Getting your share of comp time

How many hours did you work last week and the week before? If you're not taking advantage of comp time, here's how to make on-demand comp time part of your professional package.

I want you to picture a bar graph in your mind. Each of the bars on the graph represents the number of hours you've worked in the last 10 weeks. If your Y-axis intersections average in the 55 to 80 range, you, my friend, deserve some comp time. My message this week is for my IT brethren who are not currently getting their fair share of time off.

Of professionals and salaried positions
You're an IT professional making a professional salary. ("Get an MCSE and make $67K," the ads read in my local paper.) You've been working 60 to 80 hours a week for months in a row. Something comes up in your so-called "real life" that requires you to take a day or two off. Why don't you?

If you're like most IT people, you come in early and work until all hours. I know IT managers who work so much they might as well sleep in cots in their offices. When you're a salaried employee, you don't get time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours a week.

You're expected—and your typical IT work ethic demands—that you put in the time required to get the job done. That means you stay late or you drag a laptop back and forth and put in extra hours from home.

In exchange for those hours of your life, you deserve some compensatory time off.

It's your perk as a professional
There's an unwritten law among IT people—and among any other professional people I have known—that on-demand comp time is part of the professional's compensation package. IT people who put in the hours "as required" should be able to take time off "as needed."

Unfortunately, too many IT people work extra hours without getting any compensatory time off. They get stressed, make mistakes, and hate their jobs, all because they didn't assert their right to comp time.

The at-least-10-fer
If you haven't already discussed it, do it today, after you read this column: Talk to your manager about comp time. If you've routinely booked 50 or 60 hours a week for four weeks in a row, you can say something like, "I'd like to trade the 20 or 30 extra hours from the last few weeks for this Friday off." (The assumption here is that you won't be required to debit your "vacation," "personal," or "paid time off" account, regardless of your company's official policy.)

Assuming you have enough sense not to ask for a day off when something "big" is happening, a smart manager will say, "No problem." A less wise manager will quibble and make you burn a vacation day. (Or you'll cave and work instead of doing what you wanted to do in your personal life.)

Mes amis, it doesn't have to be that way. Most managers don't like talking about comp time, but deep down, they know it's an integral part of the relationship between a professional person and a professional manager.

The comp time rule should apply to IT people in particular. We come in early, we stay late, and we work on systems while our users (coworkers) are home asleep. We've earned the privilege of flex time.

Here's the technique that has worked for me in dealing with clock-watching managers. I say, "Based on the eight-hour work day, I've put in 80 extra hours in the last couple of weeks, and I'm asking for 8 hours off on Friday, which is a 10-for-1 exchange!"

I wrote this column because I have a friend who let himself be used and abused by an irrational IT manager. The guy worked 70- and 80-hour weeks for months without a break. He had tons of unused vacation time, but his pathetic manager refused to give him time off the day before Thanksgiving.

One anecdote doesn't justify a blanket statement about stingy managers, I know. My point is, it's up to the smart IT professional to demand and take time off when needed—not just when your boss thinks it's okay.
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