be. Quite simply for individuals to thrive, we need to allow them to explore the ways of working that works for them. Any rule set that doesn't allow for this just gets in the way of optimum performance. It becomes an obstacle and a distraction.
So, define what "going home on time" means to you. Maybe it is 5pm or 7pm. Or maybe it's when you told your partner or your children when you would be home, or even, now here's a thought, the time you agreed with yourself.
If you are reading this after 5 October, don't worry. None of us really need a special day to live the commitments we make to ourselves about how we want to work. The more we do it, the more it will be recognised and championed, and the greater the likelihood that we will create new norms.