In one week I was asked three times if I was available for a meeting after 5:30 PM. These meetings were not involving that business we call show, or in the hospitality or health care arena. There is nothing 24-hour or evening hours about this particular business. If anything this organization follows a somewhat academic rhythm with employees starting between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. There was no crisis, no deadline, no urgency. These were run-of-the-mill everyday “we meet because we meet” meetings.
If it was one request, it might go without notice; but three times in one week is worthy of note. You would have to be living under a rock to not know that everyone is “stressed” and “has no time.” Articles and on-air segments tell us that people are having it all and doing everything and scheduling physical relations. We are led to believe that business is busy and people are doing far too much. But is it true? Is it really true?
How many times in the past week have you seen any of the following?
- Police officers texting on duty
- Cashiers texting on duty
- Anyone texting on duty
- Non-work related tweeting, Facebooking, surfing, commenting (now let’s be honest, unless the whole damn world is unemployed, working people have got to be contributing to the daytime noise)
Now think back to how many meaningless emails you’ve received and meetings you’ve attended in the past week. Could it be when the workplace was more formal (and not just in the “no flip-flops” way) time was more formal and structured as well? When communication has to go from your head, out your mouth into a secretary’s ear, through his/her fingers, into a mimeograph machine, prepared for the mailroom, delivered, opened and read; you might think twice about how and when you express yourself.
In addition to the immediacy of an outlet for our brain dump is the fact that boundaries aren’t what they once were. (Need we discuss how many times you’ve been subjected to a full blown account of someone’s medical test or birth control choices while riding a bus or elevator?) People ask you to meet at 5:30 on a Friday because there’s a chance you might say yes. They will email you on Sunday night because there’s a chance you might respond. Certainly there are professions and industries that demand being “on” all the time. But the rest of us needn’t be so available or feel so anxious. Let’s be frank, we answer (or g-d forbid send) that Sunday night email because a) we can b) we want it off of our minds and c) because we want to appear to be working.
The appearance of working is not technically the same as working. Getting coffee, having lunch, touching base, celebrating milestones with mini-cupcakes? Not really working. Meetings at which people show up late, no one is in charge, and everyone is texting? Not really working. A little austerity could go a long way in giving us back some hours. Starting today when an off-hour request occurs ask yourself:
- Is anything on fire
- Is anyone bleeding
- Is a project in danger of becoming completely, utterly, irreparably derailed
If the most dramatic response you can muster (to these questions) is a “well”, say no. There are those who work for unreasonable people and feel they simply have no choice (if they want to eat.) That’s a dreadful and hopefully temporary situation. But for everyone else it’s just a matter of changing the cultural climate. Yes, the most direct way to do that is top down, but that would take a rather evolved leader, no? We can all slowly and incrementally change the way we respond to requests of our time. It demands we stay present and not reactionary. It means keeping our eye on the prize (or our work/project goals.) There’s no doubt if we can stay focused during our work day we’ll actually accomplish more, and after-hours can resume its rightful title; “happy hour.”