Monday, April 21, 2008

Where do we draw the line?

The past few classes have really gotten me thinking about work/life balance. I recently read an article that was giving tips to IT professionals on how to achieve a work/life balance, and it got me thinking about jobs that don't have the boundaries of an office. I have been wondering if the reason why people work so much, and therefore are so successful at a young age, is because there is not definative line of when work is done for the day. The technology industry is particulary subject to being taken advantage of becuase there are no limitations on where and when work can be completed. The article specifically noted that IT employees work at least 50 hours a week, and many are on call 24/7. This, to me, does not suggest a balance. IT, though, is not the only industry with liquid lines of where work ends and life begins. Technology has enabled employees of many industries to be reached and to reach others at any time. Because of this ability, while employers may "say" that they limit hours worked, there is both an expectation from the employer and a sense of obligation from the employee to never stop working. Is this fair?

A recent post about Google's benefits for its employees struck a nerve in me, and has spured my interest on this topic. (Note to the author of the blog: you did not strike a nerve in me, the Google article did! You are great!) The Googleplex has every amenity possible for its employees. A hair salon, gym, gourmet chef, even an in house physician. This is not only a home away from home, but a life away from life. It is in this example that we see a perfect demonstration of work boundaries being erased. It seems that it would be impossible for employees to escape the pressure of work, as well as for employers to have any other expecatation of an employee. Now I realize that Google is a mega corporation, and not all careers are like this, but a standard is being set. A standard is being set that many will not want to live up to.

How far is too far with benefits that erase a life outside of work? How long is too long for hours to be worked simply because technology enables constant communication? Is a standard being set that requires all employees of all professions and industries to erase lines between work and life? I fear that being a work-a-holic will no longer be looked at as bad, but the norm. Where should the line be drawn?


Blogger spoehner said...

I think another interesting thing about this topic is that because the line is not drawn the same for everyone, there are different standards. For example, if you have one employee who works hard, gives 100% but only does so 40 hours a week because they have other obligations (kids, etc.) when another employee does all that but works 60 hours to get ahead and climb faster. Both give the same amount of effort, but one puts forth more time - should the other employee be punished? How could you even hold them to the same standard or evaluate them in the same way?

I think this is why it is so important to urge companies to adopt paid vacation policies. As the group who presented the other day said, it can increase worker morale, and like in accounting or other jobs that handle money, vacations are mandatory as to make sure each employee is following the rules. But like that group pointed out, Americans do not have paid vacation and they don't have much unpaid vacation either, but they have the highest productivity rate which is why I think there's this push to keep workers at work, by providing them with such luxuries so that they don't work to live, they live to work.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

I really do believe technology has changed how we view and do our work. If you think back to the 1940s or 1950s, most people (especially men) worked from nine to five and went home and spent time reading the paper and maybe socializing with their family. Their job was just a job, and everyone was putting in the same amount of time. Since the advancement in technology though, we are able to do things while brushing our teeth in the morning. This might sound a little odd, but do you maybe think that some people just don’t want to come home from work? Maybe these people feel like that are making a difference if they stay that extra hour or two in order to get that project done. By taking this course of action the employee might get noticed by their boss and thus promoted. Maybe those people working 50 hours a week, don’t have anything to go home to, so they use work to fill the void in their life, in hopes that maybe they are helping people or in most cases because they get the nice paycheck every two weeks. Parents might work long hours because they know their children need clothes, food, vacations to Disneyland, the newest electronic devices and the hottest toys on the market, so they work a lot of hours thinking that by making more money to have all of these material things, their lives will be better. I think a lot of people believe that by owning more “stuff” that will make them happy, so they don’t mind working those extra hours in order to be able to buy all the extra stuff. At the end of the day though, those parents might miss out on the things that make life special.

A perfect example of this was when I graduated high school, my dad wasn’t there. He was in Florida giving a talk at the same time I was walking across the stage receiving my diploma. When I got home sitting on the table was my graduation gift which was a camera that I wanted, with a note that said “Ashley I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your graduation. I know this camera is what you really wanted, so I made sure that it was here waiting for you. I’m so proud of you! Love Dad”. Honestly, I would have rather had my dad sitting next to my mom watching me walk across stage instead of a camera. My dad was trying to buy his forgiveness for not being there. I think many parents are guilty of doing this because they struggle to figure out how to create a work/life balance.

I’m sure Google realized many of its future employees were going to be younger, so they would be willing to put in those extra long hours. Once many of their employees get married though, and start having children, I wonder if this will change and if their perks will change as well. Maybe Google is banking on the fact that many people are waiting to have children, so they won’t have to worry about some of these issues since so many young people bounce from job to job these days. I will be interesting though to see what happens, and to see if this idea that Google created catches on in other industries.

8:54 AM  
Blogger M. Stopper said...

Expecting IT employees to never stop working, I think it is extremely unfair. I know from personal experience that IT employees are always at other co-workers’ “beck-and-call”. It becomes extremely frustrating because many employees cannot fulfill their responsibilities if their own communication technology is not working. In essence, if the IT employees are not working, the other employees are also not working. The company that I worked for this past summer always suffered from needed IT-help overload. I witnessed so many other employees demand IT help at all times and not care if it was inconvenient for the IT staff. The IT employees were being called upon literally at all times of day and even the weekends, unlike all other employees.

The company put a procedure into place that included a hot-line that was available for any employee who needed IT assistance. If an IT problem arose, the employee would call the hot-line and wait for a response. The IT support staff would return an email/call at a time that was appropriate for them. This new process truly helped the overwhelming demand that was put on the IT employees as well. The solution created an environment that was fair for all parties.

I feel that situations like this do go too far. Living and working in the Information Age has truly created a demand that needs to be regulated. I think that IT help should be treated like any other employee regarding the work hours.

2:12 PM  

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