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Running Errands

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and I just returned home from running errands. I don’t like running errands, especially in the middle of the day. I’ll work tonight, but I would have done that anyway. So, I’ve lost 1.5 hours out of my workday that I’ll have to find time to make up at some point later this week.

And I’m not a slacker. I work hard. People describe me as driven, tenacious, and focused. Heck, I’m running a business. But I also have a life—three kids and a million obligations—that require my time and attention. This week, I’m throwing a family celebration, last week I organized a retreat. Two weeks ago, I had the flu. The week before that my husband was out of town all week, and I did all the carpooling. It never ends. The issues that take me away from being able to fully focus on my work change from week to week, but it’s always something.

On my way back from running errands today, I got to thinking. How do people who work onsite, full-time with no scheduling flexibility do it? I know some of them hire amazing nannies, some use their company’s concierge services, and some have stay-at-home spouses. Most everybody else is stuck tending to their personal lives late into the evening, on weekends or by calling in sick.

Oh yeah, or they do it at work. It’s been said that up to 2.5 hours per day are wasted in unproductive time when you work in an office. When I tell people this their mouths hang open in disbelief until they start running the numbers in their heads: personal phone conversations, checking personal emails, shopping online, chats at the copy machine, small talk before the meeting starts. Yup, all that adds up to an average of 2.5 hours per day.

Among the biggest objections employers have to their employees working from home is that they’ll waste their day watching Oprah, doing their laundry, and running errands. “Those activities” they continue “stand in the way of employees getting their work done.” But guess what? The issue is not whether employees will find a way to get this stuff done. They will, they have to.

It’s about whether they have to sneak around to do it and whether they do it on the company’s dime.

The point of implementing a flexible workplace is to cultivate a culture of trust, to openly recognize that your employees are people with real lives and real issues that need to be tended. If you acknowledge their personal needs, then they’ll take care of them on their own dime instead of wasting your time and money taking care of them at work ... 

… or taking sick days to do it. The 2007 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey found 66 percent of people who call in sick at the last minute are really taking the time off to deal with personal or family issues.

Consider this: The state of Utah instituted a mandatory four-day work week last year in response to sky high gas prices. You know what happened? Absenteesim and overtime are both down. Productivity is up and employees are more engaged. Why? My guess is that they can take care of their personal lives on their day off.

You know what else happened in Utah? Anecdotally, customer satisfaction is up because state offices are open late Monday through Friday, and customers can transact business after 5 p.m. So … wonder what people in Utah did when state offices closed at five? They took an hour or two to run errands.

Business happens between 8 to 5; so does life. Let’s be realistic and honest and allow our employees to do the same.