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Flex-work, like any other benefit, will always eventually be for the employer, not the employee.

“True Work Flexibility Is About When, Not Just Where, You Work” - The New York Times:

Thirty percent of workers around the world surveyed last year said they would consider seeking a new job if their current employer required them to return to the office full time. Millennials are especially resistant. In response to the Covid pandemic, PepsiCo, Meta and General Motors, among others, have incorporated remote work into their corporate cultures.

But in a truly flexible workplace, people would control not just where they work but also when. Southwest Airlines allows pilots to choose between morning and evening flight schedules. A few tech companies, including Automattic and DuckDuckGo, have work-anytime policies that enable employees to become nomadic and travel the world or simply run weekday errands. But such opportunities remain rare.

“I think it’s really a shame that more companies don’t take advantage of it,” said Azad Abbasi-Ruby, the senior market research analyst at DuckDuckGo. He added, “We get so much done, and I think a lot of it has to do with this flexibility, letting people work when they’re most productive.”

I am all for workers having more control over where, when, and how they do their jobs.

What I wish, however, is that pieces like this one would acknowledge that Automattic and DuckDuckGo are the exception, not the rule.

The first time I got a job that came with a 9-to-5 schedule, I had spent the previous year working the closing shift (3p - midnight) at an IT help desk. Before that, I worked retail and my schedule was a constantly changing mix of opening, mid, and closing shifts. This was in the mid- to late-1990s and before the advent of just-in-time scheduling, so I at least had the luxury of knowing my work schedule a week or two in advance.

The switch to a 9-to-5 schedule was fantastic. It was predictable, and I could reliably do stuff outside of work at reasonable hours. Better still, I had weekends off, a first for me since graduating from college six years prior.

We hear about these companies with flexible work schedules—or unlimited PTO, or four-day work weeks, or whatever—and it sounds great in theory. If the worker is not in control of their time, though, these sorts of “benefits” are ripe for exploitation. Unlimited PTO turns into “We don’t have a PTO policy, so no one takes any time off”; flexible schedules means you work crazy hours; remote work becomes a dystopian nightmare of surveillance software and commodified employment.

These policies, even if well-intentioned at the outset, will inevitably be twisted for the benefit of the employer, because—regardless of the state of the job market—it is the employer who holds the power, not the employee.

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