Monday, September 22, 2008

More employees affected by family leave situations; IT culture must change, perhaps


Remember how it was in a lot of mainframe financial shops in the 80s and 90s. Salaried programmers put in unlimited overtime to make due dates, implementations, and provide on-call support.

Actually, in my case, in the 80s, everyone supported his own applications all the time so at the credit reporting company (Chilton) we didn’t have an on-call list as such. But in the 90s, at the insurance company, we did, and there were so many interlocking systems that the on-call programmer could have to respond to, most of the time with simple things, like JCL errors, empty files, bad policy master records, unverified VSAM files, etc.

Although not always the case, some people with kids or heavy family obligations had difficulty with this environment. This could gradually lead to various problems. Sometimes singles or people who, for whatever circumstances, had fewer obligations were expected to do more of the on-call for them, sometimes without compensation in a salaried environment. There was a flip-side to this. In a downturn, a company might be more inclined to keep the people who put in the overtime and who had made themselves essential to keep a place running, especially as it was been deconverted for a merger.
This could encourage “lowballing” and could lead to more layoffs of people with families. This kind of environment fed on a laissez-faire culture that assumed that kids (and other dependents like the elderly) should be the responsibility of parents.

This cultural value system may be changing. For one thing, the nature of jobs has changed: more of the jobs are held by contractors, who are paid hourly. More of the work today is end-consumer oriented and involves 24x7 operations, including implementation and testing. But another reality is that demographics are forcing people who did not have their own children to share more family responsibility, especially eldercare. I wrote about this yesterday in a review of a new book about marriage and “dependency” by a law professor (see my Books blog). It may no longer be acceptable for employers to play one kind of employee off against another.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is relevant, but it is limited by the fact that it allows only unpaid leave. Some employers give longstanding employees paid leave for family emergencies. But we wonder how European employers can handle this but we can’t. Is it because of our health insurance mess?

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