Monday, January 21, 2013

Finding balance

It seems to me that the lines between our personal and work lives are becoming more and more blurred. They may not even exist for some people. I think much of it has to do with the prevalence of technology and social media and how easy these make connecting to others at all hours; we can be connected 24/7 to family and friends, so why not to colleagues and bosses as well? I know employees who can never let go of work, or vice versa--their bosses and workplaces can never let go of them. These employees leave their workplaces, go home, eat dinner, and work some more, sometimes right up until they go to sleep. Or they accept phone calls and answer text messages from bosses, colleagues and/or clients the entire evening. They never shut their phones off; they check their work emails constantly. They are on when they should be off; they are available to their workplaces when they should be doing other things. Those other things include having a personal life, a family life, a social life, a hobby or two, or doing volunteer work, or maybe just time out for meditation, relaxation, reading a good book or watching a film. The odd thing is that these people travel to an actual workplace each day; they do not work at home. Somehow they have a harder time physically and mentally separating themselves from their workplace than many of those I know who work at home or who work several days a week at home. I am not sure why that is; it would certainly be worth studying. It seems as though working at home forces those who do it to make rules for when they are available and when they are not, and they have learned to enforce those rules.

If a workplace expects the majority of its employees to be available at all hours or to finish work at home, I call that tyranny. Possible exceptions include high-level leaders in times of crisis. If employees cannot let go of their workplaces and must be connected to them and their work at all times, I call that idolatry, especially if there is a certain amount of arrogance attached to the worship of work. These are the people who could choose not to idolize their jobs, but they choose otherwise. Not being able to let go of work can also be a form of addiction. The latter can sneak up on employees after several months of taking work home because they are interested in finishing up an interesting project or because they want the answer to the question now. And taking work home every now and then, by choice, is much different than being forced to do so by your workplace. But over time, the results can be the same. Employees become slaves to their work and to their workplaces. They cannot put their work aside; it preoccupies them to the point of nervousness and anxiety, which is not healthy in the long run. This happened to me a number of times during the past twenty years, I would take work home and stay up to all hours in order to complete it. But what happened was that one project would get finished, and then two more would take its place, and so on. My point is that we will never be finished with our work. It will always be there waiting for us the next day. It is absolutely fine, totally ok, to pick up the next day where we left off the day before, after an evening of rest, relaxation and a good night’s sleep. It is important to have balance in our lives. More to the point, it is important to maintain balance in our lives, because it is so easily lost to or disturbed by workplace tyranny, idolatry, or addiction. And that means shutting off the phone, not looking at work emails, not 'checking in', and not being available; no matter how much it plagues us (or tyrannical workplaces) in the beginning. It means cutting the cord and not worshipping on the altar of work. The rewards are that we find ourselves again in the process of deprogramming ourselves, and we find balance in our lives. It does not mean that we no longer enjoy our work, rather that we enjoy it within the context of a balanced life. 

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