Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday dollars+sense: Who works the hardest in your office?

Who works the hardest in your office? I’ll make a bet. It’s likely to be either a childless woman or a woman whose children have become teenagers.

Seriously. That’s how it is for lawyers in Canada.

Law firms are particularly good places for determining who puts in the most hours. Private-sector lawyers keep records - so-called “billable hours” - and 670 of them were happy to also answer questions from Jean Wallace at the University of Calgary about the time they spent on tasks at home and whether they had children.

For men, children make little difference...

Men actually put in more hours at work if they have children, but not hugely so. Each man in a law firm typically puts in around 1,500 billable hours a year.

For women it depends. Before having children women typically put in far more billable hours than men – as many as 1,600 – perhaps because, as Dr Wallace suggests, they feel compelled to demonstrate exceptional work commitment in order to have any hope of being as successful as a man.

Going back to work after having had children they typically put in far fewer hours - around 1,400 a year - although my own observation suggests they get about as much work done as before. Parenthood necessitates efficiency, at least for women.

Women who have become mothers take on much more work at home than men. The Calgary survey suggests they spend more than three hours each day in childcare-related activities compared to men’s less than two.

But something surprising happens to Canadian female lawyers after their children become teenagers. They boost their hours at work again, putting in more hours than men and even more than they did before they had children.

Women with teenagers become by far the most productive workers in the office, and even more so if I am right about them having become ultra-efficient.

Dr Wallace had expected family-friendly workplace polices to dent the hours women put in - if an employer made it easier to work fewer hours, women would be more likely to do it.

Curiously she found that women didn’t typically take advantage of easier conditions where they were offered, but men did.

Men, but not women, put in less time where it was made easy for them to do it, and disturbingly for the advocates of family-friendly workplaces they tended not to use it to see their children.

“Leisure” is how she described the purpose to which men put their extra free hours. She could have said “golf”.

Jean E. Wallace, Parenthood and productivity: A study of demands, resources and family-friendly firms, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 72, Issue 1, February 2008, Pages 110-122