I work a maximum of 40 hour per week. This is by design.

As I write this, it’s 11:30am on a Thursday and I’ve decided that I’m a bit run down, and don’t feel like working my rehab cases this morning. I have a few reports to write, but they can wait. My health and welfare always come first.

As is his morning routine, my husband took our eldest son to school, and our youngest to day care whilst I stayed in bed and read the news. Husband had a coffee, and then went for a cruise on his motorbike somewhere through the back roads of Sydney. This has left me at home – alone. YES! Where’s the remote control…?

Quite deliberately, I have turned my back being an employee with a salary. I am a freelance contractor working for an hourly rate. Why? Because my time, and my skills are valuable.

Yes, a salary can give stability, and security.

Yes, if you need and want a regular and predictable pay check, then a salary is the way to go.

But, at what cost?

When I was a salaried employee, I frequently worked more than 40 hours per week. Hours are “as required to complete the work”, and predictably the work given to me was always required more than 40 hours. Furthermore, I had to seek permission to take time off and give an explanation. Even in the (very rare) instance that my tasks were completed for the day – I would still have to stay at work until 5pm. When I was tired, sick, run-down, or disinterested, instead of taking time off, I would fall victim to presenteeism.

Sound familiar?

I listen to friends and family (whom are not front-line workers) as they tell stories of 12-hour work days, unpredictable working hours, late night work emergencies, and busy periods. I listened to the justification, “oh, it’s just a busy period”, “I’m learning new skills”, “I’m working to get a promotion”, “there are problems at work”, “I have no choice”,my team needs me”, “I love my job”, and so on, and so on.

I know, I know. I’ve been there. I’ve said the same things in an attempt to convince myself and justify my working 60 hours on my 40 hour salary.

I love my job too – But I won’t do it for free.

Then there’s this whole working from home thing. When working in an office, there is a physical distinction between when someone is at work and when someone is not at work.

Because of this covid-19 virus thing, people who would ordinarily ‘go to work’ are now having to work from home (WFH – yet another acronym to add to my list). So, where is this distinction? What is the expectation when someone is working in the same physical space that they have their family dinners?

From speaking with friends, family, clients, and colleagues, there seems to be a widespread lack of interest and care from their employers to meet the basic obligations to ensure the health and safety of their employees. These people (literally) working from their kitchen tables, or with their tops on their laps.

I’ve heard complaints of sore necks, sore backs, numbness in hands, anxiety about the ability to do their jobs effectively, and more worrying – the guilt they feel about their ability to meet the expectation of their jobs whilst meeting their own expectations of being a parent.

I hear the concern in their voice when they speak about their decision to send their toddlers to daycare amidst a pandemic, so they could meet a deadline at work (even despite working through the night and on only four hours of sleep). The pain and the guilt that they express about prioritising the obligations to their employer over the welfare of their children. A decision that they didn’t want to make, but had to anyway. This is truly heart breaking.

Then there are my friends who are employers themselves. Speaking about how some of their part-time employees are, in-fact working more hours that normal. Before the pandemic, when they were in the usual office environment, these employees would clock on/off at specific hours. Now, because they are WFH, they are actually working more hours for the same pay. 

When I question my employer friends about this, the reasoning is “they are at home, so they are likely doing other things when they should be at work” or “they love working from home, they’re happy about working more hours”, or “they’re not commuting anymore” implying that exchanging commute time with work time is acceptable.

Okay. Fine. But, I hope they when the employees return to working in the office, my friend gives them pay rise for their travel time.

I don’t have the answers of how we can maintain a 40-hour work week, or whether it’s even realistic in some industries.

My point is this – regardless of your industry, or the hours which you work, or if you love your job, you should be paid fairly for the hours you work, and be respected an employee.