Monday, July 13, 2009

To Think Outside the Box,
Get Outside of the Box

A couple months ago, ran an article discussing the development of what was being named (in a particularly unpleasant neologism) "weisure time."

Simply put, a weisure lifestyle was one in which your leisure time was routinely invaded by your work time or both were so intermixed that there was no clear dividing line between the two. New York University sociologist Dalton Conley, the originator of the phrase, predicts that the line separating our work from our leisure will continue to blur until we find ourselves at the beck and call of our work 24/7.

To try and sweeten what can only sound like a bad deal for employees (though perhaps not seen as so bad for employers), Conley points to social networking and how your online friends are often frequently your work friends as well. "Increasingly, it's not clear what constitutes work and what constitutes fun," Conley claims in this article "in an office or at home or out in the street."

People are more willing to let work invade their leisure time because, for a lot of Americans, working has become more fun, Conley says. He refers to this group of professionals who tend to get more enjoyment out of work as "the creative class," borrowing a term coined by author Richard Florida.

Their work involves ideas -- perhaps helping create a new software product, ad campaign or creative financial derivative.

"This makes their work a source of meaning and fun to them, and thus the work-all-the-time mentality is partly driven by choice and desire," Conley said.

At the other end of the street, author William Leith, writing for The Guardian discovers that it is just this kind of lifestyle, the constant barrage of duties, even on supposed downtime, that leads to health problems, most prominently chronic fatigue. He quotes Dr. Frank Lipman, author of Spent, who writes that our go-go capitalist lifestyle is unsustainable for individuals:

We get spent because our modern lifestyle has removed us from nature and we have become divorced from its rhythms and cycles. We are slaves to the corporate model. I think it is going to get worse and worse - and I don't see any improvement in the near future until we reach some kind of tipping point and wake up.

Partly this strikes right to the heart of what Conley is suggesting. The idea that you can simultaneously be a part of the creative class, on-call 24/7 and have the time to rest, recharge your creative juices by not thinking about work, and reach those Eureka moments, strikes me as not only deeply problematic, but also a product of thinking that is divorced from the actual creative class.

This is not to say that creative inspiration doesn't happen in off-the-clock hours or that collaboration with your coworkers in these off-site brainstormings doesn't happen either. But the idea that our smartphones and our computers have, in effect, become leashes tying us to our work with ever tighter bonds is deeply troubling.

Much in the way the goal of education was once "the well-rounded individual" who could hold his or her own in a conversation about topics in science as well as in art and literature, employers should prize employees who can walk away from the job, who can disconnect and find outside interests. We have all of us, every one, met the one subject, single-minded bore. The creative output from such types not only frequently suffers from its limited focus, but also from its lack of applicability to the greater world outside the narrow confines of sub-sub-sub speciality.

Employees are often challenged to think outside the box, but to do such thinking, you have to actually get out of the box once in a while. The simplest way to do this is to set clear boundaries of what is work time and what is play time. Employers need to be willing to let their employees have the time away from the job, and employees need to step away from the computer, to let the voice mail do its job.

Absent small shifts in attitudes like this, employers are likely to see the backlash in employee loyalty, morale, and creativity. Better solutions don't always mean longer hours.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting read about "Weisure" time, but do employers also allow more home-time at work settings.