The Arts and Time (Off)

A good friend of mine, let’s call him “Raoul”, is an administrator with a major Canadian orchestra. He works around 60+ hours a week, which is all too typical of the time commitment required in his field. For all of his hard work, this devoted employee receives two weeks of vacation a year. 10 whole days.

What makes Raoul’s situation even more perplexing is the musicians in his orchestra receive three weeks of vacation for a season of 40 contracted weeks. Without getting into a whole management vs. union battle over who works harder and gets paid better, I suggest there should at least be some equity within the organization.

I love my employer, I really do (seriously, you’re the best and I don’t know what I would do without you. Probably starve). But I had to laugh a few months ago when I got an e-mail announcing an enhancement to the annual leave policy. I eagerly opened the message, and was greeted by news that the board had approved a sixth week of annual vacation for employees with at least 29 years of service. I will be eligible for the extra week on July 3rd, 2027.

I don’t think arts organizations appreciate the value of adequate vacation time for employees. Many arts administrators work in stressful environments, with heavy workloads, long hours, and little long-term (or even short-term) stability. Couple this with relatively low pay and limited time off, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Although an extra week or two won’t make all the problems go away, it would appear to be a relatively cost-effective way to improve the working conditions and mental health of arts workers.

Or perhaps there’s another solution…

I’ve been reading about the Results Oriented (or Results-Only) Work Environment (ROWE), which is a system that’s been adopted by a few major corporations (Best Buy, IBM) in North America. Essentially, employees are expected to get their work done in a timely manner, but when they do it is up to them. Nobody tracks vacation time, sick leave, or punches a clock. Practitioners report higher morale, lower turnover, and improved productivity. As one manager said, “Our employees are adults, and we treat them that way”.

I’d love to see a major cultural institution adopt ROWE as a pilot project. We’re supposed to be innovative and enlightened, so it seems like a natural fit. Of course, there would have to be some guidelines in place – you couldn’t decide to skip every performance, for example. Given that most arts administrators are passionate about their work, and our deadlines (i.e. concerts) are often non-negotiable, I don’t think the system would be abused.

Any takers?

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