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My co-worker gets more perks than me. What do I do?

The question

I work for a large corporation that recently introduced a flex/telecommuting initiative. My senior manager has two managers reporting under him that are given different levels of flexibility. I get to work from home only once a week but put in long hours in general. He gives me a lot of work to do and tight timelines. My peer, on the other hand, has more flexibility, never works overtime and is given a lot of leeway on timelines. When he does work from home, he is calling in to conference calls while doing errands (we can hear the check-out line at the grocery store, cars honking). My boss has told me to be at home when working offsite. I found out recently (from a reliable resource who overheard him) that my boss gives my peer more flexibility because he is married, has kids and needs a better work-life balance than I do. (I am living with a guy, with no kids, eldercare). I am beyond furious! For the past year I have been told it is because of my type of job. What do I do? Tell HR? Demand to work three days at home and see what happens?

The answer

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Now … don't get me wrong. I've spent a great chunk of my adult life "working from home." And certainly I believe great work can emanate from one's domicile.

Nobel-Prize-for-literature shoo-in Philip Roth works from home. Vincent van Gogh painted some of his greatest pictures working from "the yellow house" (and environs) in Arles, France (along with Paul Gauguin, who also cranked out some pretty snappy canvases whilst residing in that abode).

Throughout his life, Winston Churchill earned most of his money through writing, which he did from his beautiful, high-ceilinged study in Chartwell House, retiring at 11 with a gaggle of secretaries and stenographers and dictating into the wee hours.

All the above-mentioned gentlemen obviously reached the very apotheosis of human achievement while "working from home."

But with some people, you just don't buy it. I had a friend whose boss would claim to be "working from home" a lot, but never really clued in to the mechanics of the "call display" function on phones. Her boss would call: "Listen, I'm working from home today, I just feel like I can get more done from here, without all the distractions of the office."

Meanwhile, the call display would read "Flora's Hair and Nail Salon."

It sounds to me like you're mostly envious of the cushiness/goldbricking aspect of working from home and want to be doing errands during conference calls and so forth yourself.

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But surely the times are such that, when it comes to work, we can no longer afford to concentrate on who gets what and how the various perks are apportioned. When our main concern is no longer: "Oooh, so-and-so has a cushier gig than I do."

(Unless you work for the government, in which case: Congratulations and carry on!)

Where's the fire in your belly, the gnawing urge to strive, succeed, get ahead? Why are you so concerned about your colleague's cushy perks and work-from-home lifestyle?

It doesn't seem right to punish one colleague and prefer another based on their respective domestic arrangements. I've heard anecdotally of quite a few of these cases, where a family man or woman is given greater flex time, and it's assumed childless people will work long hours and have no life outside the office; even though I am a family man myself, it seems unfair.

But it's kind of a hazy "right" around which to base a confrontational/HR-involved type scenario, I would think - and I wouldn't go that route.

Rather, I would go to your boss and try to make a positive case for why you deserve more work-from-home flex time. I'm not sure what the word "eldercare" means in your question, it's just sort of dangling there, but if you're saying you care for an aging relative, you could play that up.

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Mostly, though, I would try to make the case that you would perform better and be a greater asset to the organization if you were given the opportunity to work from home more.

And if you are given that opportunity, I'm sorry to harp on this, but being the person I am (ambitious, never satisfied), I can't help it: Maybe you should take advantage of your newly acquired down time - oops, I mean flex time - to take a look at where you are in your career.

Maybe you're in the wrong line of work. If you find something you truly enjoy you'll want to work hard at it, do a good job and become one of the best.

I mean, I realize not everyone can be a Roth, van Gogh or Churchill. But you can bring passion and excellence to what you do.

"A [person]rsquo;s reach should exceed his grasp - or what's a heaven for?" as Robert Browning said.

I never quite understood the last bit of that quote. But if you're just spinning your wheels in some job and can think only how to make it cushier and are envious of others with better perks, then you're in a weird kind of career limbo, bub, and should start striving for something higher.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.

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