A day off

OK, so we weren’t really snowed in. It did snow quite a bit. I think we got at least 9 or 10 inches between noon on Sunday and yesterday evening. It was light and fluffy snow and I saw four wheel drive vehicles going both directions on the street in front of the house. We din’t have any reason to go out, so stayed at home, but we noticed the snow plows making regular trips up and down Sheridan Lake Road and knew that if we had needed to get out, it would not have been a problem. The county and the city had issued “no travel advised” statements, hoping that cars would, for the most part, stay off of the roads allowing the snow plows to get their work done.

So we had a holiday of sorts. Of course Monday is our usual day off each week, so we frequently have stay at home days on Mondays. And we did have some work that needed to be completed in preparation for today’s meetings, so we didn’t completely stay away from working, but the work load was light - not at all like the day put in by snow plow operators. As near as I can figure, they put in very long days. We saw plows out early in the morning and the city got to the streets in our subdivision after midnight. Cold temperatures make for harder working conditions as well. Things break. Fuel has to be monitored. Visibility is reduced. Care has to be taken.

In the United States there are a few jobs: federal employees, bank employees, school employees, where all of the federal holidays are observed. That means that there are a few extra days off in the middle of winter, notably Martin Luther King Day in January and President’s Day in February. We notice the difference because our son now has a job where he receives those holidays whereas they were not a part of his previous job. As a parent of three children, the extra days off are nice as they afford family time and solve a childcare problem because many schools observe the holiday. So we all had a day off, except our daughter lives in Japan where the time zones make it one day farther down the calendar than here. But she did have Monday off from work when it was Monday there.

We’ve been having a national discussion about how many hours of work per week is best for our economy and for our workers for a long time. More than a century ago, there were large work actions that often turned into outright riots over the number of hours per day and the conditions faced by workers in the railroad, mining and manufacturing industries. Wages and benefits continued to be arguing points throughout the twentieth century, with a trend towards more time off and more benefits for workers that lasted until about the mid 1970’s and then began to gradually reverse.

The standard 40 hour work week common in the United States refers to a single full-time job. Increasingly US workers are having trouble finding jobs that offer the full 40 hours. A new unofficial standard is arising from the large number of workers who juggle two part time employments, averaging 25 - 30 hours were week in each part time situation making for a combined work week of 50 or more hours. Part time employees tend to have fewer paid holidays and time off as well.

It is hard to make comparisons with other countries, but Germany and France are often cited as examples of a different attitude toward work. In both countries there is an official policy that calls for 35 hour work weeks. In Germany there is an average of 24 paid vacation days per year as well. These policies are based upon the belief that well-rested workers are more productive and that there is a benefit to the overall economy of the country. The Netherlands, with an average working week of 30 hours, ranks among the lowest in terms of the number of hours.

On the other end of the spectrum, Central American and Asian Countries tend to have longer work weeks. In Mexico the official cap is 48 hours per week. Costa Rica and South Korea are not far behind Mexico in terms of hours per week. Interestingly, Greece, which is a European Country with huge fiscal problems, ranks up there not far behind South Korea.

I have had the good fortune of having a career in which the hours are not counted and the distinction between working and not working is blurred. My family always participated in the life of the church, so there wasn’t always a rigid line between church and family. They often were present in my workplace and there were moments of genuine relationship with family members in the midst of the work being completed. They also endured late nights, early mornings and interrupted family gatherings over the years. The thing about not measuring work by hours is that it is sometimes hard to tell where work ends. Essentially I am on call 24/7. People in the congregation know my home phone number and my cell phone number. And when there is a need, they call. And I respond. That is the relationship that we have.

Then again, there are delicious days like yesterday when no one called. I know there is a bit of work stacking up at the office, but there will be time to deal with that today.

Perhaps there is value in not counting the days, just as there is in not counting the hours. Knowing that I am evaluated in terms of the amount of work performed, not the number of days or hours worked, gives me a great deal of flexibility in my work week. I took advantage of that when we had young children at home and again when we cared for elderly parents. That is a luxury that few enjoy.

So, I don’t know what is best, but the conversation continues. And for some lucky folks - the employees of the Rapid City School District, for example, today is a bonus day as the schools are taking an additional day to get the snow plowed and prepare for classes tomorrow. I hope that folks can enjoy their extra time off.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!