Expectations and compliance willingness of employees and employers, respectively, have changed a lot since I first entered the workforce in the 1970s. At the time, at least for the companies I worked for as an electrician, the boss told you what to do and you did it. You showed up for work at a dictated time, worked hard all day with strictly prescribed break and lunch times, and quit at the end of your shift. Production line and office workers pretty much followed the same routine. I assumed everyone existed by the same rules.
It wasn't until after I got out of the U.S. Air Force in 1982 and went to work for Westinghouse as an electronics technician that I witnessed the difference between the way 'professionals' were treated and the way hourly workers were treated. Engineers and managers pretty much came and went (within reason) as they deemed necessary. We punched in and out on a time clock and had to have special permission to pass through the entrance guard station outside of about a ±10 minute window of time at shift changes. The engineers I worked for roamed the buildings freely while we were restricted to specific areas. They went to the cafeteria for coffee whenever they felt like it; we went during our 15-minute morning and afternoon breaks. Our lunch and breaks time were not included in the 8-hour workday. The professional ranks were paid to do a job, not necessarily to be there 8 hours a day. It was a lot like the difference between being enlisted and being commissioned in the military service.
Along with desperately wanting to be an engineer for the opportunity to design and direct cool stuff, I knew the perks would be icing on the cake. So, I embarked on a long, tedious adventure to earn my BSEE degree, often carrying a fulltime course load in an effort to expedite the conclusion. The way things worked out, I first earned an Associates degree in an engineering transfer curriculum at a community college that had a deal with the state university to teach the same courses as their freshman and sophomore years, allowing graduates to begin with the junior year once transferring to the university (i.e., no wasted classes). I graduated with a BSEE in spring of 1989, only seven years after starting (ugh!).
My first engineering job was at General Electric. Side note: Neither they nor Westinghouse exist any longer with military electronics centers. I quickly learned that the perception I had of the 'freedom' enjoyed by engineers was purely an illusion. It turns out the flexibility enjoyed during the work day was mainly to compensate for the often long work days that went late into the night - without the benefit of overtime pay that labor laws mandated for hourly workers after the base 8 hours. The level of responsibility that went with being an engineer was way more than that of a technician. That's not to say that technicians don't have a high level of responsibility, the way of the corporate world, at least in the day, was that if a problem arose in the production build, test, or shipping stages that could not be resolved by the hourly guys, it was the engineer who was expected to stay until the problem was solved. On many occasions I was at work late into the evening for days on end trying to get to the root of a tricky issue. Sometimes I'd go home for dinner and then return, but usually it meant eating snack machine food for dinner. Although I regretted having to sacrifice family time, the rigors of the experience did provide an incredible education. The same scenario played itself out at every company I work for. It obviously went with the territory.
Over the years, I noticed that a definite shift occurred in the 'freedoms' conveyed on hourly workers such as flexible work hours, more lenient policies of movement about the facilities, etc. I was reminded of all this while reading an article in the November 2014 issue of Inc. magazine titled, "Perks That Work." It doesn't distinguish between hourly and salaried workers, but it's probably safe to assume it applies to both. According to the author(s), many companies are finding it necessary to offer increasingly more perks to employees to keep them around - and to attract them in the first place. Some of it, I suspect, is at least partially due to employees being more resistant to having their work days strictly regimented. What was so interesting about the article is that almost every item I can remember having lacked in accommodation over my career is mentioned. The only one that never applied is whether or not I could return to work after childbirth.
Posted November 12, 2014