It’s sometimes hard for me to let someone else take the wheel.
That’s why I haven’t looked at the Voices page since signing out of work email and our editing system on Feb. 4. I only signed into the editing system for a few hours to write this column, and tried hard not to look at files other than what I was working on. People do things differently than I do, and I have to accept that.
Still not gonna like it, but I’ll accept it because there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’ve long found it hard to disconnect from work, which isn’t healthy. But now I’m having to do just that so I can relax and heal. (This incision is So. Much. Fun. It also decided to seep a bit Tuesday after I apparently overdid it Monday; how dare I bend over slightly or sit in the backyard! On the bright side, it reminds me of Lewis Grizzard’s “They Tore My Heart Out and Stomped That Sucker Flat.” That man had great book titles; I’m especially enamored by “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes.”)
I’m lucky, though, that I have some great friends (and at least one incredibly patient and giving one, Sarah) who are determined to see me heal as quickly as possible, and who have spent the past week keeping an eye on me, calling and texting, and generally entertaining me and catering to my weirdness. It’s still hard to not do more than I am (hence the little Tuesday setback), but I’m trying to get past that guilt since I just had major surgery.
The past couple of years have made it harder to enforce my boundaries since I’ve been working mostly at home.
I’m fortunate that I work in a knowledge industry where remote work is possible, and that I’m in opinion rather than news (on the news side, you may need to be available in case someone else is off; there are some positions that don’t lend themselves well to remote work).
On most weekdays I try to log on at 8 a.m. and off at 5 p.m. or as close to it as I can; anyone who wants to reach me will just have to wait till morning if they don’t have my alternative contact info. On weekends, I don’t log in at all unless I have a column to write. But is that enough?
Probably not. It was easier when I was in the office, but even then I would forget to eat or to take a break to walk around the newsroom (very important to keep my knees from locking up, stay awake, stay sane, etc.). Now my home is my office, and I’m working more hours than before, partially because I feel guilty about leaving work undone.
While flexibility is a huge plus (if you have to go to a doctor’s appointment or pick up a kid or critter, you can easily make up the time; plus at home you don’t have to wear pants), you don’t have talks with co-workers or drives to or from the office to break up the day and give you a chance to wind down.
I have a work iPad (which is currently back in the office with my fill-in) and my own; it would probably be better to have a separate computer for work and my personal life, but it’s not realistic. Plus, as I’ve watched Sarah work on weekends to make sure a project is finished, it’s driven home the fact that disconnecting can sometimes be nearly impossible in our current culture.
Some countries in Europe, beginning with France in 2016, started creating rules to allow workers to disconnect and ignore after-hours messages without being penalized. Unfortunately, those rules only apply to knowledge workers.
Ope Akanbi, an assistant professor of Professional Communication at Ryerson University in Toronto, wrote on The Conversation in November about other ways those rules don’t really work. “The covid-19 pandemic forced many workers, especially parents, to integrate work with personal responsibilities. While some lamented the absence of boundaries, others enjoyed the benefits.
“The right to disconnect also fails to anticipate what Arlie Hochschild, an American sociologist, describes as the ‘second shift’—household chores, which are often unpaid and performed by women. Although eight-hour workday rights were designed to help workers enjoy leisure time, for many women, they’re merely a shift in gears to a different type of work from which there is no right to disconnect.”
Akanbi concludes: “Treating the right to disconnect as an authorized refusal to answer emails after 5 p.m. hardly addresses the problem of overwork among knowledge workers. After all, tight deadlines may create the need to work long hours without necessarily communicating with colleagues. Rather, employers should focus on being flexible and should offer knowledge workers more autonomy around their availability. This is a significant shift that asks employers to trust their knowledge workers to deliver on their tasks.
“The right to disconnect can be the catalyst an organization needs to review its policies. However, a cultural shift that destigmatizes a less frenetic pace of work and allows employees more control over their work boundaries will more directly address the problem of overwork.”
So … yeah, shift U.S. work culture, where workers don’t get the same consideration as CEOs. That’s easy. Surely someone can figure out a way to avoid burnout while avoiding burnout.
A few people have reached out, worried I might have cancer. I do not. I did have several masses removed, one the size of a small baby, according to my doctor (I’ve decided to call it Damian), and all were benign.
Their removal should make life a little easier and perhaps solve other problems (not the one about letting go of work, though, dang it).
Once I get preliminary clearance from my doctor to return to some work, it’ll still be another month before I can go back to the office, assuming we’re not in yet another surge by then.
Now we just wait. And heal.