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First In, Last Out, Or “How To Get Bullied By Your Employer”

/ Thoughts & Opinion

“First in, last out” is an interesting concept, and something that I’ve seen mentioned in a couple of recent blog posts on what companies are looking for in an employee.

For the uninitiated, the term “first in and last out” applies to the type of employees who are always first person in the office in the morning, and the last person out of the office in the evening. Many employers are said to like and actively encourage this working practice, because they believe that an employee needs to show them that they want to keep the job, that they need to work to hold it down and that ultimately that they should enjoy it, and therefore not grudge the time spent working for their employer.

To an extent, I agree with enjoying the job, but you can show this in plenty of ways, not just by working as many hours as possible. I’ve always maintained that I wouldn’t take a job somewhere that I wouldn’t enjoy working, and that I wouldn’t stick at a job that I had lost my love for. Life’s too short to get stuck in the mundane drudgery of “just another day-job” so why do it? If you enjoy the job you’re in, you may be happy to work longer hours, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

I enjoy my job, I don’t grudge coming in to the office, and I admire and enjoy the company of those I work with, but what I don’t agree with is being first in and last out. Don’t get me wrong – I think everyone should be on time. I’m not condoning lateness, or laziness. I also think that if something serious comes up and you need to work a bit later to get through it – then fair enough, it’s good to make sure that your work meets scheduled deadlines.

What I do think though, is that often the employee is being blamed for something that comes down to bad scheduling, or unrealistic deadlines. When someone comes to me and asks “how long is this going to take?” I give them a realistic timescale based on the work I have on at the moment, and how much of my time I think that job is going to take. So generally if I’m left with little time left to complete it – that’s my fault.

Sometimes however, the deadlines are dictated by the client, and instead of having the account manager push back to the client and say “well, we can’t make that deadline” and managing expectations, the client manager will just jump at every one of the client’s whims and as a result work the people who have to actually do the work in to the ground.

Now I can hear you all saying “oh, but there has to be compromise” or “oh, but the client’s the important one here” – yes, to both of those things, and it’s crucial that the client comes first, but if the client’s being unreasonable with their deadlines, then they have no right to expect you to fulfill their every desire just because they’re the ones fronting the cash. They’re paying for a service that you provide, but that’s not to say it doesn’t come with conditions and reasonable expectations. You wouldn’t phone up an ambulance and say “can you get here in under 30 seconds? 2 minutes just isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid.” (and before you say “well, we don’t pay the NHS” – you kind of do, through taxes, don’t you?) On top of this, an account manager needs to learn your skills and rate of work, and help to adjust your deadlines accordingly. I always maintain that a good account manager will know a huge amount about their teams skills and expertise, as well as how long things take – not just be able to communicate with the client.

So my point is – Go and enjoy your job. Wake up every day with a massive grin on your face, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got an ace position as a designer or elsewhere in an agency (or whatever you do really) but don’t be bullied in to feeling like you have to be first in the office, and last out. I think that’s a mug’s game, and one that your employer may start to take advantage of.

“Oh Alex always stays late anyway, he won’t mind staying late again, or if I add some more work to his plate.”

You need to enjoy your job – but you also need to realise that you’re not on this planet to sit at work. Go and enjoy yourself. When that clock hits 5pm or 6pm or whenever you finish – go home.

This post was originally written for the QueryClick blog.

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Alex Cowles

About The Author: Alex Cowles

A largely cynical and often sarcastic designer and front-end developer by day. Unknown international DJ & music producer extraordinaire by night (and at weekends). You probably won't like him.