Work-Life Integration is a Double Edged Sword

“Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?” -Ricardo Semler

Picking up a lazy dinner from a suburban pizza shop one Friday night about 8pm, my phone rang. I glanced at the screen to see my boss was calling from Singapore and I remember thinking, “What did I forget to do before I left work?” Well, nothing, as it turns out.

My boss was calling for an update and requested I do a few more things before I left the office. “Ah, Cynthia, I’ve already left the for the day. I’m nearly home. I just stopped to get some dinner”. Silence. After a long pause she said, “Why aren’t you still at the office?” I said, “It’s 8pm on Friday night!” Cynthia sighed, let out a little chuckle and replied, “I’m so sorry. I forgot about the time difference”. I was in Sydney, some 3 hours ahead of my boss.

It was 2007 and this call highlighted the blurring boundaries between my work and home life. I wasn’t the only one with ambiguous office hours or location. In fact, many of my colleagues were starting to work from home and they had trouble switching off after work.

I recall Bill Gates was being bombarded with email around the same time and wrote that information overload was indeed a problem expedited by advances in technology. In Microsoft, ironically, Gates’ comments were circulated via email!

Dozens of my colleagues were so confused by email being accessible 24/7. Instead of it freeing them to check email when they had time, most of them thought they had to reply to incoming mail instantly. Managers, who had trouble sleeping, would send emails after midnight simply because they were awake, not because they expected a reply. Indeed, my conversations with several of these managers later confirmed my suspicion. None expected a reply before the next working day.

In his book, The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler poses an important question and in doing so raises a fair point. “Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?” After all, if we let work creep into our personal lives, isn’t it fair if our personal lives follow us to work?

Email was just the beginning. Technology has advanced significantly since 2007. Now we are trying to make sense of chaos in instant messaging, project management, collaboration, social media and even working with robots and AI -robots that never need to eat or sleep.

Christian Lous Lange, a political scientist who passed away in 1938 said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”. The speed at which technology has advanced and been adopted has multiplied since then but Lange’s quote is as true today as ever.

Work creeps into your home and personal life through technology, if you let it. If you want control of your time and your life, isn’t it time for you to start putting boundaries in place? Start training technology to respond to the way you want to work, not the other way around.