In the environmental consulting world, quite a few positions require extensive travel. When I first started at Terraine, I had to go out in the field for 10 to 12 days at a time approximately every 3 months. Each morning, my partner and I would meet in the hotel lobby around 6:30 am, grab muffins that had a 65-year shelf life, and hop (more like schlump) our butts into the seats of the pick-up that, because of the rain the day before, smelled a bit like wet dog.    

The conversation to the field site was more like coffee-slurp grunting, but after days of working together, it became our own language (translation = shut up, I’m tired).   One month out of the year, field conditions were pleasant, but in other months, it could be down-right miserable. Hot and humid, wet and stormy, nearly freezing (for me, that means 55 degrees), and then there were the other days – you know, hot as hell with a chance of spontaneous (human) combustion. Each day, we’d drag ourselves back to our rooms around 7:00 pm, shower, and collapse on the crunchy I-don’t-want-to-know-what-is-on-this bedspread.

There were pluses of fieldwork, too, but listing those would take away from the tone of my post, so another day…

Anyway, you know as well as I do that environmental sampling field work is both physically and emotionally challenging at times.  Some of you have to leave behind children, significant others, or a dog, and that can be hard!  I’ve heard of folks that have to be out in the field 3 weeks at a time with only several days off before the next 3-week-long event.  I’ve heard of folks that have had to work on the weekend, with no time off upon their return, and then are given a $5 gift card to a coffee shop to say thanks (ouch).

At Terraine, we started off by telling folks that if they worked a weekend, they could “take it back,” meaning they could take those 2 days off at some point the following week. Then, we implemented a non-PTO policy nonpolicy, which basically says, take time off when you need it. So if Franky the Field Fella (big fan of alliteration if you haven’t gotten that by now) goes out in the field for 10 days, including a Saturday and Sunday, and he’s still tired after 2 days off, he can take a third, fourth, or even fifth day.  Because the fact is, if Franky is still tired, got a bad sunburn, or just needs a break, he’s not going to be productive in the office anyway, and he’ll respect management for recognizing that.

What are your thoughts on how extensive field events should be handled?  How much time off should salaried employees be entitled to if they work 70 hours a week over 3 weeks? Should those positions that require extensive field work like field technician, environmental scientist, and project geologist be paid based on number of hours worked? Should folks at least be able to take their weekends back? What are the policies (or non-policies) where you work on extensive field efforts?

Written by: Karen Baer

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