Sunday, 30 November 2008

small children and working hours

Michelle the manager has two small children. She regularly puts in a 45 hour week. Alan the project manager also has two small children. He officially works 80%. The first architect, Steve, has one small child. He officially works 90%. The second architect, Flo, has two small children. She officially works 100%. Also on the project team are a number of developers, testers and other experts.

The project isn't doing so well, and when there are about 6 weeks left until the delivery deadline, Alan the project manager starts coming in on Fridays - the day he usually spends at home with his children. Luckily his wife's mother lives just round the corner, and since she is retired there is no problem with childcare.

A short time later, he starts to make impassioned speeches to the project team about how important it is to make the deadline, and presents a strong case that overtime is needed. He asks everyone has to email him with their availability over the coming two weekends.

Michelle already works weekends semi-regularly. Her husband is in a business that is suffering from the recession, so he is only working 75% anyway, so there is no problem with childcare. She is available.

Steve is hardworking and ambitious, and his wife is happy to spend more time looking after their child. Steve is available.

One of the developers, Paul, has one small child, but his wife's mother is also keen to help, so childcare is not a problem. He is available.

None of the other developers have children. No problem with their availability then.

The thing is, Flo does have a problem. She has no extended family within reach who could be called in at such short notice. Her husband is already at home on paternity leave 100% and is finding it tough. He doesn't want to take up the slack, and she doesn't want to spend any less time with her children than she does already. After some thought, Flo tells Alan she is not available.

So what happens? Everyone works extra, except Flo. Alan is frustrated because he feels he can't give her any important tasks to work on, because he knows she won't stay late to finish them. Then Flo requests to work 80% in the new year, so she can spend more time with her children. (By Swedish law, all parents with young children who have a full time job have the right to reduce their hours.) Alan is not pleased, and talks to his boss about the situation. The project must go out on time, and he feels Flo's behaviour is endangering this. The upshot is that Flo is told her contract will not be renewed.

The official reason given is that "working 80% is not compatible with the rate of productivity we require of an architect at this workplace". The secondary reason given is the unwillingness to work overtime. As a contractor and not an employee, Flo has no recourse, the law doesn't apply, and she is left searching for a new contract to work on.

It turns out that even in enlightened, feminist Sweden (1), even when the boss in question himself has small children and normally works 80%, even when the other architect in the team officially work less than 100%, it is still the case that a mother working the hours specified in her contract, is not able to keep her position.

If this is what it is like in Sweden, God help working women in the rest of the world.

(1) Just as an example how the feminist culture affects the political agenda: The main opposition party, (who polls indicate will win power at the next election), wants to quota parental leave so that each parent will be forced to take half of time available. This must be the only nation in the world that expects fathers to stay home from work for 8 months with each of their children.


Johan Lindberg said...

None of the other developers have children. No problem with their availability then.

This is an assumption that can be a bit annoying actually. If seen from the "other" side:

You're only allowed to have a social life if you have children. There are no other valid excuses for not working overtime.

The reasons they state for ending your contract are complete bullshit BTW!

Ulrika Park said...

How much did it cost for this project to replace Flo when they were so short of time?? It would be hard for a new architecht on the team, no matter how much overtime, to compete with Flo's productivity as a team member with all the tacit knowledge - if Flo is a normal ambitious and talented architect.

Did the managers think of this?

Emily Bache said...

I think the managers were aware that they were going to lose a fair amount of knowledge and experience with Flo. They did talk to related projects in the organization to see if they were interested in taking her on, but they happened not to be at that time. Flo did continue to work for the rest of the 2 month notice period, so the project delivered on time before she left. After that one of the developers took over the mantle of architect, and the team was just reduced in size. Since they had worked so much overtime, there was a big hole in the budget for the next stage of the project...