Another downturn in the economy, another rung falls off the career ladder. An interesting article over at the HBS blog argues that the current staffing cuts and furloughs that have been executed by multitudes of companies in this recession is taking us one big step further away from the antique concept of the 5 day, 40 hour work week.
But the idea of furloughs, particularly for managers and professionals, is planting the seed of a new way of looking at work in our minds. Suddenly companies have asked us to work, say, 32 hours a week rather than 40. Hmmm. What does that really mean? Most of us were never working 40 hours – we might have been working 50 or maybe even 60. We were answering emails at odd hours, writing in the early hours, calling Singapore at night. Does this mean that we should now work 20% less than we were before . . . or does it mean we should work literally 32 hours?
For many, I believe the conclusion will be that we should work the hours specified by the company and perhaps do other things – start new businesses on the side perhaps, sell stuff on eBay, take another job, go back to school, whatever – with the other time.
This shift sits well with many in Gen X who have already tended to bind their involvement more carefully than have the all-out Boomers. But for both generations, it will be a new way to look at work – another step on the slippery slope of recessionary lessons moving us from (1) you don’t have a job for life, to (2) you may never find full time work with one employer, to now (3) even a full-time job is really only a contractor job in disguise.
This week marks my last week working at America Online and living in Northern Virginia. I leave with very mixed emotions. For starters, I am very proud of the fact that I was hired on to work on their market leading Instant Messenger product. In many ways, I feel as though I am leaving unfinished business on the table because there were so many ideas and neat initiatives that I wanted to move forward with. Sometimes when you get so involved in a project or a product of such a scale, you fail take a step back and think about what it is that you are working on. Maybe that’s a good thing. :-) The scope of influence that the AIM product has, and the absolutely insane number of people that it touches, is just mind-boggling. AIM has over 35 million active users…thirty-five million…and vastly more accounts that are inactive.
The people at AOL are absolutely fantastic. Everyone I met was supremely nice, professional and just a pleasure to work with. I always felt comfortable. In my short time here, I made some friends that I hope to keep in touch with in the future (probably via AIM!) and I re-connected with some old friends (old in that I have known them for a while, not that they are actually old in years ;-) who I had not seen in a long time. And as a company, I thought AOL offered a lot of great perks to its employees, and it offered a wonderful work environment. I think there were 2, maybe 3, days in total where I did not want to go into the office. That says a lot.
But, life is not all work. And the reality of the situation is that this was just not the right fit for me and my family from a personal perspective. I thought it would be. I thought that it would be an easier transition down to Virginia than it really was. When we were looking for places to live, something just did not feel right. Maybe it was the high prices for cookie cutter townhouses, maybe it was the traffic, maybe it was the “robo towns” or just being away from Lisa and the kids…whatever it was, it was just not right. My wife and I had always intended to live in the NYC area and be close to our many relatives in that area. Its something that is important to us and for our kids. And in the end, that was a key factor in the decision.
I leave Northern VA with few regrets and enthusiastically return to New Jersey and the New York metro area. I will be working in Lower Manhattan starting in early August and I am thrilled to be back working in Manhattan. The commute will be something I will have to adjust to, but I have my iPod to keep me rockin’ and my wonderful wife and kids to go home to.