THE BLOG

Should Workers Still Be Paid For Time at the Office or What They Actually Deliver?

08/08/2014 11:50 BST | Updated 07/10/2014 10:59 BST

The online business network, LinkedIn, has made the news recently, with a court settlement in California costing the company more than $6m in back wages and damages to 359 current and former employees who said that they were not paid for overtime worked.

I don't have any more details on the LinkedIn case than what I can read in the Wall Street Journal, and I can see that it only affected a small subset of their sales operation, but it's still intriguing to see such a modern hi-tech organisation taken to court over overtime.

I haven't worked in a single corporate job where I was paid overtime. The last time I could actually claim overtime regularly for hours worked beyond those normally scheduled was when I was stacking apples on the produce counter in Safeway - happy days.

But if the LinkedIn workers had an employment contract that said they were entitled to overtime then it was unfair of the company to not pay it promptly. If they wanted to follow the usual corporate model of suggesting that the job involves 40 hours a week on the contract, yet expecting 60 hours a week to keep the job then they could have just left out that clause.

We all know that employment contracts are just an approximation of what is expected. When the contract says you will be at the office from 9am until 5pm with an hour allowed for lunch, what most people find is that if their boss is at the office from 7am to 7pm and eats lunch at his or her desk then that's what is expected from you too.

But many more people are now working in their own small business, or freelancing at a corporate, perhaps even where they were once on the official 'permanent' payroll. When you are freelance or working for a small business that has larger clients the system of measurement is very different.

Think about those traditional employment contracts. They focus on how many hours per week or month you will give to the company. How many days you are allowed off on holiday. And in return for dedicating this time, how much you will be paid.

Now contrast this to the way a freelancer works. You agree a project with the client with a defined scope - so you both agree on what is needed. Then you agree on a price. Then you go away and deliver it. There is some work that will be delivered at a certain price. Nobody cares about how many hours it might actually have taken.

Why don't more managers take a look at how this works and apply a similar strategy to their team - even if they are just paid a regular monthly salary? It's easy to imagine how it works for some jobs; a journalist churning out a new story each day, an estate agent closing a new sale each day, a car mechanic who can service several cars a day.

When there are fixed tasks that can be performed it's easy to see how this might work. When the employee needs to be physically present, like a security guard or supermarket checkout operator, clearly the only measure of value is time on the job after punching the clock.

But many jobs do have discrete, measurable, deliverables. Why don't more managers allow their team to go home early if the tasks for the day have all been completed?

Knowing you have done all that is needed for the day would also help to calm that urge to keep on checking corporate emails when at home. Being measured by what you deliver rather than how long you spend at the office could be the answer to all of these work-life balance concerns - and this approach works both for the company and the employee.