When did we start sleeping together at the office?

Once upon a time there was a place called Work. Employees went there to work at a set time, and at another set time, work was over, and they all went home. Working extra hours was for those who were inefficient. No one worked on the weekends, holidays were sacred and planned months in advance. Sometimes a few employees would take home a file (or two) in their briefcases to attend to at home, however, this was the exception.

Fast forward to January 2022 and we all seem to have brought the entire office home with us. We now live at work and snag a few hours here and there to engage in domestic chores and take a nap. This has been a blessing and a curse at the same time. Depending on how you view the situation, it is the best of times and the worst of times, to quote Dickens.

Best of Times

Working from homes creates flexibility and freedom in many ways:

  • Employers can give up expensive office space
  • Employees can forego the long commute and unending traffic jams  
  • For us women we can stop stressing about our hair, make-up, and tomorrow’s outfit (unless you must be on a video call).  This stressor may be foreign to our men folks.
  • Employees can balance work with life, choosing to work when they are at their most productive (depending on the role)
  • Women can balance childcare and domestic responsibilities
  • Caregivers can be there for their loved ones
  • Unconscious or conscious bias towards minorities and other groups with differences, such as persons with disability, gender, dress, etc., can almost seem to disappear behind the computer screen and the keyboard.

And the list goes on and on….

Worst of Times

Employers can monitor your every keystroke

Employers can call on you at any time since you are on an electronic leash (remember the Elephant and the Rope story?)

Employees are ‘Always on’ 24/7, 365 days per year – there seems to be no limits

Due to the unfair burden of childcare, elderly care and domestic chores women are at a disadvantage. This gives our men counterparts a distinct advantage in promotions, important projects and pay raises. (Since availability seems to equal commitment.)

The line between work and home has become blurry

Employees are afflicted with infobesity

Personal time continues to shrink as employers continue to encroach without having to pay overtime

And the list goes on and on……

Implications for Management and Staff

The result of this new always on culture, is burnout, stress, absenteeism, mental health issues, relationship issues, anxiety, and misplaced expectations. Availability has become synonymous with commitment. Employees have bought into the myth that if they are not always available, their prospects for advancement, bonuses and pay increases will be negatively impacted. But there is a price to be paid for this new always on culture. HR needs to become proactive and advocate for employees to disconnect outside of working hours, take vacations, turn on out of office notifications, make time for emotional, mental, and physical self-care. Leaders should also be cognizant of their expectations for response time to electronic communication. They should also be mindful of the amount of time spent on virtual meetings and chats. Clear disconnect from work policies should be drafted and implemented with input from both the employer and employee.

Laws the solution?

On June 2, 2022, Ontario, Canada, will have a new law ‘the right to disconnect’ coming into effect. They will join France, Spain, and Portugal that from as far back as 2017 (for France) enacted the right to disconnect. This right protects workers from being penalized for ignoring after-hours work messages. Therefore, employees not reachable outside working hours cannot be considered as misconduct

Employees have the right to disconnect during non-work hours and primarily not engage in work related electronic communication (Calls, Email, Text, WhatsApp, Slack, Teams, Video calls, etc.). However, some employers see this as a sure way for lower levels of productivity, inability to manage and monitor staff effectively and an opportunity for employees to “goof off”. In addition, some employees do not have the option to disconnect based on their occupation in areas like healthcare, law enforcement, public transportation and as first responders.

Is it time to see the adaptation of this law in the US and the Caribbean? Ontario has gone as far as to remove the ‘non-compete’ clause so prevalent in many US employee contracts. It seems odd that with the ‘Employee at will clause’ the US has a double edge sword. Employees are anxious and worried about being fired, and employers have made certain that while employed the employee cannot otherwise benefit from their experience and skills, outside of the arrangement.

It may be high time to revisit what has become the accepted norm. Maybe the new symbols of professional success are no longer, the corner office, personalized parking space, executive lunchroom privilege, an unending string of meetings, bragging rights for getting the least amount of sleep, being constantly busy, always having a cellphone glued to one ear, and a tablet in hand. Could the new success symbols become the freedom to work from anywhere, anytime, and live the life of your dreams, with laws and policies to protect you? Why wait until you retire to start living when you can embark on many mini-retirement activities today? (See Tim Ferriss -The 4 Hour Work Week).

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, move over, here come Gen Y and Gen Z! They are set to change the game with their focus on working for themselves and being fiercely independent. Will we all live happily after? The end.

Dr Sandra Palmer

VP Programs and Compliance at FSMSDC

Business Professor at Miami Dade College

Email: Sandra@fsmsdc.org ; spalmer1@mdc.edu