The Work Guilt Problem
By this point, you’ve probably considered moving to France. If not for the croissants, culture and cafes, then maybe for the country's view on round-the-clock work.
You may have read the news item about a new French accord — it spread quickly in the United States. Here’s the gist: In the land of wine (whine?) and cheese, labor unions and corporate representatives agreed to limit after-hours e-mails and phone calls on remote devices. They cited the importance of enough employee “rest time” and balance as the reason behind the move.
It’s important to note that this does not apply to every worker in France — just to 250,000 employees of consulting, computing and polling firms — but it’s still an interesting piece of information that is representative of the French view on work/life balance — and, subsequently, on employees' health.
This new ruling is in addition to France’s 35-hour workweek and generous amounts of vacation time.
Far be it from me to agree with French policy, but this stance is something we could desperately use here. For the most part, we’re a country full of paranoid, obsessive workers. Our mobile devices, and our addiction to them, exacerbate this. According to the Pew Research Center, 44% of Americans sleep with our cell phones next to the bed to avoid missing calls, texts or emails during the night.
I’m one of them, and I’ve realized that having work email on my phone can be a very bad thing. It’s all too easy to constantly check it. It’s even easier to respond right away, since it’s one less thing to do the next day — at least that’s how I rationalize it. Plus, there’s the perception that waiting hours, or until the next day, to reply can make you look like a slacker.
My recent issue: My new iPhone now vibrates every time I get a new work email. I’m pretty sure it’s glitched, too, as I’ve tried to turn it off repeatedly and then it goes off again (awesome!). Basically, work haunts me at all hours.
Plus, in my job in news, I’m constantly scouring news items online. Instead of reading about what I might want to during my off hours — you know, important subjects like literature, theater and, of course, celebrities — I find myself looking at every news item about PPACA and health care.
Life-work balance is the struggle we all like to talk about. But it’s the struggle we don’t like to fix. And it comes down to guilt.
My colleagues and I discussed working from home not too long ago. All of us sheepishly admitting it made us feel guilty, like others would think we’re slacking; though, a slew of evidence, including frequent story and blog postings, proved otherwise.
That’s the thing, too: Working from home often makes each of us more productive, not only because we’re (seemingly) not interrupted and not wasting time commuting to and from work, but because we make sure to work harder and longer so we don’t lose the privilege.
Essentially, it’s about guilt.
Work guilt is all too common. It’s one reason we feel compelled to check emails at all hours of the night. Setting boundaries, as the French do, will not only keep us from feeling resentful about our workplace, but it’s also vital to our health.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: Research shows that working long hours — and not disconnecting from the office — puts us at risk for heart disease, depression, mental decline, burnout and a host of other terrifying problems. And without the health of employees, what good is the company?
Maybe it’s time I took some French lessons, ’cause France is sounding pretty good to me.
Or, at the very least, maybe it’s time I visit an Apple store to fix my phone.
I really don’t need to be reminded of my work emails all. the. time.
Kathryn Mayer is managing editor for Benefits Selling magazine, a sister publication of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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