Monday, June 16, 2008

More Time

One of the interesting things that's developing as my generation enters the market is how we are dealing with the concept of time. On the one hand, having grown up perpetually wired, we are quite accustomed to being able to work at any time, in any place, whenever we feel like. The traditional model of being chained to the cubicle door does not work for us. On the other hand, we are not thrilled with the grueling, super-man schedules that are rapidly becoming the norm in the most high-flying, professional jobs. Our generation is not only more demanding of actually having time to start a family (and then be able to spend time with them), but it's willing to take paycuts to do it. These twin factors are pushing against the traditional 9-5 work environment in favor of flex-time arrangements. The irony is, this movement is occuring during a period of intense globalization which increases the value of those high-flyers who are willing to take on insane hours and workloads (and the hyper-competitive nature of the elite educational track has paradoxically increased the supply of those sorts of people at the same time as the overall trend of my generation has been in favor of more flex-time).

CNN had an interesting article up reporting that this trend appears to be expanding from its tradtional base though: claiming that many fathers in the workforce now want to spend more time with their families and are willing to slash their pay to get it. I say "beyond the traditional base" because the workers most associated with this pressure are a) young and b) women. In fact, I'd say that one of the most important contributions flowing from the normalization of women in the workforce is the pressure its created for more flexible and family-friendly work paradigms. The first generation of working women, mindful of their crusading status, had to play by the boy's rules and could not agitate for "special privileges" like maternity leave (at least not without sabotaging their career prospects). Today's women do not feel like they should have to make that choice, and though they've been deluged with "experts" telling them "you're going to have to", they've pushed back with admirable tenacity. They know that they've got skills needed by the best corporations, and they're flexing that economic muscle to demand better hours, better leave policies, and more flexibility. It's a victory for feminism that is also a victory for all workers, and we owe them tremendously for it (though of course, the battle isn't over yet).

One of the reasons I want to go into teaching is that it is the rare high-status job that really does seem to have the sort of flexible, creative work environment I crave. But even amongst the newly minted lawyer class, I've heard rumblings of a revolution. I know what the starting salary is for a BigLaw associate coming out of Chicago, and I know what the work expectations are like. I'd greatly trade less of one for less of the other. Easy for me to say because I don't plan on staying an attorney for long (if at all), but ultimately, it's a trend I see increasing in saliance, and one that may well explode in a veritable workplace revolution in the next decade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From what I have heard, the time commitment required of an assistant professor is not far below that of a young associate -- although you do have more flexibility.