In any given organization, some people are slackers. Others, perhaps, work hard, but don't care about working visibly hard. Some people are more efficient than others. Some absorb interesting ideas about work, such as that it's unprofessional to be seen walking out of the office in the middle of the day with a gym bag. These people then project these opinions onto those who do this. Some people who walk out of the office with a gym bag aren't working hard. Some are.
The point is, none of this rises to the level of grand cultural debate until you phrase it like this: what about parents who walk out of the office at 5 pm? Then we get the Parent Card, and all of a sudden, we have a serious matter on our hands.
Over at the "Dear Prudence" column recently, a 20-something attorney complained about an epidemic of parent-card pulling in her office. People with kids left promptly at 4:30 or 5, "leaving me to stay late (up to several hours) to finish up work that needs to be done. It's frustrating -- just because I don't have kids doesn't mean I don't have a life outside of work."
It's very true that this would be frustrating. It's also true that anyone with a job can, and should, have a life outside of work. As Prudence points out, if people's behavior is genuinely creating an unfair workload, our attorney should speak with her supervisor and clarify how duties are divided.
But here's the thing: I stop work most nights around 5. If I were working in an office, I guess I'd be visibly playing my Parent Card to do so. I hang out with my kids for three hours. I have dinner. I have a beer. But then I fire up the computer around 8 or so and put in another hour. Or two. Sometimes three. I find it hard to believe that in a law firm -- probably a law firm where people have to hit a certain number of billable hours -- none of our parent lawyers are doing the same. Such split shifts (e.g. 8-5, then 8-10) are a great way to work a high volume of hours, yet still get a life. You don't get to watch much TV, which is what some people who work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. do from 8 to 10 p.m., but that's the way it goes.
I'd say that most working parents who log more than 45 hours a week -- and who have some control over their time, and who value being part of their kids' lives -- employ such a strategy. That's certainly what I've seen from time logs over the years. But you don't have to be a parent to split your shifts!
Indeed, I'd recommend that if our young lawyer wants a life outside of work, she should try such a strategy as well. She can announce that she's leaving the office too at 5 p.m., 2 to 3 days per week, "but we'll all check back in at 8:30, right?" If the parents refuse, well, then you know. But if they say "Yep, like we've been checking in every night" -- or perhaps even "hey, why don't we check in at 7 a.m., when some of us are here working, but you don't notice because you get here at 8:30?" -- then you know that this is just a matter of time shifting, and not a campaign by those greedy, self-serving parents of the world to use their offspring as an excuse to be lazy.
Do you work after your kids go to bed?