Work/Life Balance

businessman-working-on-beach-300x200In light of Goldman Sach’s recent memo that reminded to their staff to,

‘leave the office at 9pm on Friday

I was thrilled that finally, the 80’s ‘work hard/ play hard’, 100 hour work weeks, ‘lunch is for wimps’ ethos might be on its last legs.

Sadly not so much.

In response to the recent death of one of their own (Moritz Erhardt collapsed and died after working 8 days straight – 192 hours), Goldman still hasn’t quite got the hang of the whole ‘work/life balance’ thing.

‘Employees cannot return to the office until 9am Sunday’  (wow a WHOLE 1 day off per week and while great for Jewish people, not so much for those of non Jewish persuasion)

‘Employees are still expected to check their blackberries [sic] on a regular basis’ during that day off (well, it is a WHOLE 24 hours). But if you’re hankering, working the weekend is still an option;

If a team needs a professional exception to the Saturday rule (ie a junior banker needs to work on Saturday and/or the entire weekend), please email [a senior manager] by 9am on Friday for approval’

Well I’m glad that’s straight. 1 day off a week, unless you need to work. Which…. you probably do.

But don’t worry, they’re still invested in your long term health. I mean, its not just all about the weekend. What about holidays?

‘All analysts, including new first year analysts, are expected to take time off (preferably one week) before the end of the year in an effort to focus on work-life balance’

Soooo. After working my 6 day weeks for 51 weeks of the year, I get a week to focus on ‘work/life balance’. WOW…that’s going to be quite the intense week. Though how I’m meant to cram my love life,my family,  my dental checkup, pap smear, oil change, eye exam AND relaxing into 7 days…. well. I guess that’s why I work at Goldmans.

In light of this obsession with ‘work/life balance’ and the traditional response from corporate America (“balance is great.. just make sure you available 24/7 and you put in your 40, or 50, or even 60 if you want”).. I decided to write an open letter (hey, everyone is doin’ it) to ‘Merica’ about what work/life balance really looks like.

Dear ‘Merica

I know that you were built on the dreams of white men (aided by the sweat of slaves), aided by the mass delusion of every poor person that one day, if they worked goddam hard enough, they too would get ‘theirs’, but its 2013. Things have got to change. We know we’re not getting ‘ours’ and to be honest, I don’t many people who aren’t working themselves into premature grey hair and a serious Xanax problem.

Sure, back in the ‘good ol’ days’ where men wore hats, ladies stayed home to raise little Timmy and Vera, and you drove a boat car that got 2 miles to the gallon, things were different. You had ‘the office’ and you had ‘home’. The office was the place where you got to have secretaries bring you coffee, took 2 hour lunches and called it good at 5pm. Home was where wifey mixed up your G&T as you pulled into your white picketed driveway, the kids didn’t expect more than a hair tousle and your evening was spent in R&R. Sure you look might look over a contract, or have a think about something that someone said during that meeting, but largely, you spent 40 hours a week ‘working’ and the rest of your week at leisure.

Fast forward to the 90’s, when that 40 hour work week increased to 60, 80 or even 100 hours. Lunch as a concept -‘taking a break to eat’- disappeared and everyone found themselves scoffing whatever they could, at their desk, in the 5 minutes between meetings. Working long hours was a badge of honor and only those who sold their soul got to rise to the upper middle (if they were white, middle class and played golf). With both parents now needing to work to keep that gas guzzler going and the white picket fence painted, kids had babysitters and latch keys, tv and video games. Evenings involved more work for both spouses, take out pizza and the R&R largely happened around 11pm-6am. Reagan had promised a ‘new day in America’ and hell, we were willing to work for it. We still had weekends and vacations blissfully free of work.  Little did we know, these were the new ‘good ol’ days’.

Today, 2013, work and life are inextricably intertwined. We are available 24/7 and have expected availability for work questions and requests of 18/6 (18 hours, 6 days a week). We work all.the.time. These days we’re working at work, at home, even on the drive to and from home (yes, we all have texted or sat on a conference call while driving, don’t kid yourself). We work while waiting for the doctors appointment, standing in line at the pharmacy and now, we can even maintain our work schedule and contact-ability on a plane or a train.

We work without even realizing that we’re working.  ‘Just checking my email’

Yes, that’s work, even if it only takes 5, 10 mins… 3 hours.

We work on vacation, we take calls during dinner, and yes lunch seems to have returned (we can leave our desks now), but we’re generally standing around checking our phones and taking calls as we’re waiting for our sandwich (which yes, will be eaten at our desk). We check our email upon waking, and keep our phone next to the bed. We take vacations but we still take our phone and often our laptops.

There is no doubt that we’re all benefited from this new flexibility to work anywhere and everywhere. We can get to see the doctor mid week without taking a whole sick day. We can stay home when we’re hacking up a lung. We do get to pick up the kids from school or leave early for a date. Our lives are ultimately more flexible and the concept of being tied to a desk is redundant. Except.. we’re still working while we do all those things. We’re working all.the.time. Balance?  The lines between work and home no longer exist for many of us and the two are so closely intertwined you couldn’t separate them on the scales even to measure the concept of ‘balance’.

So yes, while we mock Goldman Sachs for their insistence of taking a week vacation, and staying away from the office for a whole day I actually applaud their balls. They’re just being honest.  This is the new reality for many of us. Turning off our laptops, our phones or telling people we’re not accessible via email during our annual vacation is akin to telling people you don’t care. Its shocking. Unheard of.  Career limiting. And yes, frowned upon.

The longest I’ve been away from my laptop in the last 12 months is 2 days. Away from my work email?  Maybe 36 hours.

I love the tradeoffs for this accessibility – my ability to walk my dog at 4pm before it gets dark; to visit the doctor when I need to; to sit on a conference call while I toast a veggie burger.

But there is a trade off.And sometimes our leaders, our managers and our coworkers forget it.

So, as I listen to the phone ringing and my email pinging when I have strep throat or I open my email on Sunday to see 180 new emails I wonder whether those bankers have it so bad. And as I forwarded the note to some work friends and we all had a laugh, I’d wonder if they notice how much work they’re actually doing. Because when it all evens out, its probably not far from Goldman’s.

We’re just not doing it in Armani suits.

2 thoughts on “Work/Life Balance”

  1. “Today, 2013, work and life are inextricably intertwined. We are available 24/7 and have expected availability for work questions and requests of 18/6 (18 hours, 6 days a week). We work all.the.time.” This is totally me, and it’s only compounded by the fact that I do online marketing. I’m always available.

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