American Workers Want to Know When Their Workday Ends

cat at laptopHere’s a question for you.

When will you stop working today?

You might know when you’re going to leave your workplace, and you might know the exact time or it might be “well, I’ll leave around 5 or 6 depending on what comes up this afternoon.”

But when will you send your last work email? Right after dinner? Right before bed? You probably don’t know, or if you do know it’s in the context of “well, I always check my email right before turning off the lights.”

(I always check my email right before turning off the lights.)

And what about two weeks from now? Have your work shifts been assigned? Do you know if your office is going to have a crunch day and ask everyone to stay late? If you wanted to meet someone for dinner at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3, could you say with confidence that you can make that dinner?

The Atlantic reported on a new study that implies our biggest complaint about work is our inability to control our schedules:

When it came to balancing work and home life, the main complaint seems to be less about overall hours and more about working an unpredictable schedule. Robert McCuen, whose job involves being available for troubleshooting for manufacturers, says that the inability to predict his schedule is what makes his work-life balance so tough. “Going in I have no idea how long the day is going to be,” McCuen says.

When I worked in my most recent office job, I would always feel nervous about making dinner plans or telling a friend I would meet them at a movie. Although I worked very reasonable hours and my office was a great place to work, I could never say for sure that they weren’t going to ask me to stay late and help on some project. Now, as a freelancer, I have a bit more leverage over my own schedule and I usually work from around 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but I also try to keep at least one night a week free for all the overflow work that comes up. And, of course, I answer emails at all hours.

People who work shift jobs have even more unpredictable schedules, and this creates the need for services like 24-hour daycares. Knowing when you will work and how long you will be working seems like it would be one of the most basic parts of employment, but it is continuously unclear, often until the moment that it is happening. (Who here hasn’t worked a service or shift job where you’ve been called and asked if you can be there in 20 minutes, ready to work for the next six hours?)

And then there are the on-call jobs, which, you know, I’ve had people text me to postpone Sunday afternoon get-togethers because there was a problem with the servers. No day is fully off, and no day is sacred. I’ve answered work emails on Christmas Eve. And we all know about the workers asked to skip Thanksgiving so that Black Friday can start a day early.

So. When will you stop working today? I will be semi-obliged to stop at 5:30 p.m. so that I can make the dress rehearsal for Thanksgiving Vs. Christmas, but I will probably answer emails during the rehearsal and you can bet I’ll open up my laptop afterwards. I’m guessing I will do my last work-related task at 12:15 a.m.

How about you?

Photo credit: Jonas Löwgren

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