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 they’re 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’s 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
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
•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
•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.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
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