5 Fallacies of Government Series: Are federal employees clock watchers?

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This topic contains 17 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Scott Horvath 9 years ago.

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  • #83397

    Federal News Radio
    Participant

    I think you guys will really like this one! The second part of FederalNewsRadio’s series, 5 Fallacies of Government, is looking at whether or not feds are clock watchers. Do they live up to the reputation they have of only working 8 hours/day, 40 hours/week…punching in from 9a-5p and that’s it?

    So, what do you think? Is it true? Or does it make you mad when you hear people say these kinds of things? Be sure to check out the survey we took asking feds how many hours they work each week! The results are pretty interesting! (Results available at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.)

    Oh, and if you missed the discussion we started yesterday, check it out here. We were talking about whether the government is a terrible buyer. Does it waste more money than it saves when it comes to buying things?

  • #83431

    Scott Horvath
    Participant

    Clock-watching Federal employees is most certainly a fallacy.

    Working in government for at least 8 years (4 being as a current Fed, the others as a contractor), I’ve seen the majority of people I know as dedicated employees (even the contractors usually) that are willing to stay late, work on the weekends, or willing to take on the job of two people just to get the work done. Sure there are some who will try to skirt by on their 8 hours and nothing more. But I believe those are fewer than one would expect.

    I was raised to do what it takes to get the job done…I think many Gen Xers are the same way. People often say that moving up in your career means knowing the right people…but that’s only half of it. The other is not just doing “what’s required,” but instead doing “what’s needed.” I do what’s needed and I believe many Federal employees are the same.

    Plus, many of us [Feds] have some type of smartphone, and access to work from home. We’re always connected. I can tell you that when I have nothing else do at home, I’ll do work. I’ll check email, respond back and answer what needs to be answered. If I see something that I can do then, I’ll log in and take care of it. It helps to keep my life sane when I return the next day, or on a Monday morning. If you added up the hours that I work from work, home, and mobile during a 2 week period it would certainly be more than the 80 hours required. Does it bother me? Not at all. I do it because I care about my job, I care about the work I do, and I have a responsibility to organization and the public. I do what’s needed, not what’s required.

  • #83429

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    In 5 years, I worked at 3 different agencies plus an internship makes 4. In my experience, every agency is different and every small office within the agency is different.

    I’ve worked in offices where:
    -You wrote in the exact time you came in and left down to the minute. 8:28 to 4:58 if metro was early that day.
    -I’ve worked in agencies where you worked your 8 or 9 hours and went home. No clock-watching but it also was expected if you stayed an hour late that you would get credit hours.
    -And I’ve worked in offices that are whatever it takes to get the job done with smart phones making it a 24/7 style gig.

    My sense is we are moving more towards the later in government and the rise of blackberries contributes to that. At the beginnning I saw blackberries being distributed only at the high levels – GS-15/SES but I’ve seen it trickle down so it seems like almost every employee has one.

  • #83427

    Mike Canino
    Participant

    Scott, “most certainly a fallacy” is far too strong a statement, and you contradict it yourself by the end of your response.

    Where I work the tendency is for the Feds to watch the clock pretty closely…but then again, to be fair, so do the contractors. It seems more a function of the climate in a particular office. Greater connectivity–and accompanying expectations of reachability–creates blurring of the work/home boundary. Employees are justified in wanting to try to re-establish some boundaries where they can, and leaving promptly may be part of that.

    For me it’s not about how long someone’s at their desk (within reason). It’s how they get through their tasks and the quality of their output. Unfortunately, here, I see Feds and contractors alike repeatedly fall down.

  • #83425

    Scott Horvath
    Participant

    How am I contradicting myself? You mean by me saying “clock watching” and then “certainly more than 80 hours?”

  • #83423

    Stephen Slice
    Participant

    A common idea that has been expressed so far is that of “doing what it takes to get the job done” and implying that if you don’t work 60 or 80 hours a week then you “aren’t getting the job done.” I agree that an employee should be willing to work extra hours periodically when there is a real need for it. However, if an employee regularly has to work those kind of long hours then something is wrong — either that employee (or the employee’s supervisor) lacks organizational, planning and time management skills or the office/agency isn’t staffed adequately or both.

  • #83421

    Kevin Lanahan
    Participant

    If employees are watching the clock, it means one of two things:

    1) Their kid/grandkid has a soccer game they need to get to or
    2) Their work does not have a sense of mission, they are being micromanaged, or there is some other reason they want to get out of there.

    More and more, the management emphasis is more on getting work done, rather than hours put in. If there is a sense of mission that is clearly communicated, and the employees feel involved in the mission, they won’t feel a need to watch the clock.

    This is an oversimplification, but it rings true in my experience.

  • #83419

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    One interesting idea that is almost a default in the question is that 40 hours is the bare minimum to get a job done and you go above and beyond that often to succeed.

    I think it would be great if we also encouraged efficiency. For example, in graduate school, I knew people that would spend 20 hours over a weekend at the library studying for a test. But a lot of that time they are checking Facebook, relaxing, drifting off. And I would often come in and crank it out. 2 sessions of 3-4 hours each. A lot less time but actually did better.

    What if the same could be true at work? Instead of hours focusing on efficiency…remember the great messages of the 60s that with all the amazing technology we’d be working 30 hours a week by the 90s.

  • #83417

    Scott Horvath
    Participant

    I think the general point that I was trying to make is that many Federal employees are not clock watchers…meaning they don’t just sit around counting down the minutes until 7 hours and 59 minutes before they stand up and start putting their coat on. I think many simply don’t care if they work 8 hours exactly, or have to work 9 hours, etc They work until they feel they can leave the day where it is and pick up the next day.

    Federal employees are required to work at least 8 hours/day, right? You might be able to get done what you need to within 8 hours…or you might have to work a bit longer to complete your task…the point is that we’re not just “clock watching” and counting down the minutes. We actually want to do the job or task we’re responsible for and don’t just sit around waiting for the end of the day. At least…that’s how I see it. That’s my opinion.

    Yes, I can work my required 8 hours and be done with it…and many times I do. But I also work on my own free time via mobile or desktop at home. It’s not that I HAVE TO, it’s that I choose to. I do it b/c I care about the work I do. Just because someone else doesn’t work like me doesn’t mean they don’t care about their job either…I’m not saying that. But for ME…for the way I work…that’s just how it is. I think what makes the difference in how you work is dependent upon your work environment, your management, the support and recognition you receive, etc. I love doing my job. Because I have a positive work experience, if I need to put in extra hours, I’m willing to do so.

    Just because someone works extra hours doesn’t mean they have an organizational or planning problem. Some people actually choose to work longer hours because they enjoy it. Some people choose to work from home, like me, because they feel as if they have an obligation to get the job done it’s just their work ethic. That shouldn’t be considered a negative thing.

  • #83415

    C.B. Alexander
    Participant

    Some are, without a doubt. They are the ones who are at work on the dot, take exactly the negotiated break, to the minute, and are out the door on the dot.
    But in 20 years of government employment, it has been my experience that they are, with no shadow of a doubt, the minority.
    JFK, Jr. once said if you want to perform public service, “Give away all your money and hit yourself repeatedly in the head with a hammer.” The frustration and, in most markets, the low pay certainly results in some employees who require special accomodation (see the some above) – but it more often results in individuals dedicated to the public and shameless believers in the mission to which they have been called.
    A group so willing to swim up that stream has a tendency to do so for more than 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. They are concerned with getting the job done for the public, not the pay or the hour.

  • #83413

    Nancy Heltman
    Participant

    My parents were both Federal Civil Service and while I was always less in touch with what my father’s job was, I recall the long hours my mother worked. I can remember going to her office on weekends and learning how to use the adding machine. I remember scheduling family vacations around the Federal fiscal year (back when it was earlier) because my mother was a budget officer. I work for state government and apparently have inherited her philosophy of work, staying at the office 50 plus hours a week and Blackberrying early mornings, nights and weekends. As a manager, I hold my staff to the “get the job done” standard. Some can get their job done in 40 hours but those are not the ones on a career path.

  • #83411

    Jaime Gracia
    Participant

    Having worked with so many agencies and so many different federal employees at all levels, I think it is clear through our shared experiences here that the stereotype is in general a fallacy, but of course needs to be tempered that not all people fit into stereotypes. I have worked with people that are clock-watchers, that actively participate in sabotage and stone-walling until exactly 8 hours in the day expired. Fortunately for me, that has been the exception. I have had the luxury of working with very dedicated, hard-working civil servants and military personnel who care deeply about mission and work intense schedules to get the job done. These personnel actually clock-watch in a different way, as their schedule tends to be intense and must be carefully monitored to meet commitments. If you have not seen it, look at the recent 60 Minutes piece on GEN Stanley McCrystal, the new commander in Afghanistan. Try keeping up with that schedule! Granted it is a bit extreme, but I think it is indicative of mission and how most government personnel care deeply about service. I think it is unfortunate that stereotypes always seem to dominate the conversation, such as government contractors are rapacious wolves trying to always rip off the government. We care just as much in mission, but that never seems to enter the conversation either. Bottom-line is that there are of course all different kinds, but can say from years of experience that it has been my proud honor to call this stereotype false.

  • #83409

    Federal News Radio
    Participant

    Here’s something else to think about…are federal employees getting fairly compensated for the work they are doing above and beyond 40 hours a week? What is fair compensation? OT? Comp time? Should everyone who works above 40 hours a week be compensated? FederalNewsRadio did an online poll to accompany this part of our series and the answers we got were pretty interesting. Check it out at the link above.

  • #83407

    Jennifer D. Johnson
    Participant

    I think it depends. Some employees probably are not fairly compensated for overtime. Beyond a certain level, federal employees are paid for overtime at their usual rate of pay. So they’re paid for the OT hours they work, but not at an increased rate. And comp time is only a fair method of compensation if the employee actually has time to use it.

  • #83405

    Steve Radick
    Participant

    I think that the government is like any organization. You’re going to have some clock-watchers, just like you’re going to have some people who work crazy hours and always go above and beyond. I’ve seen just as many of both types within the government as I’ve seen here at Booz Allen. It’s very much personality based, rather than employer-based.

  • #83403

    Amanda Blount
    Participant

    I think it all depends on both the supervisor and the employee and how they work together. It must be both, or you run into issues. Because we have such a great boss, I am sure he gets about 5-10 free hours of work from each of us each week. (counting weekend work, working late, and missed lunches).

    In our office, we have no clockwatchers. The only one we have has two young children who must be picked up at a certain time, so that is not clock watching, that is survival. He can stay late anytime he has 24 hours notice (so he and his wife can take the kids to the GPs). As long as we are working, our boss approves comp time as we need it. Also, our boss is not a clock watcher. If we come in a few minutes late, then he knows he will get it out of us later in the week. We are treated like adults, and everyone in our office acts like adults. I know of some offices who have employees who “run out” real quick for a Drs appt or dentist appt, and don’t put in a leave slip. That is fine for them, but because our boss is so great about NOT clock watching, we all put in a leave slip. In fact, I needed to run to the store during lunch and came back 30 minutes late due to a traffic jam, and I put in an hour leave slip (we can’t put in for less). My boss said I did not have to, but I told him he treats us like adults and gives us repsect like adults, so the least I can do is do the same.

    We all work late, and many times we do not put in comp time slips. It depends on the day, if I know I “messed” around more than what I should have, or if I did not accomplish as much as what I should have, then I will work a little late and not put in a comp time sheet. I have been known to bring work home and not put in a comp time sheet. Again, my boss is a great person to work for. He wants to see results, and as long as we are giving him results, then he treats us like adults. SO, we keep giving him results, which in turn means I can take a longer shower or do another load of dishes and not worry about him watching the clock, and he knows we don’t either.

  • #83401

    Al Fullbright
    Participant

    Working for the Government is STEADY WORK, with a HEALTH CARE PLAN, RETIREMENT PLAN, DOUBLE DIPPING for a lot of bureacrats, PAID VACATIONS, perks, and pretty good pay – in fact I’d say that is very good pay. Bureacrats need to make things work or they will find themselves out of a job. The country wants results, and they are willing to rip things out by their roots and start over if the organizations that are supposed to do the job cant hack it. My advice to bureacrats would be – get to work and be thankful you have a job. If you dont like it, try making it in the private sector.

  • #83399

    Al Fullbright
    Participant

    Not everyone is convinced that defense contractors are a necessity.

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