The Work Series – Part Four
Updated: Jan 3
The Work-Related Time Bandit
As I continue with the 4th installment on the topic of work, I wanted to focus on the amount of our time that work consumes when we are not actually working.
For most people, work is this largest consumer of time during their waking hours. Statistically, 1/3 of our life is spent working. Then another 1/3 is allocated to sleeping. Leaving 1/3 of our life for what might be called our personal time. (I am not sure how these statistics are affected by those of you who sleep while you are working) Also keep in mind that the 1/3 of our life that we are not working time, is not only our time during adult life. This calculation is for your entire life (your baby years, your youth years, high school/college years and retirement years). So this blog will focus on the statistical 1/3 of our life that we are not working or sleeping and how it probably even less because of this thing called the “work-related - time bandit”.
There are potentially 2080 working hours in a year (40 hours per week X 52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours). Then from these 2080 hours, we can deduct the number of hours in a year for vacation time and national holidays.
I did a little research on the subject of work time. German friends check this out! Statically speaking, 23% of American workers receive no paid vacations and no paid holidays and the average American worker receives 10 days of paid vacation per year. Part-time employees in the USA do not receive any vacation or paid holiday benefits. It should be noted that the amount of vacation one receives varies based on by the company you work for, your years of employment at the same company or the union you belong to. The information I am sharing is based on statistical averages.
Now as a reference point for my American friends. In Germany, their employment laws provide for paid vacation for part-time and full-time employees. The minimum statutory annual vacation entitlement is 20 days based on a five-day working week and 24 days based on a six-day working week. However, in practice, most employers grant more paid vacation. It is typical to receive between 27 and 30 days for full-time employment plus paid bank holidays (in Bavaria bank holidays are an additional 13 days a year). Just so you don’t think I hit the vacation jackpot, although I work in Germany, I am under a U.S. contract and receive U.S. vacation benefits.
INFORMATION BONUS: Check this out. Germany is one of the top 5 industrialized nations in the world. However, their workers average annual work hours are the lowest in the world, per the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and their member countries.
It is commonly accepted that full-time employment is five, 8-hour days per week. Unfortunately, I think for a lot of us and perhaps even the companies we work for define full-time employment as all of your time.
No matter whether you are working in Germany, the USA or in Ten Buck Two or what your total annual work hours are, we all have to deal with the “work-related - time bandit”. The bandit creeps into our private life to steal our personal time. I would like to share a few examples with you.
We Have Become Too Available
One problem that I have seen evolving over the past 10 or 15 years is greatly driven by technology and the concept of always being connected. Having unlimited access to people via email (at home or on your smartphone), texting, WhatsApp, Skype and on rare occasions, someone may call you on your cell phone (seems some people do not know that that thing they carry around with them 24 hours a day, actually can be used for talking).
For those of us who do a lot of our work and communication via email, how many times do you check your email or reply to an email when you are not working? Have we come to a point that we actually believe that there might be something so important in an email that we receive at some ungodly hour, that it cannot wait until the next day? We act as if the entire weight of the company depends on whether we answer the email while at home in your pajama’s watching television or out to dinner with friends.
As an add-on to the topic of being too connected; now we are making ourselves available when we are not supposed to be unavailable. Let me give you an example. How many times have you received an automatic out-of-office email reply from someone you sent an email to, who is away on vacation and the auto-reply reads like this?
I will be out of the office on vacation from May 5th through May 15th. I will have limited access to email, however, I will be checking my emails from time to time and I will respond to you as soon as possible.
Mr. I Have No Life
I think the out-of-office reply should read like this.
To Whom It May Concern,
I will be out of the office on vacation from May 5th through May 15th. Since I am on a vacation and this is a benefit that I have earned in exchange for my hard work at my company, I WILL NOT be answering emails or returning phone calls during this time, even if I have connectivity to the internet wherever I may be.
If you have something so urgent that it cannot wait until I return. Call my colleague, who is not on vacation, at our offices.
Mr. I Value My Time
This “work-related time bandit” is the time one spends related to preparing for work. Work prep is pretty simple; selecting your clothes, showering and grooming. No, it is not a huge time bandit. But let’s face it, if you weren’t going to work, it would not be your first priority of the day.
The time related to the work commute varies greatly for a lot of people. In America, long commute times are common depending on where you live and where you work. If you live in a large city, you may have access to public transportation (bus, train, subway). However, most people drive to their place of work.
A lot of people in my little town commute to Munich for work (the nearest big city). I did the same while I was living south of Detroit. I commuted for over 15 years from my town to the north suburbs of Detroit. The drive was 50 miles (80 kilometers) each way. For people in similar situations, one can easily lose 1 hour each way to and from work to the “work-related - time bandit”. My buddy Sean, who lives in my town, takes the train to Munich each day. He calculates that with the time he takes to get to the train station, take the train to his office and then repeat this to get back home, can take up to 2.5 to 3 hours per day.
Work noise is the “work-related time bandit” that can apply to any job. Perhaps, you have a job in which you are not connected all the time or do not have a long commute, work noise is my name for the time you spend thinking about work………………..while you not at work.
Work noise can include the time you spend talking about work, complaining about work, thinking about what you must do the next day and worse of all, the noise that creeps in our heads at night taking away our sleep or wakes us up early in the morning before the alarm goes off.
For me, there comes a time on every Sunday, usually in the early evening in which I started thinking about what I have to do on Monday or the week ahead. Hence, there comes “work-related time bandit” to ruin my Sunday evening.
Up In Air: (this is not a typo, it is a name of a really good movie – check it out)
The final “work-related time bandit” is for the people whose work requires them to travel. This one is a biggy for a lot of people. Let’s take the time you have to spend packing to go on a trip, the travel time in your car or if you are flying, the travel time to the airport, the wait at the airport, the flight time and the time spent sleeping in some crappy hotel and eating mediocre food.
I can easily say that during my career I have flown over 1 million miles related to work (I have flown over 600,000 miles with Delta in the last 10 years). I would imagine that I have slept in hotels what would be the equivalent of 2 years of my life and I know people that travel 2 or 3 times more than I used to. This time consumer also does not include the stress of travel, the canceled flights, poor driving conditions and the like. In most cases, you are not paid for this time (unless it all occurs during working hours). It is simply considered part of the job.
How have we come to the place in our existence that the one thing that we basically must do to provide us with the means to have a life, actually consumes our life? Yes, we must work, that is a given. I truly think we all should try to give our best performance and strive to meet or even surpass the expectations of employers, with the hope of succeeding and possibly moving to greater things. BUT!!!! Perhaps there are some things we can do to create a little balance in all this and not allow the “work-related time bandit” steal our personal time.
Here are a few things I have implemented to combat the “work-related time bandit”.
Being Too Available: Over the past couple of years, I have stopped checking my work emails on my business cell phone at night. Guess what? The emails that come in during my off-work hours can wait for the morning (TECHNOLOGY ALERT!! – if something is so urgent, someone can call or leave a voicemail).
When you have time off - TAKE IT! You earned it, you deserve it and this time will help you have some balance in your life. (I must be honest on this one. I am still working on this, as I really have never grasped the concept of vacation. But I am going to figure it out).
Work Prep: I really do not have advice in this area, unless you want to wear the same outfit to work every day, skip bathing and go to work with bed head (unless you are Stephan, Tim, Kevin or Sean – no worries in this bed head department).
Commute: Been there, done that and don’t want to do it again. Unless you have the luxury of moving near to your place of work and in most cases, it is likely in an area you don’t want to live anyway. You might try carpooling. I used to do this and at least you someone to talk to or you can sleep, and you can rotate driving duties thus reducing your commuting cost in the process. If you are using public transportation, find a way to use this time for yourself. Read, listen to music or sleep (just don’t miss your stop). (Under full disclosure, I walk to work every day. Hence, my commute is 5 minutes. It is 650 steps from my apartment to my office. Come on!! I earned it.)
Work Noise: A lot of things that things I have worried about while I was not at work or that woke me up during the night, turned out just fine or at the very least my worrying did not change the outcome. Your evenings and weekends are yours, not the companies. Take them, enjoy them. Going into work mode on Sunday evening only makes your work week longer.
Business Travel: This is unavoidable for a lot of people. I would only suggest making your travel arrangements as stress-free as possible. Avoid traveling on the weekends, unless it’s unavoidable (don’t schedule meetings on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons that require travel). Try to find a reasonably priced hotel with good ratings for cleanliness and comfort. Eat a nice meal while on the road, the company really does not expect you to eat McDonald’s, the few bucks you might save will not change the profitability of your firm. And finally, collect travel points. I am points guy, sign up for every airline, hotel, and car rental customer loyalty plan. These points can be saved and turned into some nice vacations or upgrades for your personal use, which will make you feel a little better about having to travel.
Good luck controlling the “work-related time bandit”.