The option to work from home can make employees feel like they are trusted and respected and can be a big boost to quality of life, especially in cities with long commutes. But what about when it seems like flex time is available to everyone in the office but you?
Psychologist Art Markman helps this reader examine whether she’s being unfairly singled out.
Everyone at my office (a government agency with a staff of seven) is allowed to work from home at least one day a week, most anytime they want. I am the only employee without the privilege. There is no written policy regarding working from home. Is this discrimination? Is it unfair? Or should I just get over it?
Over the past several years, there has been an increasing trend to give employees more flexibility in when and where they work. Flexible work time can make people more productive, particularly as they balance obligations at work with those of family. However, the ability for some employees to work when and where they choose can cause morale problems for those who are not given that opportunity.
From your description, it does not sound like discrimination in the legal sense. There are many reasons why someone would not have the chance to work from home. Some workplaces have a probationary period when people work in the office before they are entrusted with the opportunity to work from home. Other offices need at least one person who spends each day in the office to ensure there is continuity. In addition, there are some job functions that are hard to do from home. Because of the many factors that govern work from home, it would be hard (and probably pointless) to try to prove discrimination.
The next question is whether it is unfair. The answer to that question depends a bit on the particular reason that you are not able to work from home. For that, you really need to talk with your supervisor and find out what reason they have for giving others the chance to work from home, but not you. That will at least help you to understand what is going on. And if the answer has to do either with your job function or concerns about your job performance, then you may not like the answer, but it is not unfair.
It may turn out that when you talk about this with your supervisor, there are conditions you can reach where you will be able to work from home some time in the future. That is one value of having this conversation.
The third part of your question is probably the most important. Regardless of whether you ultimately believe that it is unfair that others get to work at home and you do not, you have to decide whether you should just get over it.
In every aspect of your life, it is easy to get caught up in concepts of fairness. From the start, though, life is manifestly unfair. People are born in different circumstances. They are given different educational opportunities based on factors like socioeconomic status over which they have no control. People get treated differently by others based on factors like physical attractiveness that have no real bearing on their other abilities.
One of the biggest lessons we have to learn is which of life’s unfairnesses is worth fighting and which should just be accepted. People are free to disagree about the relative importance of different issues. I don’t think this one is worth doing battle over. You have a stable job that probably pays a fair wage. If you let this issue slide (rather than getting angry about it), you will probably be much happier at work, and you’ll be a better colleague.
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