Thought for the day:TGI Friday - unless you're in IT

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.For many of us Friday lunchtime used to be the...

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.For many of us Friday lunchtime used to be the start of the weekend wind-down - a few quiet, or not so quiet, beers and a pub lunch with the rest of the team, followed by a leisurely return to the office for a couple of hours, before sloping off early. Some people even wore commemorative ties decorated with the acronym POETS - "Push Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday."

I suppose some people still enjoy this relaxed approach to the weekend. But I know that many of us don't get the chance these days, because the weekend doesn't really exist anymore.

For those of us involved in the business of change, Saturdays and Sundays have become integral parts of our working week - weekends are the prime-time opportunities for testing and implementing change.

So Friday afternoon has now become the time for last-minute planning of the weekend's activity. Saturday is earmarked for testing and implementing new systems, while Sunday is when we usually have either to commit the changes into production, or to roll back our changes to restore the "old" systems/data.

The cherry on the cake is that we can't take Monday off - because we have to be around in case things go pear-shaped when everybody else starts using the new system!

And it's not just the odd weekend. In many organisations this is the routine for every weekend, not simply once in a while.

If we are not careful the consequences of this approach can be extremely debilitating to key members of staff. People especially vulnerable are those who consistently perform the unseen, sometimes "heroic", out-of-hours shifts that are required to make sure that the sanctity of the regular working week is preserved for their more fortunate colleagues.

Sure, we can all handle the odd couple of 17-hour sessions every now and again, but not week in, week out, especially on top of our "normal" hours from Monday to Friday. And yet it does happen. I have seen some people almost driven into the ground, by excessive weekend working over prolonged periods.

Of course, contracts of employment may well provide for adequate remuneration and/or time off in lieu to compensate. Even so, this is not always successful because the local "culture" may well forbid the opportunity to take the time off due for recuperating properly.

But I feel very strongly that we need to be more aware of this phenomenon and to take positive action to prevent the harm done to our staff, ourselves and to our families by losing our supposedly "free time" on a regular basis. Health, morale and relationships are being exposed to serious risk through the expectations being made of us.

In the long run, excessive weekend working is also counter-productive to effective performance so our employers will suffer too. Is it any wonder then that workplace stress has become a significant factor in IT departments with some unfortunate long-term victims?

We all need to look at our work schedules and see if we are doing ourselves more harm than good by slogging away seven days a week.

As it so often seems to be unavoidable, perhaps we need to consider completely restructuring our working week, or month, to restore some balance to our lives?

What is your view?
If you're part of the weekend work culture, how would you prefer to plan your week? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge
is an interim executive who has held top-level roles in IT strategy, development services and support. His travels along the blue-chip highway have taken him to a clutch of leading corporations, including Shell, BP, ICI, DHL and Powergen.

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