[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end. I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]
But what I’m a proponent of means nothing when my company is paying me to do things their way.
So, where does that leave me, and anyone else who’s become a ROWE convert but is still stuck in a job that is decidedly non-ROWE? Aside from leaving pamphlets in the break room or bringing a soap box to the next department meeting, what can we really do to change things where we are?
Quite a lot, I believe. The 9-5 mentality is deeply ingrained in our culture, and one of the ways to bring it down is to start chipping away at it from within. You may not be able to march up to your CEO and say, “Here’s how we’re changing things, buddy!” But there’s plenty you can do to introduce the ROWE philosophy into your workplace, shed light on the ridiculousness of the current system, and make your job just a little less miserable. One of the biggest things is to point out and eradicate Sludge.
What Sludge Is
“Sludge” is the ROWE term for any remark that reinforces the notion that work = butt-in-chair time and not results achieved. Sludge is often snide, frequently mean-spirited, and usually meant to make us feel bad for failing to live up to the way we’re “supposed” to be working.
You’re already well-acquainted with Sludge, I guarantee it. See if any of these remarks sounds familiar:
- “Nice of you to join us!”
- “Guess who just strolled in!”
- “Her kids seem to get sick an awful lot…”
- “How many vacation days have you taken, now?”
- “Must be nice to ‘work’ from home.”
- “Is he ever at his desk?”
- “Well, I’ve been here since 9:00…”
Ringing any bells?
Why Sludge Sucks
Sludge is a powerful force in maintaining the 9-5 mentality because it reinforces an outdated concept of what “work” looks like. It implies that “real” work can only be done between the hours of 9-5, parked at your desk, and that anyone who operates outside these prescribed conditions must somehow be goofing off or getting away with something.
It doesn’t take into account the fact that most work can now be done anytime, anywhere; that people have lives and deserve to be allowed to take care of them; and that truly grownup and responsible adults know how to manage their jobs and their lives in such a way that both areas get the attention they deserve.
Sludge also gives traditional 9-5ers the chance to make themselves look like dedicated little worker bees regardless of how well they’re actually performing. Mary might be a rock star employee who does twice as much work as everyone else, but if Maureen can point out that Mary’s come in 15 minutes late every day this week, well, now who looks like the diligent employee? Nevermind that Maureen spends half her workday playing Solitaire and looking up cute kitten pictures online…
What I’m Doing About It
Now that I recognize Sludge and what it does to people’s morale and impression of others, I absolutely cannot stand it. And I’m making it my mission not only to stop flinging Sludge myself (it’s amazing how often it can slip out without even meaning to), but also to point out whenever I hear someone else doing it.
We have some attorneys who put in 8 hour days on the weekends, check their Blackberries on vacation, and rarely see their families because they’re eating, sleeping, and breathing their cases. So when a secretary who spends her 8 hours answering phones and doing light typing—and then gets to leave her job completely behind her once 5:00 hits—makes a snide comment about an attorney taking another half-day or “working” from home (Sludgers always say this in quotation marks because clearly these people aren’t really working), I see red. Sludge is condescending, judgmental, and based entirely on an outdated notion of “work” that doesn’t even hold up anymore.
Which is why I am putting my foot down—politely, but consistently. The next time I hear another “’working’ from home” remark, I’m going to respond: “Poor [attorney’s name here]. Seems like she’s already doing enough work from home on the weekends. I can’t believe how much time she puts in.” Or another “hasn’t he taken all his vacation days?”, I’ll be saying, “He works so much after hours, I can’t say I hold it against him.”
I refuse to let someone’s work ethic be judged by antiquated standards. I refuse to let my coworkers, friends, or family feel guilty for getting sick or risk killing themselves speeding into work to get there by 8:59. Believing in ROWE as strongly as I do, I refuse to aid and abet the current system by getting jealous if someone takes a Friday off or dares to go over their lunch hour. I am making my stand, in the small, persistent way that I can, and it starts now.
At least until I can work up the balls for a soap box.
For More Information
For more information on R.O.W.E., check out Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution. You can also visit the R.O.W.E. site and sign up for their blog there.
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