Presence and availability culture revisited

by Nov 21, 2019

It’s time we revisit the availability culture in the workplace

One of the many challenges women face in the workplace is the widespread existence of a “presence culture” in male-dominated corporate organisations.  

Here, highly visible long working hours are rewarded. Motivated (or pressurised)  employees feel they have to make themselves available for their employer. The arrival of the smart phone has meant that this is extended to 24/7 corporate on-call availability. The presence culture, or its cousin the availability culture, is proving to be an effective barrier to women in a corporate setting who neither have the time or inclination to be part of this business model.

availability culture

Mental health for men

In recent years, we are seeing a heightened awareness around mental health issues for men caused by among other things a culture of overwork. Oddly, this could produce some bonuses for women. If the basic concept of a presence and availability culture is being re-examined and questioned, then we can only benefit. The thinking behind it is not ideal. In theory, we should strive for corporate cultures where men and women can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. But if the drive for men to take care of themselves and redefine traditional male values,  produces a win for women. We would be foolish not to take it.

Overwork is counter-productive

Historically the 8-hour day was designed to protect the rights of manual workers. Three decades ago, more highly qualified employees were less likely to work longer hours compared to lower-paid and less qualified. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that 94% worked 50 hours or more a week. Furthermore, almost half worked in excess of 65 hours a week. The made-coded Boomer work ethics characterise this workplace culture. Their work-centric focus is on hierarchy, power, and prestige. As a result, successful people now work longer hours than ever. This would also explain similar overwork cultures found in Silicon Valley, populated by younger men. In Europe, there is a European Work-time Directive. This limits the average working time for each seven-day period to 48 hours, including overtime, but it has made little impact.

availability culture

Downside for women

Research from Harvard Business School Prof. Robin J. Ely, suggests that men in the early stages of their careers feel they need to sacrifice family life to advance their careers. Many women, on the other hand, are not willing (or are unable) to make that undertaking. As such, they either opt-out or take a break when family decisions become critical. This generally happens when women hit the mid-30s mark. Prof. Ely notes that life and career goals in older survey participants were “remarkably aligned” with their male counterparts. They tended to talk about “giving back to society” and raising healthy families.

Learn how to navigate the many, often invisible, barriers that you face as a woman with our specialised Career Coaching for Women.

New initiatives gaining traction

But are we starting to see a shift? Campaigns to reduce stress and the hours worked are attracting high-profile men of all ages. They encourage them to talk about mental health issues, which has raised awareness around these issues.

We can see this in Japan, which is the male suicide country of the world. Due to this unhappy statistic, employers are being exhorted to find solutions to combat a culture of overwork. Microsoft trialed a four-day work-week in its Japanese offices in August this year. They established that employees were not only happier, but also significantly more productive. At the end of the trial, the company concluded that the shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings. Furthermore, they had happier workers and it boosted productivity by a significant 40%.

availability culture

Sweden is introducing 6 hour days to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. France has introduced an initiative to impose out-of-hour contact restrictions. Importantly, this gives employees the right to disconnect at the end of the working day.

There is no doubt that gender-balanced organisations will go a long way towards overcoming organisational cultures driven by male-coded values, which are no longer fit for purpose.

3Plus offers a portfolio of gender balance solutions which includes working with you to establish an understanding of the unwritten corporate culture.


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