Yesterday at work, I got an email inviting me to participate in the first “Federal Work-Life Survey” conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. It asked questions about my workplace, use of dependent care programs, health and wellness activities, employee assistance programs…and the big one in my mind: telework and flexible schedules.
Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while have probably picked up on the fact that my employer — NASA, and specifically Johnson Space Center (JSC) here in Houston — operates on a pretty flexible work schedule. Employees are expected to be at work during “core hours” of 9:oo-3:00 but beyond that, you can set your own schedule. You could come in at 9 and work until 6 if you like, or come in at 6 and leave by midafternoon. (This doesn’t apply to all employees since some roles are unique, but it does to the majority.)
This schedule has been in place for years and was actually pretty great on its own. But in 2013, the center added a component they call “Super-Flex.” Every other Friday, employees are encouraged to work from home or — if able — take the day off. JSC had tried this in the past, but this time they backed it up with center-wide action. On flex day, one of the entrance gates was closed . The cafeterias were closed. Heating/cooling was reduced to most buildings. And most organizations told people not to schedule even virtual meetings that day. Finally, there was real incentive to adopt a 9/80 schedule! Yes!
The beginning of JSC’s Super-Flex policy coincided with my return to work after maternity leave with Emma and without those every-other-Fridays, I would likely get very little time truly to myself. I would not be as satisfied with my schedule or job. I firmly believe that being able to take that one day every two weeks for myself — I get to stay home while my girls still go to daycare — has been absolutely vital to my mental well-being over the last 4 years.
However, “flex Friday” isn’t mandatory. And while most of the divisions at JSC got onboard with the idea in short order, one major division in particular did not. That organization expects its employees to work a normal Monday-Friday schedule with the rationale that spaceflight is a 24/7 operation…and an unspoken opinion that flex Friday just gives employees more time to “slack off.” There’s a big disclaimer here, which is that this is my view of that division’s position, but my view hasn’t been formed in a vacuum. I have personally been in the room and heard high level management state this kind of thing, and watched them roll their eyes when Flex Friday is mentioned. “I’ve seen the parking lot at 4:30,” one of them said, “and it’s just as empty as ever!”
This drives me absolutely crazy. If someone judged my work hours based on the hours my car is in my building’s parking lot, it would look like I’m a huge slacker too — because sometimes I’m not here. I’m at another building on-site that was far enough away that I chose to drive. Or I’m not on-site becuase I’m at our contractor’s office. Or I went home early because I was here at 6 a.m. for a meeting with international partners. Or I’m working from home, period. The whole idea that people have to be chained to their desk to get their job done is just so backward with the way technology works now. It feels so distrustful and disrespectful of your employees.
There’s a lot of negative stuff floating around about government employees and while this isn’t anything new, the general distaste towards civil servants has been heightened by the current administration. If we don’t even trust ourselves to work hard and get the job done, how can we expect the general public to treat us any differently? If we don’t even have our own backs, who does?