Work Time and Personal Time: Are they the same?

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

The "Global Economy" has had a major impact on the American worker. To stay globally competitive organizations must be leaner than they ever have been. Rapid changes in technology make it more difficult to keep employees fully trained in the new technology. Additionally, the pressure on the individual employee is increasing. Workers must keep up-to-date or face the possibility of being "outplaced" due to "job re-engineering." Think about some of the other things that the average American worker faces on a daily basis:

In our hopes to develop "team" approaches to almost everything, workers are spending far too much time in unproductive meetings.

  1. Software and other technology is changing so rapidly that most workers have a difficult time keeping up with the programs and equipment they are required to use on a daily basis. In order to remain competitive, many companies expect workers to keep up with changes on their own time.
  2. Technology such a cell phones, pagers, e-mail, and notebook computers allow the worker to have almost constant contact with work.

Employees do have a stronger sense of involvement with and dedication to their work. They are more connected to their work and their coworkers than ever before. At the same time many employees report that their work seems to be overwhelming their lives.

More and more employees have a "home office" to help them keep up with their on-the-job activities. In some organizations, employees are expected to work at home, nights and on weekends, in addition to their regular 8 to 5 office hours. Recently, Ford Motor Company announced a plan to buy every employee a computer for home use. There is no doubt that these computers will be used for doing company work at home. It is not unusual to see someone who is "on vacation" checking his/her e-mail twice a day and accepting work related cell phone calls. More and more people are having a difficult time seeing where work life ends and personal life begins. They feel like they are never away from work.

So, how do individuals and organizations cope? Unfortunately, most individuals are not coping well. Even if unemployment is low, workers feel under pressure to do whatever they can to keep their job. They are always faced with the threat of cutbacks. Work-related stress problems encountered by counselors and therapists may be on the rise.

Most organizations are gaining the benefits of this increased dedication by their workers. But it may be a short-term benefit. Organizations need to look more closely at the burnout effect this level of work may have on employees. The Department of Labor recently announced (and then retracted) the ruling that home offices should meet all OSHA requirements. This may be just the beginning. It may be time for companies to look more closely at how and when employees are doing work at home and the impact it has on their productivity. Some possible actions could include:

  • Helping employees deal better with work-related stress
  • Providing time management training
  • Improving health awareness initiatives
  • Increasing mental health benefits
  • Creating formal policies for working at home

Companies should also begin to look at the workforce turnover rates and how it may be affected by this trend. Ask employees whether they believe that they are never away from work. Dedication to one's work can be a very positive thing, but there is a fine line between dedication and burnout. So, are work time and personal time becoming the same? Ask yourself, your employees, your coworkers, your friends. You may be surprised at the answer you get.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at [email protected].

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