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Bill Kalmar

FDA Compliance

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I want you refreshed before you operate.

Published: Monday, August 31, 2009 - 04:00

The band “Chicago” sang those words about "time" decades ago. The second line “Does anybody really care?” seems to sum up what is still in vogue today, especially in the workplace. Just as with vacations where workers are reluctant to leave for fear that someone will discover that their job is expendable, those same workers are reluctant to depart their desk at the customary 5 p.m. quitting time.

While on the subject of vacations, several weeks ago a column of mine entitled “The Changing Face of the Workplace” (www.qualitydigest.com/inside/quality-insider-column/changing-face-workplace.html) elicited several comments, some in opposition. As you may recall, I said that two- and three-week vacations are a dream of the past because employees are reluctant to be away from the office, fearing that their position may have been eliminated when they return. My take on this issue was that everyone should have a vacation. It’s a time to reenergize and decompress. I assumed that few would object to the idea of vacations.

Au contraire my friends. I heard from people who felt that the criticality of their job was such that a vacation was out of the picture. There were people in health care, the legal profession, security, and national defense who took exception to my remarks. It was their feeling that abandoning vacation plans was almost a medal of honor and a sign of loyalty and commitment to their employer. Since when did not taking a vacation become a bragging point?

Frankly, I don’t want a physician who is burned out diagnosing or operating on me. I don’t want a lawyer defending me in court who is so tired that he or she hasn’t even read the charges. And if I was a soldier defending our country, I wouldn't want a contractor designing armor for me whose staff had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week.

Not being able to take a vacation with family and friends is a deplorable situation. Working at an organization that encourages canceling or curtailing of vacations means I’m moving on to another job. It is a rare occurrence where someone on his or her deathbed utters a wish to have spent more time at work. Maybe being retired clouds my thought process but I think there are many of you who would agree with me. Yes, I realize that today’s workplace has changed and alternative job searches are difficult, but a job without a vacation is tantamount to being on a treadmill that never shuts off. Eventually you just collapse.

Now let’s discuss another phenomenon that is also on my list. It’s employees who continue to remain at work long after most people have left for the day. I realize that there are circumstances where burning the midnight oil is necessary, however, in my experience, there are people who consistently stay late, not for critical work assignments, but to impress the boss.

You know who they are: co-workers who may have mismanaged their workflow during the day and now stay long into the evening and then brag about it the next day with the hopes that senior management will overhear their comments. When I was working there was always a segment of the workforce who stayed in their office just hoping that senior management would walk by or call on the phone. Nothing of any importance was transpiring in their offices but a visit from senior management was the highlight of their day. Of course, it would provide an opportunity to discuss those people who were not as loyal and who had already left.

I once had a boss who unexpectedly scheduled 5:15 p.m. meetings. It was more of a power play on his part because nothing of substance ever took place at these confabs. Most of us had previous commitments, but he brushed those off as “things you can reschedule.” We later learned that he was going through a divorce and thus had no reason to go home. He has a place of honor on my “All-Time Worst Boss" list.

So let’s recap my workplace gripes:

• Everyone should take a vacation, whatever his or her position. It is a time to recalibrate one’s life and to spend some quality time with family. Both family and customers are owed a person who is refreshed, energetic, and rested.

• It’s been said that nothing good takes place after 2 a.m. I would add that in many instances, nothing productive takes place in the workplace after 6 p.m.

• People who linger in the workplace long after the staff has departed should be criticized for their inability to manage their time appropriately. To paraphrase the words of "Chicago"—they obviously don’t know what time it is.

Attempting to contact me with your comments about this column may be difficult. As a retiree, I am on a permanent vacation and a 5 p.m. quitting time is meaningless to me. I am in a state of constant euphoria, full time—with benefits.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


My experience around your subject in this article

Hi! Bill, we have corresponded before ref. some Baldrige comments along the way. I too am a past Baldrige examiner and am now semi retired from a BIG corporation (thank goodness).

I agree with your recommendations/observations at 100%. I have worked along people who have not taken vacation or who stay after 5 PM every day and when the "right sizing" occurs, it doesn't matter since the people making these "sizing" decisions usually do not know you from Adam and your immediate supervisor's input matters little if at all. I am ashamed to say that I have led projects to reduce staffing and when reviewing the data on hand to support these decisions there never was a piece of data that said so and so worked to 8 PM every night! Even if there was data it had no bearing on the outcome!

Long ago I inherited a new boss (the hospital President) when I was working in the hospital industry. He came from one of those then big 5/6/8 accounting/consulting firms and firmly believed that everyone should work after 5 PM. After observing his patterns for a while I came up with a tactic. Being an intelligent guy I would stop by his office once a week or every two weeks around 6:30 or 7 PM to ask him a question about one of the projects I was working on. He thought I was working late every night because he did not ever walk by my office to see if I was around every night. This tactic worked perfectly! In effect he perceived me as a "hard worker" giving the job all of my hours. When I was staying late under this tactic I worked on my homework assignments for my MBA program anyway (this organization was paying 100% of my education expenses). At other times I would work on homework on my own time. As a knowledge worker how much time I spent at the job counted very little for the success of my project assignments.

This point re: knowledge workers is not to be overlooked since if an organization is equating time on the job (or at your desk) with project/assignment success they are operating with a flawed model in the first place. One thing I learned as a Baldrige Examiner and also as a Master Black Belt is what is most important is working on the "RIGHT" projects not how many projects are completed. Most knowledge workers are not making "widgets" and the more hours you work the more widgets you produce -- they are hopefully making process improvements while delivering every increasing value to their customers.

Keep those thoughts coming Bill!

Overtime and Vacations

I completely disagree with your comments. Just because someone stays late at work does not mean they are attempting to please the boss.
Most folks stay late at work because the current financial situation in the US resulted in highly reduced revenues, (especially in manufacturing). People that currently are employed are taking on extra load to attempt to keep the business running under extreme cost constraints.
Many employees have taken temporary measures such as reduced vacations or elimination of vacation for 2009, in a attempt to control costs and keep people employed.

These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures when it comes to business costs.
With financial times being as difficult as they are, I don't think managers are keeping staff that is non productive. I don't think you fully understand what you claim to be observing. Moreover non of us salaried folks (including me) would give up their job for two weeks of pay or the ability to leave at 5pm.

This is likely to get worse before it gets better, as economists are indicating a flat market for the next 3 -4 years.
Personally, I would hold any of my managers responsible for not adequately managing the load of their staff. If I discovered that issue as a repetitive failure, there would be a management spot open up on my staff of direct reports.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Just wanted to add a few of my own observations:

If a company has an on-site gym, it's not because they care about your health....it's because you're going to work long hours.

In the biotech industry it's common to get 4 weeks of vacation per year which sounds very generous....better take your laptop with you and don't forget to bring your beeper because you'll be working those 4 weeks.

And I'd like to add to Jay's 'Big Picture Observations':
What about the 360 reviews of your manager....people are too afraid to speak out so the exercise becomes a big waste of time....unless of course you consider stroking someones ego a good use of time.

Sandra Gauvin

I absolutely agree with your comments.

I've started a list of what I call "Big Picture Observations" which include societal-wide falacies. Your example of the "late workers" falls into the category of "who's fooling who?".

I also include in this category the infamous "exit interviews" where HR departments are supposed to collect these insightful comments about their organizations from exiting employees. Does anyone really think that an exiting employee is going to burn any potential bridges?

Great article.