A few years ago, I worked at a TV network as the director of a website. Unlike most of my co-workers, I had to leave the office every day at 5.20 pm, no matter what, to relieve the babysitter. Since the office was open-plan, it was easy to know what everyone else was up to. One guy in particular kept tabs on my daily departures, and thought he had the right to comment on them. In front of everybody. And so my office hours became office gossip.
But here’s the thing: Although I walked out the door at 5.20, I wasn’t signing off for the day. I never “signed off” for the day. If I was awake, I was checking email, and if something important came up, I was taking care of it. Unlike my gossipy co-workers I was never actually “off the clock” as a working mum.
Friends in the office defended me when someone insinuated that I wasn’t working as hard as anybody else. My close colleagues knew better, but the people who didn’t work with me directly had no shortage of interpretations for why I “got to” leave an hour before what they had decided was an acceptable time.
There were also the people who wanted to set up meetings for 5 pm, and then would pointedly say, “Oh wait, L. can’t do a meeting at 5. Can you? Could you do it just this once?” as if they were indulging a toddler.
No, I can’t do it just this once, I’d think. Because it’s NOT just this once, and it’s NOT because your meeting has to happen today, it’s because you suck at time management, and I don’t think my kids and I should have to pay the price for that.
Certain co-workers thought I had a sweet deal, but there was nothing sweet about it. I was always on call, and never once did I walk out the door feeling “done” for the day.
One day, during an uncomfortable meeting with my boss, he said, “People talk about what time you leave. Is that a problem for you?”
“I don’t care about ‘people,’” I told him. “I care about you. Is it a problem for you?”
He looked uncomfortable, which I knew he would, because of course that was why he had brought up my schedule. He was the type of boss who didn’t actually care what anybody thought about anything, as long as they did what he wanted them to do. Never mind that I had negotiated my office hours back when I was hired.
“It’s not a problem for me,” he said.
“Well, yours is the only opinion I’m concerned about.” I told him.
I knew he was lying. I knew he didn’t like my office hours. It had nothing to do with needing me around, it had to do with control, and the lack of control he had by honouring our agreement. This was a guy who once announced to his entire team, “Well, it’s not a prison, people! Nobody has to stay here if they don’t like it.” By itself, the sentiment makes sense, but at that particular meeting? It had been set up by HR and an outside consulting firm to review survey results with all the teams and find ways to make employees happier. When he heard one complaint more than he could tolerate, he lost it.
But I didn’t care. If he wasn’t willing to admit to me that he was unhappy with my schedule, then I didn’t see the point of pushing the subject. Eventually our clashing working styles — I was nice, he wasn’t — drove me away anyway, but while I was there, I tried to keep things as smooth as possible.
And the guy who complained? He got fired, eventually. It turned out that he’d been taking long breaks during the day to go to the gym, and spending all of his in-office time on his non-office pet projects. A year later, I met someone who had worked with him before I did, and she said that when they worked together, she was pregnant with twins. She had to work from home a lot, and he complained to her bosses and suggested that his acting career (which has yet to come to fruition all these years later, for the record) was JUST as important as her twin babies and he deserved special privileges, too.
They’re not special privileges, you moron, I wished I could say to him, or even announce it one day on the speaker system the building maintenance guys used to tell us to ignore their alarm test. Do you have any idea how hard parents work? Or how hard mothers have to work just to convince people who don’t know any better that we’re doing our part? Yeah, I’m not still at my desk at 7 pm but you bet your ass I’m still working at 9.30. I’m also up at 6.30 am, with my kids, and in the midst of getting them breakfast and ready for the day, I’m checking the website, setting up agendas, and sending emails to get everyone on the same page. By the time I get to the office, I’ve already done more than you can manage before noon. So yeah, I don’t stay at the office late, and I don’t go out drinking with people after work; I’d rather head home to my family, like most of us parents who’ve built home lives we actually like. And you know what else? I’ve got work to do.
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