Sunday, June 24, 2012

Something wrong with the way we work?

Harvard Business School recently started a blog thread that asks, "Is something wrong with the way we work?"  

The 39 comments illustrate how passionate many feel about the need to find the right balance between connecting and disconnecting in our personal/professional lives (note that the slash here indicts a fine line between the two).

A thematic summary of those posts suggests that in relation to hyper-connectivity and work/life balance:

1. Technology is not the main culprit here, it is primarily a personal, social and/or organizational issue.

2. Corporate culture (like the one Leslie Perlow studied) plays a role in promoting a 'cult of constant availability' and workaholism.

3. National culture also plays a key role.  In particular American culture is compared to European culture, which still values more or less taking holidays and keeping weekends work-free.  A common observation is that Americans simply don't have (or take) enough vacation time to even understand its full value in terms of re-creation, regeneration, and resilience.

4. Individuals have to make choices, but such choices are not easily made given such socio-cultural pressures to be connected anywhere and all the time.  Balancing connects and disconnects is not for the faint of heart.

5. Leaders are implicated in all this for being overly focused on short-term goals and for not establishing boundaries in their own work behaviors--i.e., for setting bad examples.  Thoughtful and healthy work settings require thoughtful leadership.

There is a bias in the HBR blog commentaries. The majority of comments--many of which are actually from executive coaches and academics--are focused on highly educated professionals in industries for which it is difficult to be overly sympathetic.  Bankers, lawyers, consultants and executives have to work long hours for their massive salaries.  Oh, what a shame.  As mentioned by some commentaries, perhaps the hyper-connected sleep with their smartphone to demonstrate their self-importance? Or, as others suggest, they drive others out of their lives, so that there is no one else to sleep with?  

On the other hand, the HBR blog on this subject highlights how pervasive (mainstream) the issue of hyper-connectivity has become in corporate life.  For the curious, HBR previously sponsored a blog on 'multi-tasking' in late 2010.

On a personal note, this week I had a catch up meeting with my friend and mentor, Allan Lind at Duke.  

I also spent some time with someone who illustrates how Twitter can level the playing field, allowing individuals without traditional qualifications make their mark on the world. More on that later...

Have fun!


Sam Young said...

Hi Darl,
Whereas you discuss very cogently what lies beneath on balancing our lives, I am interested in the surface: 'what's in a name'.
I think our expectations are shaped by what we call things, so the term "work-life balance" that we use so freely is either a misnomer (or an oxymoron!). The phrase 'work-life balance' implies living and death. I feel strongy that the name for the opposite of life should not be work.
I feel we should just call this thing that we seek "life balance". What do you think?

Connectivity Corner said...

Hi Sam,
I totally agree that the name (and concept) of 'work-life balance' is fraught. It is not a primary area of interest for me, so my use of it has not been as conscious as it might be, so thanks for the reminder.

I also agree that work is such an important and integral part of life's meaning that we should not make it sound like something to be countered.

Here is a another question for you: Is 'balance' what we are really seeking? Or, is there another term for the dynamic of sometimes being full-on and other times more relaxed, reflective? What do you think?

Sam Young said...

Hi Darl,
For me, 'balance' does sum it up: I am not talking about a 'moderate' life, when I use balance.

I think that throughout our lives we have times of frenetic activity, and times of total relaxation. We have times of anger, times of sadness, times of joy and times of peace. We have times of hardship and times of comfort. Taken all in all, I think a life well-lived will have balance.

That is not saying that at times we don't need to make corrections because we are becoming unbalanced: periods of illness are usually an indicator of that...

I am still a fan of 'balance' as a term :-)

Connectivity Corner said...

Hi Sam,

Yes, it's hard to beat balance.

I have been wondering about a 'duality' between being 'on' and 'off', where one state is interlinked, yet separate from the other. Not sure if this makes sense.

An example of duality is where individuals make up teams and teams are made of individuals, yet individuals can never be a team and a team cannot exist without individuals.