The other night, my home office land line rang at two o’clock in the morning. A client thought they could just leave a voice mail for me to retrieve later.
Another client was clearly nonplussed when I would not divulge my cell phone number so she can reach me when I’m not in my office.
Very often, I’ll be at an appointment or in a meeting with someone, their cell phone rings or a text dings, and they excuse themselves to take the call or thumb-type a response.
The boundaries start to blur, don’t they?
What is appropriate? What is polite? Are we ever, anymore, in the moment?
When are we working and not working? Does the presence of technology mean we’re on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
A friend of mine regularly fields phone calls and emails on Sundays — forget about down time, sabbath, weekend, time with the family, or just time off.
Connecticut used to be a sabbath-inspired Blue Law state, and up until the late 1970s most businesses could not even open on Sundays! Maybe blue laws seem quaint now — or controlling— but they indicated a respect for work life vs. home life, business time vs. private time.
Then in walks technology and voraciously eats up our time and stomps all over the lines. We’ve kinda created a monster, haven’t we?
It’s why I was intrigued to read Josie Le Blond’s article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age?” on the BBC website recently. The right to switch off? Check this out:
What seemed perfectly normal to the American, working after hours, was inconceivable to the German[s]. After all, it was Feierabend, a German term which refers both to the end of the working day and the act of switching off from work entirely.
Down time is taken very seriously in Europe’s biggest economy. That’s why, when the European Union introduced mandatory work and rest periods back in 2003, the Germans embraced the chance to enshrine their sacrosanct work-life balance in law.
A SACROSANCT WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Switching off from work entirely. Imagine! For German workers, it’s pretty much mandatory. The Working Hours Act says: “After each working day, employees are entitled to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours (twelve hours for those aged between 15 and 18) before the beginning of the next working day. ”
Reading an email or taking a call from a colleague counts as work and restarts the clock on another 11-hour break. And — get this — if an employee can show that interruptions to their rest periods have made them ill, that’s considered a crime on the part of the employer.
Not everyone is thrilled with the rule, of course. And I’m not sure how those stringent guidelines would apply in the States (eye roll) or for those of us who work for ourselves or freelance. But still, the recognition by businesses that rest is critical to both our physical and mental health is amazing.
Think it’s not possible? “Back in 2011, Volkswagen announced it would turn off its email server overnight to prevent the exchange of work emails out of hours. Others, including BMW and Bosch, have established guidelines for employees when it comes to contacting each other after hours.”
If you build it (a different way of thinking about technology and our work life), we will come (to the table with some new approaches for how to live a more balanced life).
“The Feierabend culture is really healthy,” says [one] American academic. “How refreshing for it to be totally okay to leave work at five o’clock and never exchange work emails on the weekend.”
How refreshing indeed.