A Dunce's Need for Flextime Before Such a Thing Existed

While flextime is gaining in popularity in the 2010s, one Pulitzer Prize-winning author used the idea to paint his most famous character as a lazy employee by 1960s standards.

January 29, 2014

This is my first official post on my newly created blog. My first post, regarding generational conflicts during the Civil War, initially appeared as a guest post on “Work in Progress.”

While trying to come up with a name for this blog, I thought maybe I’d pay homage to one of my favorite literary characters: Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist in John Kennedy Toole’s novel “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

“Dunces” is (pretty much) the only novel written by Toole, and many consider it a masterpiece of Southern American literature. The novel won Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. Auxiliary stories of the novel’s long road to publication, its author’s untimely death at 31, and the many failed attempts to turn it into a motion picture (which is happening again) are all as fascinating as the novel itself. Check out the novel’s Wikipedia page if you’re interested.

The story follows the Quixotic adventures of Ignatius through the French Quarter in the early 1960s. A fair portion of the novel is driven by Ignatius’s interactions with his co-workers and employers. So I thought I’d be able to pick out some funny little phrase from one of his workplace quotes to use as my blog’s title. Nothing really worked. Bummertown.

I did, however, find inspiration for my first official blog post. This gem:

“I avoid that bleak first hour of the working day during which my still sluggish senses and body make every chore a penance. I find that in arriving later, the work which I do perform is of a much higher quality.”

Ignatius’s need to start work later is supposed to reinforce his comic slothfulness. He really just wants to work one less hour. If he were allowed to start at 10, he’s surely the kind of guy who would wait until 11 to actually start doing anything, and still leave at five with the rest of his co-workers.

It’s interesting to compare 1960s perceptions of what makes a lazy employee to those of today. To me, that quote illustrates how those perceptions have changed over the past 50 years. Where Toole was attempting to make his protagonist appear lazy by 1960s standards for wanting to start his work day later than usual, it’s likely an employer nowadays would be open to letting Ignatius come into the office around 10 a.m., if it would help him be more productive overall.

Throughout the novel, Ignatius often complains he lives in the wrong era. Instead he wishes he’d been born in the Middle Ages, and he pines for a more stable life lived under a “strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king who has some knowledge of geometry and theology.” Perhaps he’d have been a better fit in the early 21st century, where he could participate in Renaissance fairs and an employer would’ve been sympathetic to his need for a flexible work schedule.

Of course, an employee who claims they work better during unorthodox hours could be nothing more than a regular Ignatius J. Reilly. But then again, if a worker says they do their best work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., why not let them prove it? Why miss out on the chance to get a full eight hours of productivity, rather than six? Sounds like it’s worth at least a one-week test period to find out for sure. 

Until Later,

Maximillian J. Miheilch, Your Working Boy

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.