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Who Owns Your Time--You, Or Your Boss?

Cam Marston thinks American workers are changing their minds.

Older generations have worked as though employers own their time--but the up-and-coming workers believe they're the keepers of their time, said Marston, a consultant specializing in multigenerational communications.

"The baby boomers' and Matures' attitude was: The company owns my time, and I move for them as they need me," he said. "Gen Xers and Yers say, 'I own my time, and I give you what you need based on the job that needs to be done."

Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Kenexa Research Institute shows workers who telecommute--and ostensibly own their time--are the most loyal and satisfied.

Is this all pointing toward a more flexible workplace?

Boomers vs. Gens X and Y

Marston elaborated in an e-mail exchange on the notion of who owns workers' time. While boomers probably wouldn't say a company owns their time, they act that way, he said:

They stay late. They come in early. They relocate. They are, largely, obedient to the company's needs around time. They forfeit vacation. Forfeit children's events, etc. Now--I'm playing a big generalization here--that all Boomers are the same. Not true, of course, but I think they'd identify with this idea.

And as for their younger counterparts?

I think they'd say that yes, they do own their time. They want to be much more in control of their schedule and their life, particularly their life outside of work. Since the company can't honestly promise lifetime loyalty, X and Y believe that the big sacrifices made by the previous generation were too high and the way to NOT make that big a sacrifice is to control their time.

Marston said the shift, already underway, is a good thing.

For the Boomers, this shift would lead to a better understanding of the Gen X and Y attitudes towards their work which would lead to a better understanding of how to recruit, retain, and manage their workforce. How to keep them happy. But lacking this shift continues the struggle between X and Y with their bosses.

Marston is right. These days workers are likely to hold more jobs--and careers--than baby boomers did. Our economy and the way we work are changing. That doesn't mean a strong work ethic has suddenly vanished, or that all American workers are morphing into a bunch of slackers.

It simply means we must embrace the changes and capitalize on them, boosting productivity and the bottom line while keeping workers happy.

As a member of Generation X, I support what Marston said: I believe I'm the best keeper of my time. And as someone who works remotely, I also support the Kenexa study's findings--I'm more productive and satisfied in my work than ever.

Some Good Reasons to Telecommute

According to a Wall Street Journal story on the Kenexa study:

In the poll of about 10,000 U.S. workers, 73% of remote and home-based workers said they were satisfied with their company as a place to work, compared with 64% of office workers.

In addition, 70% of the telecommuters said they were "proud to tell people I work for my company," while only 64% of office workers agreed with that statement. The survey was conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute, a unit of Kenexa Corp., a recruitment and retention consulting firm.

"When companies allow employees to work remotely or from home, they are explicitly communicating to them that 'I trust you to be dedicated to the accomplishment of the work, even if I'm not able to observe you doing it,' " says Jack Wiley, executive director of the institute, which is in Minneapolis. "It boils down to respect," he says. "I respect you and I have confidence in your commitment to the work -- to do this under the conditions and at the time you feel will be most productive for you."

Still, only 4 percent of those surveyed work from home or remotely, "a percentage that has remained fairly steady for years."

To some degree, Mr. Wiley says, that's because companies don't embrace work-at-home policies. "For many companies, there is still a command-and-control mentality," he says. "It's based on the notion that if you can't see the employee at work or can't walk down the hall and stick your head into the office, then you don't have a sense of just how productive they are."

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