DIGITAL AMERICA

The Separation of Work and Play

// Posted by on 04/23/2014 (1:13 PM)

By Cassaundra Fincke, Kevin Carney, Emily Narduzzi and Sarah Crawford

 

Rushkoff & the Separation of Work and Play

Many aspects of Rushkoff’s argument in his first two chapters are reminiscent of Turkle’s idea that technology is putting us in an age of “being alone together.” We try to keep up with the impossible pace set by technologies that are constantly trying to keep up with us, and we fear that if we do not pay attention to every notification from Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. that we will lose touch with this imagined present. A very relevant area where this need for notifications comes into play is in the ability of employers to contact their employees constantly through the ease of ability to check e-mail from smartphones, laptops, etc. Rushkoff offers a solution to the problem of digiphrenia by saying that “instead of succumbing to the schizophrenic cacophony of divided attention and temporal disconnection, we can program our machines to conform to the pace of our operations” (Rushkoff 75). However, this is much easier said than done. We have built a culture of acceptance, and even dependence, on constantly checking our devices that allows employers to view it as acceptable to contact workers whenever they deem necessary. The act is seen as beneficial to a business or company as constant communication could prevent problems from escalating, provides immediate answers, and allows companies to stay ahead. Yet this behavior further blurs the lines between one’s professional and personal life.

This unclear division seems to perturb only some more than others. Of the 52 responses to our survey, sent to both students who have held an internship and faculty, 44% of respondents feel compelled to regularly check their e-mail for work-related messages once they have left the workplace. 39% say they check their e-mail frequently, 28% check somewhat often, and 33% say they check every once in a while for such messages. This is all done through their personal phones as their work e-mail addresses are linked to these phones rather than having a separate phone for work, thus further blurring the lines between work and personal life.

 

When asked if they feel it is part of their job responsibility to check their e-mail after hours, 44% said yes, and 35% said sometimes.

With these high percentages surrounding communication outside the workplace, the responses to the following two questions are both surprising, yet understandable. When asked if they would  feel comfortable not being able to send or receive work-related messages once they have left the workplace, 54% responded yes and 46% said no- an almost even response! However, when asked if they would support the enactment of a law banning work-related communication after hours, 58% said no, and 42% said yes.

 

These results seem to suggest that while correspondence with the workplace after hours is very prevalent, not as many people are upset by it as one might think. The practically inverse answers to the last two questions discussed indicate that Rushkoff is correct in saying “we really want access to both: we want to take advantage of all the time that has been bound for us as well as stay attuned to the real world feedback we get from living in the now. While they often seem to be at odds, they are entirely compatible, even complementary, if we understand the benefits and drawbacks of each” (Rushkoff 139). In order to enjoy the benefits and drawbacks, it is necessary to examine why, despite any impact it may have on one’s personal life, most people would not support the enactment of a law banning work-related communication after hours, yet the majority would be comfortable not being able to send or receive work-related messages after hours.

 

Popularity of Technology in the Workplace

Technology is increasingly becoming part of our lives whether we like it or not.  Most of us walk around with cell phones and laptops and are capable of reaching the Internet at any point in the day.  It has become an integral part of not only our social lives but also our work lives.  In order to succeed today in any job or workplace it is necessary you use a smartphone or laptop to do your work as well as stay connected with bosses and coworkers.  Businesses must stay up to date with recent technology and means of communication if they want to prosper in today’s world.  It allows a business to expand at a quicker pace and in a more efficient way while targeting a wider customer base. Jobs and tasks are being completed faster due to technology and along with this every employee and employer is able to stay connected through more devices than ever.

There are numerous ways in which technology improves businesses and one of the most important of these aspects is that it improves communication within a business.  Co-workers, employers and clients can now contact each other through e-mail, which allows instant communication without necessarily having to interrupt business.  People can now not only reach their co-workers from different offices or cities but they can reach an array of people from across different countries and different sides of the world.  Think about it: in the past if a company wanted to expand globally they would have to invest large sums of money as well as time and human capital.  A company can now easily communicate among different branches in different parts of the world as well as with potential customers or clients.  Video conferencing and phone calls allow for large meetings at the press of a button.  Along with these new possibilities it also can provide more personal freedom for individual employees.  In the past workers would have always had to trudge through the snow or find a last minute babysitter, instead now that worker or new mom can call in and communicate with bosses from home while doing work from a personal computer.  There is no question that technological innovation has allowed for a wider range of communication within businesses across the world and has changed the way we work today.

 

The Threat of Technology After Hours

There are clearly many benefits to company productivity provided by technological devices.  However, the benefits of these devices come with several drawbacks, especially when considering their use for work-related communications after the end of the work day.  The constant ability to email, text, and call coworkers muddles the separation between professional and personal life, which in many ways can be mentally, physically, and socially detrimental to workers.  This issue continues to grow rapidly, especially in the United States, where a recent survey sponsored by the mobile software company “Good Technology” found that more than 80 percent of individuals in the United States continue working after leaving the office.  Furthermore, these individuals were found to be adding, on average, roughly 7 hours of work per week that translates into a month and a half of overtime each year (Bryan).  This practice places the majority of American individuals under far more stress than regular job hours are intend, which negatively impacts their ability to manage a reasonable work-life balance.

This threat to personal life does not end at the individual need to be available to work colleagues and bosses.  Since the upside to technology is its ability to communicate and finish jobs faster, the subsequent downside is that clients expect any questions and concerns to be addressed immediately (Thurston).  Thus, even if one’s business has completely ceased operations, employees feel the need to be constantly available to any current clients, primarily because their clients are aware that they can always receive communications through their smartphone.  Essentially, this pressure to stay connected does not end with the needs of coworkers, but often is also facilitated by the personal fears of the employee.  Ms. Riley-Grant, a 35 year old marketing executive for the Dockers brand, states, “My job is fast paced and demanding.  If I’m not paying attention during the off-hours, things could go south” (Meece).  Americans placing themselves in this constant state of anxiety limits their ability to establish a distinction between work and personal life.  As a result, these individuals are less likely to stay truly present when spending time with friends and families, which makes personal time less relaxing and meaningful relationships more difficult to maintain.

Several studies have shown that these effects of the twenty-four hour work cycle may also add serious health complications.  The constant fluctuation of work-related anxiety is largely considered detrimental to personal health because unending work availability forces the body to frequently shift from relaxation to stress in a way that can be very taxing on the heart and brain.  Occupational physician Dr. David Allen is among many professionals who argue that the constant stress of staying connected with the workplace after-hours may increase the risk of early heart attack (Bryan).  The separation of work and play allows individuals to keep their bodies on a consistent pattern and also benefits mental health by allowing time for personal reflection and regeneration.  However, we continue to raise expectations for constant availability in a way that is making the twenty-four hour work cycle all the more prevalent and expected by both employers and clients.  Although our personal devices have raised productivity greatly within the workplace, it has also raised the standards for productivity itself.  Individuals no longer get the luxury of leaving work and allowing all incoming calls to be greeted by the answering machine of their landline work phone.  Rather, we have pushed ourselves to remain productive around the clock, increased anxiety by constantly concerning ourselves with work related matters, and developed a connection with our personal devices that can result in negative mental, physical, and social consequences.

 

Labor Laws

In 2013, Germany’s employment ministry has banned its managers from calling or emailing staff out of hours except in emergencies in order to prevent employees from “burning out.” First and foremost it is ironic that they use that term, as we have discussed numerous times in class that we have begun to identify ourselves with terms that describe computers. This article is a step in the right direction. An additional rule is that “Contact is only allowed if the task cannot be postponed until the next working day.” One of the main issue our group has been discussing/addressing throughout this project is the idea of  separating “work and play.” Are we able to “turn off” from our work responsibilities after leaving the work place? It is hard to say because our society (America) it has become so normalized to bring work home. This new law is also interesting because Volkswagon stops forwarding emails to staff from the company server half an hour after ending the work day, and other companies have even given workers complete freedom by not expecting them to check emails on weekends or during their free time. The purpose of setting this rule in place is to protect workers’ mental health.

A correlation between mental health/wellbeing and overworking yourself has been established. If you type into Google, ‘being overworked to death’ multiple articles come up, which leads me to the story of Moritz Erhardt. Erhardt was a 21 year old intern at Merrill Lynch in London. He was also an American student at the University of Michigan. Before the night of his death, he worked through the night eight times in two weeks, including three consecutive nights. It is reported that he collapsed in his apartment, suffered from seizures, which possibly could have been invoked by exhaustion. This further signifies the importance of implementing laws such as the one recently established in Germany. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that applauds overworking and there has been “a shift from the well being of the worker to the well being of the bottom line.” Not having enough hours in the day has become normal, and the American job industry has become so competitive that if you don’t want to put the time and effort in, someone else will.

It is unsurprising that U.S. workers spend more time at work than anyone else in the world. However, it has continued to increase over the years. In 1970, the average work week for an American worker was about 35 hours. Today, it has increased to 46 hours. Interestingly enough, the average American worker spends 378 more hours working per year than the average German worker, whose economy is still going strong. Additionally in a recent survey, the average American worker reported spending an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as answering phone calls or checking and responding to emails after normal work hours have concluded. A few interesting questions to think about is 1) Is our economy actually getting worse because of the mental health implications overworking can have? 2) Do you think establishing out of hours work laws could actually work in our favor? 3) Is Germany’s law enough to create a domino effect in this area to possibly encourage other countries to follow suit? And if so, should they follow suit?

In light of this topic—everyone should check out this link to #100happydays! The challenge is basically to take a picture of something that makes you happy for 100 days in a row. It was created because everyone is so obsessed with working and keeping themselves busy, we forget to appreciate things that make us happy.

http://100happydays.com

 

Video Component:

Technology Today on Work and Play

 

Works Cited

 

Bryan, Amanda. “Smartphones Not so ‘smart’ after Hours.” The Sydney Morning Herald.  1 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/management/smartphones-not-so-smart-after-hours-20120925-26iq2.html

 

Meece, Mickey. “Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/business/06limits.html?pagewanted=all

 

Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. New York: Penguin Group, 2013. Print.

 

Snyder, Michael. “Americans Are Literally Being Worked To Death.” The Economic Collapse. The Economic Collapse, 23 Sept. 2012. Web. . <http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/americans-are-literally-being-worked-to-death>.

 

Thakkar, Pooja. “America is the Most Overworked Nation at the Cost of Health (Infographic).” American is the most overworked nation at the cost of health. Technology Digital, 13 July 2012. Web. . <http://www.technology-digital.com/web20/america-is-the-most-overworked-nation-at-the-cost-of-health>.

 

Thurston, Robert C. “The Technology Threat to Work/Life Balance.” American Bar Association. Sept.-Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2012/september_october/technology_threat_work_life_balance.html

 

Vasagar, Jeevan. “Out of hours working banned by German labour ministry.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10276815/Out-of-hours-working-banned-by-German-labour-ministry.html>.


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