Friday, July 3, 2009

Working 9:00 to 5:00

Well, actually it was more like 8:00 to 4:42.

Officially we had four hours of work in the morning with one 15-minute break. 42 minutes for lunch. Then another four hours of work in the afternoon with a 15-minute break. Anything more than that was considered overtime, regardless of whether we got paid for it. It counted.

The 42 minutes for lunch was discussed at great length among my friends. Why not an hour? Why not 45 minutes? There were lots of theories roaming around as to why 42 minutes. The most prevalent of those was the ‘walk to the cafeteria’ theory. Legend held that it took exactly six minutes to walk to the cafeteria. Six minutes to walk there, 30 minutes for lunch, and six minutes to walk back. I should explain that it was a bit of a hike across buildings to get to the cafeteria. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter if you had long legs or short, or how far away your office was from the cafeteria, it was exactly a six-minute walk.

We timed it. Multiple times.

Timecards needed to be filled in by the end of day Monday for the prior week, and placed in the inbox at the secretary’s desk for the boss. These were the paper version of the time clock, and the pre-cursor to the electronic versions we would use in a few years.

Managers stressed the importance of the accuracy of the timecard. It was a contract. It had to be right. Was someone watching us? Well, maybe they were. But filling out the timecard was part of the job, and so we each spent 10 to 15 minutes a week filling it out.

In the mid-80’s we moved to an online version of the timecards, and in the mid-90’s we did away with them altogether. I’m pretty sure that was the result of a productivity study that showed we could save one headcount for every 160 still there by saving up those 15 minutes.

The electronic timecards caused more frustration than the paper versions – there were more codes to choose from and more details to log. But this was also the beginning of an era where we had more choices.

When ‘flextime’ was first introduced it was groundbreaking. It earned the company accolades. In retrospect it was a very limited morsel of flexibility, but one that would lead to a lot more progress over time.

And of course it caused more rules. You could start your entire workday either one hour earlier, or one hour later than the official start time. So you could work 7:00 to 3:42, or 9:00 to 5:42, on specific days that you chose… assuming that your manager approved your schedule… in advance. Yes, there was a special code on the timecard for flextime.

Now, if you needed to drop off your car for service you could start an hour later. If you needed to go to the dentist you could end an hour earlier… instead of taking personal time.

This was progress, right? What do you remember?

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