As we confront the one-year anniversary of the US locking down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are also confronting the one-year anniversary of America choosing work above all else. This is the story of how capitalism and the pandemic destroyed our work-life balance, and created in us, an uneasy love intimacy with work.
Many of us stopped seeing our families and friends, while accepting without question the idea that we would not stop working. We stopped going to theaters and restaurants, but we did not stop working. We stopped going to offices, but we did not stop working. […]
NOTES: Our Uneasy Love Intimacy With Work In a Pandemic
Our government could have paid people to stop working and stay home, where they could not catch the virus. They did not. Instead, they told service workers they were essential and sent some of them out to risk their lives working.
“This is the life that could not stop working. Even when everything else stopped working, and despite everything else going crazy, we prioritized work. Our love, our life; the love of our life.”
We were forced to choose between our health and our jobs. Most of us chose our jobs. And when companies shut down and jobs vanished, the unemployed among us had to pry vanishingly tiny benefits or go out and find new jobs.
Those of us who were lucky enough to have jobs that could be done from home, brought our work into our living rooms, our kitchens, and our bedrooms. We challenged ourselves to meet and even exceed our pre-pandemic goals, against unfavorable odds. Despite everything, we prioritized work.
We have treated work as something to be taken home and cherished. Work became our lover. And this year, we took it to bed.
In year 2011, Melissa Gregg published a three-year ethnographic study of the professional lives of a group of knowledge workers in Brisbane, Australia. It was titled, Work’s Intimacy. Gregg’s study found that as mobile technologies like laptops and smartphones and wifi proliferated, and as jobs became more precarious and subject to mass layoffs, office workers had begun to experience their entire lives as work-centric.
An Identify and Culture Crisis That Fuels An Uneasy Love Intimacy With Work
There is an identify that our job gives us. For example, the joy of been seen as a competent and dedicated professional. Then our culture makes us disposed to spend our leisure hours thinking of work, and feeling obligated to it. Technology adds to it by providing an added incentive to just go ahead and do that work, no matter where we are or what time it is.
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If work is assessed as infidelity, it will score high. The time spent engaged in work-related tasks regularly rivaled or came at the expense of other experiences. We obsess over our jobs because we know we can’t count on them. So we keep thinking about them after we leave the office. And in the end, we find ourselves unable to get them out of our minds, like a bad boyfriend.
Withholding attention from our work and from our screens may make us feel guilty, as though we are somehow cheating. But that shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve been taught to treat work as a loved one. So turning our attention away from it, to other and more valued objects, would be a kind of adultery.
Work is not just in our homes all the time now. Work has very literally gone to bed with us. And work wants to have a serious talk about where this relationship is going. But we do not have to be trapped in an endless, stifling love affair with our own labor. We can build our lives around other things. Things that matter more to us – our loved ones, our communities, and the world in which we live.
Technology has been instrumental to maintaining connection with a remote workforce. Without it, shifting to work from home would’ve been impossible. Workers would have been isolated, disconnected and utterly cut off from their colleagues.
Technology can also have a negative effect on work-life balance if we fail to set strict boundaries, and many people struggle doing this. And this can lead to huge impact, not limited to burnout, low performance, stress leave, sick leave, mental health, etc.
With “always online” attitude, maintaining work-life balance has always been difficult, but COVID-19 and the work-from-home shift has made the issue more visible and even more prevalent. The temptation to quickly check email becomes that much stronger when you can’t tell where the office ends and home begins.
The outcome of research by CareerBuilder on motivation for checking email outside of working hours reveals the following.
- For more than half of workers aged 18-24, the motivation is a sense of obligation.
- For workers 55 and over, they stay connected out of choice.
Leaders need to set and lead by example. To communicate the importance of setting boundaries, it’s far more effective if the message comes from the top down. To lead by example, they should switch off from work at the weekends, and avoid communication with staff. This will send a clear message that it is healthy and important to enjoy quality time away from the pressures of the office.
Employees can also be encouraged not to organize meetings beyond 3pm, this is to give everyone enough time to wrap up their day after the meeting.
With encouragement, education and behaviour led from the top, everyone can switch off to stay switched on.
Emotional stress, including “stress from lack of control in the workplace or from life events,” creates susceptibility to physical illness. This was affirmed twenty years ago in a British Medical Journal article as summarized here by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Giving employees more control over their jobs does more than just reduce stress-related illness. It also decreases employee mortality. The key is empowering them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision making and … have a voice in the goal-setting process.
Giving employees a chance to help shape the future of work will give them more skin in the game. It will deepen their connection to an organization. Finally, it gives them a sense of job ownership and control and will improve their well-being while benefiting the organization.
Self-love is the process of knowing yourself, connecting with your inner self, overcoming self-limiting beliefs, letting go of everything that doesn’t serve you, and falling in love with yourself.
Self-love helps silence the fear of rejection, our inner critic, and instead befriend it to serve us rather than taunt us. And we develop confidence in what we stand for, when we know who we are from within. With self-love, we are able to let go of self-judgment, negative thoughts, opinions, and people who are not aligned with us.
When we accept ourselves wholly for who we are, people around us also start seeing us in the same light. Likewise, when we love what we do and do what we love, we are alive and soaring in all that we do. This further draws others with positive energy to us. Ultimately, that power of love for yourself, will not only elevate your relationship with yourself, but enhance and deepen your relationship with work, family, life, and everything around you.