ALC English Journal Topic March 2015

Fair’s Fair!!

There are some conflicts between women workers in my office because the ones who have kids are permitted to leave the office early while those with no kids have to stay late and work extra hours. This isn’t fair! What can I do?  


Fairness doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. If I break my leg I should be able to ride the elevator instead of taking the stairs. While it’s tempting to demand “fairness” in this situation, let’s first consider a few different perspectives.

Working Moms Work at Home. I know quite a few working mothers personally. Even if they’re not officially allowed to “work from home”, many of them wake up early in the morning, stay up late at night, and work on the weekends, to keep up with urgent issues and email. When they are in the office they don’t waste time. While others may chit chat over a cup of coffee, they’re more likely to be focused on their tasks.

Moms Pay a Price for their Flexibility. They are more likely to settle for part-time jobs with less potential, or lower paying jobs that offer greater flexibility. In spite of highly publicized examples like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, full-time working mothers often get placed on what’s called the “Mommy Track”. As a result their career progress slows.

Who’s Forcing You to Work Late? Is your boss requiring you to work long hours, or are you choosing to do so? Often employees complain about heavy workloads requiring overtime even though no one is explicitly demanding that they work these long hours. Frequently they feel compelled to work late by social norms or their own high expectations of themselves. Interestingly, they usually don’t feel responsible for their choice to overwork themselves – they blame their boss or “the company”.

It’s Your Choice! When I worked at HP I fell into this trap. Facing a mountain of tasks, my instinct was to work each day until everything was completed. One late night I realized that nobody was forcing me to work overtime day after day. It was my choice! This inspired me to invent a new mantra: “I will only do one exceptional day’s worth of work every 24 hours!”

Do a Great Job then Go Home. Over the years I’ve discovered that I can’t ever really finish my work, but I can temporarily abandon it! Go home after you’ve completed “one exceptional day of work”. As long as you are producing excellent results, it’s likely that your decision will be accepted and respected by your manager. Don’t be surprised if some of your peers resent you for your choice, of course! They may still be under the illusion that someone else is responsible for their overworked condition.

Quitting IS an Option. Even in Japan, where mid-career transitions are less common than in Silicon Valley, you can find another job. Work someplace that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your personal life for your paycheck.

There are other life circumstances besides childrearing that require workplace flexibility. Caring for aging parents, or going through a serious illness yourself or with a spouse, can be just as demanding. Does your employer adapt working hours in these circumstances as well? If so, someday you might feel grateful for their “unfair” policies.

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