There is a very frustrating and disturbing trend going on right now in our country and it has been going on a for a while. Most people say that their boss expects them to be available 24 hours a day seven days a week. I'm often on client conference calls, and we hear strange background noises. When someone asks what the noise is someone on the call says that their calling in while they are on vacation. What? That is so crazy. I get emails from clients at any time day or night Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. People tell me that at lunch time, they grab food and then go back to their desks and work while they are eating. When I talk to people about taking breaks in the morning or in the afternoon, they just chuckle and say "what is a break?" Here is today's big news- the 9-to-5 job is dead. People talk about living a life of balance but how do you do that when work is sapping your soul?
So what the hell is happening in organizations? We are requiring people to work nonstop seven days a week, with no lunches and no breaks! What is going on? Parents at the soccer field on Saturday are sitting in the bleachers answering emails. They are on work calls. Have we all gone mad? When I ask people there seems to be several contributing factors causing this:
•It's expected- It seems as if the bosses of the world now expect people to reply to an email or text message or phone call no matter what day or what time of day or night it is. Husbands and wife tell their spouses they are no longer allowed to bring their work cell phone into the bedroom because it is buzzing all on the bedside table all night long. People tell me that they are afraid to not respond on the weekend, because of the repercussions and it may have on their job and career. No boss wants to be the one who backs off, and doesn't work 80 hours a week.
•It's implied- If someone works at a company and no one else takes breaks in the morning and no one else takes breaks in the afternoon, then they realize that taking a break may make them look like they are a slacker because they will be the only one. So the idea of not being allowed to take a break is implied, and implication is a very powerful tool for influencing people to do what you want.
•There is pressure- Every organization seems to be doing more with less and everyone's workload seems to be increased, so therefore the view is that we do not have time to take breaks, to stop working at lunch, or to not work on the weekends. There is overall increased pressure to perform. Get stuff done or someone else will.
So how do we solve it?
•Leadership- I think it is time for leaders to realize that people need life balance in order to be productive, to be healthy and to not suffer from burnout and stress. With all of the latest emphasis on health and wellness I'm surprised that this has not become a bigger issue. I think leaders need to stop talking a big game about life balance (which is a joke) and start living it and start insisting that people actually go home to have dinner with their family. Another way of teaching this is to model it themselves. Go home and stop living at work.
•Make it a corporate value- Many organizations have mission and vision and value statements, I think we should weave into the value statements of the organization. Include the value of life balance and of taking breaks. This will increase morale, increase productivity and dramatically shape how people feel about work. Insist that people not work on vacation, insist that they take breaks, and insist that they take time for lunch.
•Employees must take a stand- One of the reasons why companies keep asking people to work 24 seven is when their arm is twisted hard enough, people will relent and do it. I think it is time for employees to take a stand and say to their boss, "I'm sorry I will give you my all during the week, but I will not be answering emails and phone calls on Saturday and Sunday unless it is an emergency."
Modern technology was supposed to make things easier and faster and create less work but that promise was a false one- we just got busier. We need to a realize we are all human and we have to start taking better care of ourselves as human beings at work, not workers who happen to be human beings. We need to take a marker and redraw the lines and set boundaries again between work and our personal lives. Let's get our souls back and go home when the sun is still up and hug our kids.