There exists an unusual conflict in my role as parent of a primary school student. On one hand, I sometimes think he gets too much homework (God forbid he should read this any time soon), especially on sunny days when it gets darker later. We appear to be in the middle of a national panic about our children becoming too overweight and not getting enough exercise; maybe this needs to be reflected more in the curriculum at primary school level. I’d rather he run around in the garden and fall off the trampoline than sit inside chanting the four times tables at me. On the other hand, I find myself turning into a Victor Meldrew-style character when he comes in the door and gleefully announces that he ‘got homework off’.
I splutter with indignation: ‘Homework off again? What sort of holiday camp are they running in there?!’ Obviously it’s my duty to switch to Grumpy Old Dad mode and start harrumphing and lecturing him about how things were back in my day, even though it secretly amuses and intrigues me when he gets let off with the homework. The reasons can vary greatly. 6th class won the county final? Homework off! Gertrude from 1st class came joint third in the Community Games under-7s macramé finals? Homework off! Barry from senior infants got a new baby sister? Homework off! There’s an ‘R’ in the month? Homework off!
While I feel my position should be one of obligatory disapproval, I’m also delighted for him to be out running around playing; childhood is very short these days. Then a thought struck me as I watched the Tom Hanks movie ‘Big’ for the umpteenth time last weekend. Imagine if we applied the same benefits and privileges from primary school to the adult working world? Wouldn’t it be marvellous to be rewarded for random achievements and happenings in your place of work?
Imagine if the boss let everyone off an hour early because Larry from accounts scored a hat trick at his weekly five-a-side game. Supposing everybody got a half day because Eileen in sales was runner up in her local Credit Union design-a-calendar competition; wouldn’t that be great? Last month I was part of a table quiz team which clinched second place in my local GAA club’s annual Monster Raffle & Quiz Night Fund Drive. Although there were only three teams who showed up on the night, it was a pretty impressive victory. Did my employer celebrate by letting us all have a long weekend with the Monday off? Not a chance of it, I was told in an email from the CEO and board of directors. There was also talk of ‘wasting company time blah blah’ and it being a ‘p45 matter’, but I deleted it after a cursory scan so I’m not sure what they were on about.
I am undeterred, however, in exploring the potential workplace benefits of these kinds of benefits. Perhaps trade unions should consider this approach in negotiations. Employers and public sector pay bosses aren’t terribly keen on salary raises, as we know, so why shouldn’t union officials start angling for ‘work off’ or half days or an extra fifteen minutes for lunch? The only drawback is if employers agree but want to develop the notion further by adopting the punitive techniques used in primary education. Remember how annoying it was when the teacher would punish the entire class because of the actions of one individual? I don’t really think I’d like to have five minutes docked from little break as punishment for Derek using Maureen’s cheese spread from the communal fridge without asking her permission first, even though it was clearly labelled ‘Maureen’s cheese spread’.
Also, I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable with being asked to stand in the corner if, for example, I was in trouble for making personal phone calls or some such misdemeanour. You could imagine the conversation between a visitor to my workplace and the receptionist: ‘Who’s the weirdo standing there staring at the wall?’ ‘Oh that’s Joe, he works here; he ran up a big phone bill ringing his mate in Australia.’
There is one custom, perhaps no longer observed by primary schools, which existed when I was a child. I’d love to see it adopted in the working world, even more than half days or extra lunch time. Remember the odd occasion when we got a blistering hot day during early summer and the teacher would agree to have class outside? Yes, that would be a rather nice treat in your job contract. What could be better than escaping from the office and working outside during the sunny days of summer, especially if we’ve another glorious season like last year? Start negotiating with your employers now; they might just go for it.