Time off – under any circumstances – sounds like a pipe dream. “Real” time off, that is. At least, on my planet.
You know the one. The planet on which we’re reachable 24/7 – by the colleague at the office, by the supervisor shuffling the schedule, by the latest prospect as we negotiate the next paying gig in a series of projects that present themselves with the typical rhythms of feast or famine.
That once-upon-a-time concept of a four-day work week? Whatever happened to that – and more importantly, to the principle that underlies it?
Aren’t we all in touch, plugged in, and All Too Accessible All Too Much of the Time?
I’m not talking about family obligations, though certainly, the Sandwich Generation, financially and logistically responsible for children and elder parents, may be desperate for downtime. I’m thinking of the working world and our increasing difficulty in cordoning off our private lives.
Recognizing that Americans are “slaving away,” and noting the advantages of the four-day work week, an article on Alternet points to technology as one of our challenges in any ability to stem this tide:
Americans are suckers for new technologies… Our enthusiasm for innovative machines obscures the truth that all they do is bind us more tightly to our jobs while forcing us to work longer hours.
Technology Helps, Technology Hurts
As a parent – a single parent at that – when my children were younger, a few of those technologies facilitated coordination that made life easier: the cell phone, the text, the email.
I couldn’t be in two places at once (though like you, perhaps, I tried); one of me and two of them (and an assortment of clients) meant communication could be multi-tasked and maintained, until I could reach one or the other of my sons, direct “familial operations” remotely, and still keep clients happy, delivering on work product.
Are communication advances powerful for remote tasks?
Absolutely, and theoretically, buying flexibility. But the 24/7 leash that comes along for the ride? Devices and apps – and expectations – so pervasive as to eat into our lives to excess, not to mention what they may be doing to our abilities to research, to reason, or for that matter – to dream?
The Promise and Premise of the 4-Day Work Week
Four-day work week? We’d be lucky to have the five-day work week as it was once configured, with a separation between personal time and that shady realm of “work.”
It isn’t just a matter of being a tap or swoosh of the fingertips away; it’s the blurring of boundaries that includes the need to be current on the latest platforms and gadgets. Not only is it hardly possible, but for many of us, it’s a sort of unpaid working-around-the-clock and a cultural preoccupation that feels increasingly detrimental to human interaction.
The article in Alternet is focused on how work has changed in recent years, and not solely on the technology that has accompanied those changes. It addresses the recession, the changing nature of the workforce, skills erosion from extended periods of unemployment, the complexities of our global economy – all of which provides considerable food for thought.
Hello, People? People!
Am I a Luddite when it comes to our technological advances?
Oh, I hardly think so. I’m a pragmatist (I hope), but wistfully wish for the slightest slowing down for us all.
As to the four-day work week, I may love the idea of it if for no other reason than to fence off some dedicated time to “be” – to really “be” – which was, best I recall, one of the reasons for its original premise. Even 20 years ago, many of us in the workforce felt the creep of our professional lives on all things personal. Even then, we were told to do more with less – and encouraged to buy into “the more we do, the more we can do.”
But what are we enjoying? Don’t we hit a limit? What of our relationships, our interests, our unhurried discoveries – if such a thing is still possible? Shouldn’t we be allowed to “own” our time off, whether to walk the dog and think, to savor the stack of books by the bed, to stay in bed and savor our partners, or to enjoy family time of a more spontaneous nature?
I worry about spontaneity. I worry about the dwindling phenomenon of the unplanned day. I worry about exhaustion nipping at my heels (and the heels of most of the women I know), as we cobble together a variety of jobs and projects to make ends meet… usually requiring some variation of 50, 60 or more hours spread across six or seven days.
If the four-day work week is an impossibility for many of us – much like the five-day work week as we juggle multiple jobs and roles, can we at least find more effective ways to stem the tide of technology infringing on our family time? Can we silence the cells and turn over the tablets to protect the sanctity of our personal lives?
How do you manage it – or do you?
Forget the four-day work week! How do we manage to cut back to five?
Six-Day Work Week and a Prayer
Now you may insist that’s within my control, and I would agree, to an extent. But I would disagree as one of millions for whom the perpetual work week has become an economic necessity.
Dreams persist of course, at least – if we’re lucky. But as the years pass, I admit that more often than not, they seem to be slipping away.
Perhaps you close your eyes and see a few weeks in the mountains during the off-season, the flying lessons you always wanted to take, a chance to visit Europe or Australia at last, or tango lessons with the one you love. For me, Paris is part of the picture. But if the City of Lights calls – even on a smartphone – bound to the seven-day work week, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to answer.