Opinion | Have American Workers ‘Gone Soft’?

To the Editor:

Re “Is Working From Home Really Working?,” by Steven Rattner (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, March 22):

Mr. Rattner frames full-time employees’ desire to work remotely as evidence that they have “gone soft,” is skeptical that the four-day workweek enhances productivity, and calls the notion of flexible work “a form of white-collar privilege.”

For most middle-aged workers who are well educated yet economically insecure, research shows that reverence for hard work is not the problem. These workers are deeply invested in the idea that hard work is a sign of moral worth.

Workers’ earnings have stagnated in recent years despite growing productivity and record profits. The 40-hour workweek is often a 50-hour workweek (or more) because salaried employees are routinely asked to stay late or take work home.

The desire for flexible work arrangements is part of a backlash against the endless cycle of demanding more without reliable rewards, and the toll that cycle takes on family relationships and personal well-being.

Instead of shaming office workers, employers should take a hard look at their pay and scheduling practices.

Caroline Hanley
Williamsburg, Va.
The writer, an associate professor of sociology at William & Mary, is the co-author of “Work in Black and White,” about the challenges faced by Black and white workers pursuing the American dream.

To the Editor:

For me, as an autistic adult, the ability to work from home has absolutely changed my life for the better. I’ve worked in many office settings, both the run-of-the-mill type and the modern offices that pride themselves on hosting a “fun” environment, and for me, both had their distractions in droves.

Social pressures, office parties, noise, long commutes and screaming bosses are among the many things that are daunting for me to work through as an autistic person.

Currently I work from home and have a designated space to work alone where I can control the noise level and any interactions unrelated to work. I have forged friendships with my co-workers through chats and video meetings (most of my team works remotely), and I find I am much more focused and ready to work than I would be having to navigate the face-to-face social aspect of an office environment (and the judgments and prejudices of others).

Perhaps working from home may encourage a lack of effort from individuals with an already poor work ethic, but for disabled workers working from home has evened the professional playing field.

Regan May
Harper Woods, Mich.

To the Editor:

Steven Rattner is right: Working from home is not working out.

I am a small-business owner requiring three days in the office for my team of 10 people and flexible with an unlimited paid time off policy.

When we are in person, our team is more creative and collaborative. Being in person has allowed me to learn about my colleagues, their working style and how to best manage each of them. We can also give feedback better when we are in person. And we can see the kindness and generosity of helping one another that does not come across in a video call.

I hope more and more people start to agree with Mr. Rattner and start returning to offices.

Laura Gross

To the Editor:

Steven Rattner cites conversations with executives who believe that working from home is less productive than being in the office, and yet he provides no quantitative studies to support these claims. Moreover, he doesn’t cite any similar conversations with us lowly non-executives who manage our own time.

Today in the office, I had a single offhand conversation with my manager, as well as made small talk with colleagues. These chats would just as easily occur over the phone or instant messaging, and they certainly don’t justify the 2.5 hours of my life lost to commuting.

My wife has worked remotely for most of her 20-year career, and she’s one of the hardest workers I know. She’s on her laptop late into the evening, catching up on work because she — as the spouse who works from home — must prepare our son and shuttle him to and from day care.

Mr. Rattner claims that reduced productivity from working from home will result in a “lower standard of living.” But when I compare my weekly wasted commute with my wife’s flexible schedule, it’s clear to me who has the better life.

Jonathan Carey
Chatham, N.J.

To the Editor:

It’s so clear that a man wrote this essay. Ask any working mom, and she will tell you that she never works an eight-hour day and comes home to a beer or glass of wine, and then repeats that the next day.

The second shift continues to be ignored, and if Steven Rattner understood the demands placed on working moms, he wouldn’t be so quick to ask, “Has America gone soft?”

Kate Richmond
The writer is a professor of psychology and director of women and gender studies at Muhlenberg College. She is co-author of “Psychology of Women and Gender.”

To the Editor:

I worked remotely long before Covid for a company that chose work from home for many reasons, including saving on office costs and using talent across the country.

Many employees who work from home actually feel they work more than they did in the office. Most mid- and higher-level jobs in all kinds of fields require getting the job done, not working set hours. Often that means working more hours. And if you happen to put a load of laundry in the wash during your “9 to 5,” that doesn’t make you less productive at work.

For many people, working at home means you’re at your desk earlier during the time you would have been commuting. It also means logging in after dinner. Work from home employees also take on the cost of maintaining an office and needed equipment, whether by using space in their homes or at a rented office or shared space outside of the home.

While working from home has its downsides, I don’t think lower productivity is truly one of them, despite what some managers are saying. An effective manager should be able to manage work without looking over their employees’ shoulders in a physical space. That’s to say nothing of the distractions that go on in a physical office: longer meetings, birthdays and other nonsense that employees aren’t always comfortable saying no to.

I now work for a company that is “remote first” and has reduced the number of offices it is maintaining. All the “real work” goes on everywhere that the employees are located.

Donna Lysak
Vestal, N.Y.

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