Once upon a time, you left work at 5 p.m. and when you arrived home, that was also your time.
It is a story we can add to all the other once-upon-a-time tales from our past to tell our grandchildren. “When I was your age, there was no Internet and no computers.”
The blending of work time and play time is advantageous to employers. Many of us work many hours beyond our contracted work time. My son works on Wall Street and easily doubles the traditional 35 or 40 hour work week with his nighttime and weekend work inside and outside the office.
It may be great for the company, but it is detrimental to the employee.
We can point to technology as a good part of why this has happened. Widespread Wi-Fi coverage, smart phones, ultra-portable computers have made the separation blur and perhaps disappear between work and play.
Once upon a time, work was something you did in a location separated from your home. That location had the tools and resources needed and when you left you really couldn’t work anymore.
To a degree, that is still true. Hospital doctors don’t bring patients home. Mechanics don’t work on cars in their driveway. But almost all of us do bring work home now. Doctors and mechanics do paperwork, billing, reports, emails and more at home.
I have been a teacher for many years. Whether it was middle school, high school, or now college, it was understood that you were going to prepare lessons and grade papers outside that classroom time. If you want to piss off a teacher, tell them how lucky they are that their job ends at 3 o’clock.
I guess my teaching practice requirements trained me to be a “good employee” who worked almost every night at home and spent a part of every week and most vacations preparing. It was the rare teacher who could do their work in their 45 minute “prep period” or stayed in the classroom an extra hour or so after school and didn’t bring work home. It certainly wasn’t the English teachers in my department.
Once upon a time, an office worker might have stayed late some days or gone into the office on the weekend for a few hours to catch up or get ahead, but it wasn’t the norm.
Today, the electronic tethers make it hard to feel like you are ever really away from work. Some business people carried two phones – one for work and one for personal use – but even that is changing. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approaches in organizations make that phone or computer do double duty. It is “convenient” to only carry one device, but it also merges the two worlds.
During my last vacation, I was teaching an online course and needed to check in every day, answer questions and post new material. It was convenient for me that I could be away and still teach. But I felt guilty about working when my wife wanted to go out and do something. I felt guilty about bringing work to the hotel poolside. I felt guilty if I ignored the class for a day to play.
Actually, “play” may be the wrong term for me to use for this piece. Much of that non-work time is still more work than play. Household chores, preparing meals, childcare and computer tasks like paying personal bills and shopping may be closer to work than play. Still, it is YOUR work and it needs to be done.
One way I had tried to separate between my work life and my “real” life and play online was to not use my home computer for work. I have a work laptop and I wanted to use that exclusively for work even if done at home. Close that laptop and work ended.
But it wasn’t successful. My bookmarks and browsers sync, so my work and play had also synced. What I’m doing now is to creating multiple user accounts on the machines. It’s easy to do on Windows 7 and Mac OS X. That means when I sign in as Ken at Play, I do not see work applications. (This is sometimes referred to as “container technology.”) I’m also trying to use Chrome for work and Firefox for play.
At some point during the day, you have to shut down work email, calls etc. It’s sad how frightened some people have become about actually turning off the phone or laptop. The “What If” is paralyzing. Maybe NSA people and ER surgeons can’t do it, but many of us can.
I often read pieces about technology holidays and getting off the grid for a weekend, but most of those are about looking up from screens where we are “playing.” Checking personal email, looking at Facebook, checking what new photos are online and playing games are not work, but they may not qualify as true play either.
I do all my “homework” – the paid and unpaid kinds – from my home office and when I painted it and redid the layout this past summer I set it up with 2 desks. One looks out the window and is for my personal writing, bills and some daydreaming. The other desk faces a wall and is devoted to work. The things left on each desk are books and papers related to that domain.
I wish I had the luxury of two offices at home so that I could literally close the door on work, but this is my best compromise. Do I ever roll my chair from one desk to the other? Yes, but it’s happening less often and it now represents a very clear shift that I am much more aware of than earlier when everything was piled together and both world did merge.
My title for this piece recalls that phrase “separation of church and state.” That is a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson and others and it was quoted by the United States Supreme Court in 1878, and then in a series of later cases. But “separation of church and state” itself does not appear in the United States Constitution. Like my work and play separation, it is a concept rather than a law. I think both concepts are important and should be followed. In the case of separating work from the rest of your life, you have to make it law and enforce it.