Paul Butler | ‘Are you still working?’ (Part 2)

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

They say you can tell when you’re getting old if you use one these three sayings: 

  1. “That’s better.” (When you sit down.) 
  1. “I remember when all this was fields.” (When looking at a development.) 
  1. “How much?” (When in an expensive store.) 

I believe I’ve found another one: “Unlimited time off — are you sure?” 

If you’re not aware, the new policy of unlimited paid time off is a structure in which employees are not assigned a set number of paid days off at the start of the year. Instead, employees are provided with the freedom to take time off when needed as long as doing so will not disrupt business. 

Our son, Henry, recently moved to New York and one of the ways they attracted him was with unlimited paid time off. The problem arose when he actually tried to book time off — there always seemed to be some reason why his boss couldn’t allow him to take it.  

Henry wanted to use some of this “unlimited time off” to join the family on a trip back to England and each day my wife kept asking him, “Are you still working?” 

It’s often said there’s a “war for talent” but my observation is that talented people are smart and they won’t be duped by marketing schemes disguised as human resource policies. 

Henry’s girlfriend is Sally and she also works for a New York-based company that lured her with a policy whereby the working day is not set. This means that as long as she gets the work done, they don’t care whether she works the traditional 9-5 or whether she works 4-12, 1-9 or any split combination therein. 

As a business owner this resonates with me. My wife and I don’t have set business hours. We just do what needs to get done. Sometimes we work super-early in the morning to take time off during the day. Sometimes we may work on the evenings or on a Saturday to get ahead and honor client commitments we’ve made. 

The only challenge with this non-traditional time approach is one of us is often asking the other, “Are you still working?”  

When Henry and Sally were visiting recently, we were watching a movie as a family but Sally still had an electronic device or three on her lap or at her fingertips. We would often ask, “Are you still working?” 

Technology is a wonderful tool that’s enabled us to be productive in ways our grandparents would never have imagined but I’m sure you share my concern that sometimes it causes each of us to not be present in the present. As the Beatles sang, we’re sometimes, “Here, There and Everywhere,” but of course we know that’s not really possible — we can’t be here, there and everywhere. Sadly, as created beings — we’re not omnipresent. We can’t be fully present with people, if our fingertips are typing and taking us away into other time zones, across foreign lands and into future states.  

I saw this myself recently at a big box store when I was in need of assistance from a store associate who seemed to find their phone much more interesting than honoring the button on their lapel, which asked poignantly, “How Can I Help?”  

I asked my question. The associate looked up from their phone with a glazed vacant look. I asked my question again. The associate pointed down an aisle. I headed down the directed aisle while the associate’s head went back into their social media feed. As an hourly paid associate, I’m left thinking, “Are you still working?” How can we honorably pick up a dime from our employer when we’ve spent that dime of time somewhere else, doing something else for ourself? 

In summary, whether we’re talking about unlimited time off, flexible working hours or the lure of technology that can so easily woo us away from the present like a pied piper, I still believe there’s a season and correct cadence to work, rest and play.  

So, are you still working? 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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