Presence vs. Productivity

Throughout my administrative career in university positions, I have been challenged by the traditional work schedule and accompanying expectation of work between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.   In some instances, the expectation was a criterion on the annual performance evaluation.  Of course I always scored poorly, but even though I did not work a traditional work day, I produced more than an average day’s work.

During university employment processes, it is important that we understand a candidate’s personal and professional differences.  We must consider whether the employee‘s contribution to the organization is more valuable than his adherence to a rigid, traditional work schedule.  Are we employing the person for her body or mind?  Surely we need both, but as an employer, can we tolerate the idiosyncrasy of an employee who works every day both onsite and offsite, adheres to the traditional work schedule 80% of the time, accomplishes tasks in a timely manner, is present for meetings and activities as expected, and routinely produces exceptional  work?  With the advent of flex time, telecommuting, and knowledge of disparate body clocks, we must consider the importance of “presence versus productivity”. 

Conversely, a prospective employer might expect a candidate for an administrative university position to disclose such challenges during the interview.  One opportunity to do so is when responding to the traditional question, “What do you consider to be your greatest weakness/strength? “  Persons challenged by the traditional work schedule, however, may not disclose this as a strength or weakness, especially if they consider productivity to be more important than physical presence.


D. A. Buchanan is a 30-year higher education administrator and a member of the educational leadership graduate faculty of a historically black university in the southeast United States.

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