Over the weekend I read an opinion editorial on CNN’s website that talked about the workaholic as he was known in the 1980’s/early 1990’s and today’s worker in a constantly connected world. The writer talks about a guy that he once knew named Robert Hyland who went to the office at 2:30am and stayed until 5:00pm. That’s a full 14 and a half hour day, folks.
However, the writer makes an interesting point:
E-mails and text messages and BlackBerrys and all their digital cousins may have given us the illusion of freedom — we tell ourselves that we are unfettered by traditional offices, that we can go anywhere we please — yet in the end they have created a nation of Robert Hylands. We’re never off the clock; that cell phone may ring at dinnertime, that allegedly urgent e-mail may arrive at 11 p.m., that instant message from the regional manager may pop onto the screen when we’re on vacation with our families.
Like almost everyone else who works in a professional setting these days, I have a way of accessing my e-mails from my “home office” (which consists of a desk in the corner of my bedroom and two bookshelves on the side of the desk). And the truth is that when I get home from work, aside from my Yahoo and Gmail e-mail accounts, I also open up my work e-mail account. On a typical day, there are two or three e-mails delivered to my work inbox during the hour long commute home. Sometimes those e-mails are urgent, but most of the time they aren’t pressing at all. Yet, I still have to look.
It’s the ease of the access that’s the problem; the fact that you can access this information in the blink of an eye and that, generally, the information contained in the e-mail can be processed quickly. That’s the problem. That’s why I check my work e-mail as soon as I get home and frequently while I’m at home.
The next big problem is the integration of BlackBerry phones and other smart phones into the work day. One of the reasons that I initially purchased my Treo 700p (the “p” stands for “piece of garbage”) was so that I could access my work e-mail from anywhere. However, once I realized that this meant I would always be connected to the office and once I realized that I essentially didn’t need a smart phone because I was never so far away from a computer that I couldn’t check my e-mail, I turned off the internet on my phone. Turning off the internet turns off the ability to be constantly connected.
However, I do find it interesting that with all of the advances in smart phone technology that I’m already planning for my next phone to be a BlackBerry. I’m on the Verizon Wireless network, but I refuse to pay Verizon Wireless for access to the internet when I already pay my cable company for access and when my office has wi-fi access. So I’m waiting for a wi-fi enabled BlackBerry phone to be available on the Verizon Wireless network before I get a new phone. In essence, I’m preparing to be constantly connected to the office when I really don’t want to be. But I digress…
Most of my co-workers are wrapped up into this “always connected” thing, too. It’s not uncommon for an e-mail to be sent after 5:00pm and for a response to come back around 8:30pm. Frankly, I think that it’s nice that some of the lagging issues that we deal with at the office can come to a conclusion after hours – after we’ve all had some time to process different solutions. However, I think we’ve all subconsciously begun to cut back on the amount of after hours work that we’re performing for the company.
And, honestly, cutting back on after hours work is probably the best thing for today’s worker. When you consider all of the stresses that are wrapped into simply having a job there is little reason to want to bring any of that back to your home with you. The home should and can be the refuge – if we let it.