Flexibility offsets longer hours for IT staff

IT professionals are clocking up longer working hours than those in other sectors but have more flexibility and options to juggle a career and family life.

Responding to last week's article on the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's (AIRC) landmark ruling which allows employees to legally refuse overtime deemed unreasonable(CW, August 5, p 32), IT managers said there are pros and cons for those that work in the tech sector which set it apart from the broader workforce.

Most IT professionals do not work less than 50 hours a week in addition to weekend overtime to meet project deadlines, but this was offset by time off and family-friendly cultures in most Australian companies.

Putting its case before the AIRC, the ACTU said Australian workers are clocking up, on average, 45 hours a week, which is below the IT average.

However, IT staff generally have greater mobility and flexibility to work out of the office and take time off in between projects.

For example, James Hardie Industries' IT manager Andy Anderson said the IT shop has just completed a big project which required the entire team to work seven days a week, sometimes through the night and into the next day to meet a critical deadline.

"But when this happens the company pays for staff to take their entire family away for the weekend after a deadline is met; this compensates for the long hours and is a bonus provided by the employer to promote family time after staff put in long hours," Anderson said.

While Anderson averages about 50 hours a week, he was previously clocking up to 90 hours a week.

"I'm not doing the hours I had to do in the past because project times have been halved with better development tools, so technology has actually reduced my overtime hours," he said.

Pauls Ltd's special project officer for IT services Merv Amos averages 45 to 50 hours a week and occasionally works Saturday night through to Sunday if the team is rebuilding servers or undertaking a major IT project.

Amos said the company trade-off is that staff can take a day off "here and there to make up for it".

"The company is pretty family-friendly; there are no formal policies in place but if a family matter cropped up we could take time off," he said.

"IT staff do work a longer day than the rest of the workforce, but we also have plenty of flexibility to take time off for balance."

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu CIO Tim Fleming agrees, claiming he averages up to 50 hours a week, but doesn't work weekends.

"I put weekends aside for the family and the company culture here promotes a work-family balance; there is also the flexibility to work from home or out of the office," he said.

Foodland Associated's IT general manager Paul Trent is based in Western Australia and works up to 60 hours a week (about 55 in the office and five at home).

"I try to get home by 8pm to spend time with my daughter until she goes to bed then get on the lap top for an hour or so to catch up on things that don't get done in the office," he said.

Trent also finds a balance by putting weekends aside for the family, which is interrupted, on occasion by some travel.

"Being West Coast-based there is some travelling; we have a bit of activity in New Zealand and the trip from Perth is a full day. To avoid wasting time I undertake the travel on weekends to accommodate business meetings during the week," Trent said.

An IT manager at a manufacturing company, who requested anonymity, said there is some weekend work and long hours to meet project deadlines, but the ability to work from home offsets providing opportunities to tend to personal matters in between.

"Connectivity means we are always switched on which means you generally work more but the flexibility means I'm not desk-bound; I'm not clocking in, but deadlines must be met and the job done," he said.

"The broader workforce doesn't have the same level of flexibility as those in IT; we have more options to facilitate a work and family balance because we are not at a desk clock-watching; it's about delivering the final product."

In its submission to the AIRC, the Australian Industry (Ai) Group said IT staff work longer hours to maintain a competitive edge.

The Ai report pointed out: "With a drop in the previous level of headhunting and a more stagnant job market, IT employees are becoming more competitive; IT professionals are now being forced to see themselves as a cost to the company rather than a necessity."

The IRC case is the first time working hours have been reviewed since the eight-hour day was introduced in 1947 and the right to refuse overtime is based on an employee's ability to balance work and family life.

* How family friendly is your company and how many hours are you clocking up? Have your say by e-mail to: bitebackatcw@idg.com.au.

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