Ever since the time of portable computers to the current paradigm of everything on the handheld device, be it mobile, tablet or the laptop, work transgressed the boundaries of what was earlier a 9X5 or whatever hours people worked, and the dividing line between what was referred to as work and life has disappeared. It is normal to expect a response to a mail 24X7 and many obliged. In an interconnected world with business being conducted across timezones, this became a way of life. Umpteen cases have reflected the damage this phenomena causes to friends, family and the individual.
As we grew up through school, there was a sense of relief that there will be no homework when we start attending a job in an enterprise. The irony of the situation is that work has expanded to fill all the time beyond the cubicle or cabin reaching the bedroom permeating every nook and corner of life, threatening to follow like the shadow.
So a debate on work life balance is an exercise in intellectual stimulation; reality for most executives is that balance is a utopian state never to be reached with the swing all the way towards work. So if work activities are standard fare, why not allow the life to creep into the workplace ? Why do organizations abhor the thought of employees occasionally checking personal email or posting a few updates on social or micro-blog sites but expect them to work on the presentation or spread sheet while traveling or in their homes ? Security is one of the justifications and then corporate data travels all over the world. Consultants will tout productivity loss due to distractions not recognizing the gains in after office hours.
This is more so now with the IT function with networks, ERP systems, messaging and collaboration, you name it is buzzing with activity through the day and night. Downtime ? What’s that ? And scheduled downtime shifts again and again until the breakpoint is imminent. CIOs struggle to retain teams engaged in keeping these running. Weekends, holidays, vacations belong to an era gone by; the executive is now chained on a WIFI, GPRS or 3G network which cannot be unshackled.
IT and work policies straightjacket the behaviour on premise and often off premises too when using corporate assets like the laptop, smartphone or others. We all accept these as a way of life. Progressive organizations have taken a lenient view of some digression, as of date they are the exception. I believe that productivity will be higher when knowledge workers have the flexibility to escape a few times. Unfortunately there are no empirical data or solutions to validate this. Contradictory claims make such decisions difficult while burnouts continue. Incidences of fatality are getting younger with stress induced by work pressures and lifestyles that may get promotions, but what is a promotion worth when you are dead ?
I don’t know what can help alleviate the issue; unless life is allowed to creep into the work hours.
P.S. I wrote this past the midnight hour on Saturday