A couple of articles I’ve read recently point to the contradictions in the way we work now. Here we are, in the 21st century, with a whole raft of technology literally at our fingertips, enabling us to work almost anywhere in the world and interface seamlessly with the groups we’re involved in, be they our employers, our customers or our social networks. (One article was in the German newspaper, ‘Die Zeit’, and featured an interview with the founder of Facebook, who proudly mentions Obama as ‘the first Facebook president’.)
The first thing that struck me is that the new technology is both a blessing and a curse. There is an expectation now that we are constantly ‘on call’. Having been self-employed for the past 12 years, I have often enjoyed being able to work from the comfort of my own home. Writing or thinking in the uninterrupted peace and quiet of my study is always a pleasure. However, there is a tendency for the edges between home and work life to blur and bleed into each other. Occasionally, I have found myself checking emails and downloading psychology articles long after ‘office hours’ and have to tell myself that it will all wait until the morning. Likewise, the executive making calls from the beach is a reality and for me, a red alert. Work and leisure are increasingly becoming ‘weisure’, as a piece in the Guardian called it.
The contradiction for me seems to be that many organisations are still stuck in the days of the industrial revolution. There is a distinct lack of flexibility in working hours. Flexibility, research suggests, is sought by men and women employees alike. There appears to be a stubborn reluctance to recognise that employees have lives outside work: families, dependents, even an interest in seeing some daylight hours. Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man, given all this technological wizardry, to see beyond the strict confines of the 9 to 5? As Philip Larkin (evidently not a big fan of work) put it: “Why should I let the toad work/Squat on my life” adding that he could surely “use [his] wit as a pitchfork / and drive the brute off.”
Generation Y-ers have maybe seen the light: there needs to be a balance between work and other bits of life. Work can be enjoyable and extremely satisfying, but it’s just one part of life. We only get one go. Let’s hope, with a little applied creativity, the Y’s (pun intended) can challenge some of the rigid working practices that still exist in many offices, without being at the organisation’s electronic beck and call 24 hours a day.