Monday, September 08, 2003

Work. Life. Balance.

Work Life Balance and the Rest of Our Lives, by Professor Andrew Oswald, of Warwick University. Terribly interesting. (link picked up from Fistful of Euros.) It's only 4 pages, go ahead and read it.

From the paper's intro:

Work. Yet more work. And still more of the stuff.
Many feel that this is what consumes us. As the most vibrant years of our life tick away, we sit at a hot desk in front of a still hotter keyboard. People in the industrial nations are rich -- breathtakingly affluent by any historical standard -- but it is easy in 2003 to believe that it is essential to rush down the office corridor, have business meetings with Cornflakes, compete endlessly for promotion, take no real lunch break, and the rest.

The endless competition for rank is a problem, as no one wants to get off the ride first. Oswald proposes coordinated time off, and then, perhaps cheekily, suggests abolishing Wednesdays. I think that's a great idea. Or, of course, Mondays.

Moving along...

I suck at work-life balance as a rule. Realizing that, I made a firm rule, two jobs ago, as firm as I could.

No weekends, yes lunch.

Four little words. It's hard. I've certainly worked weekends, but less than I did in 2000. And I went out to lunch almost every single day, away from the building I worked in, which is a vast improvement over 2000, when I almost never did.

But it takes effort to say, I will be more productive if I don't kill myself, because of course if you've got someone breathing down your neck on a project, and you go out to lunch, you can't possibly be working hard enough. Bull.

That observation points up something about the manager-employee dynamic, at least in tech fields, but I'm not sure I've got my finger quite on it:

If your manager doesn't know how you do what you do, they cannot gauge your productivity. Ergo, so long as you look busy, you must be busy. Thus, if they're panicking about something, and you're visibly not, you must not understand the severity of the problem (my god! how could you possibly be going to lunch when this needs to be delivered by close of business!) in which case you need constant on-site micro-management to within an inch of your life, which is never productive.

Hm. Both of which, by the way, come back to Oswald's paper. One of the things he discusses is feelings of autonomy and intrinsic worth.

Being micro-managed, of course, destroys any feeling of autonomy nigh-immediately.

And re: self worth, if your manager doesn't know how you do what you do, or what you do at all, not only can they not gauge your productivity, they cannot give you useful approval. This is very much so in tech work. If you can't understand what I did for you, sure, I"ll be happy that you're happy I solved your problem, but since you're not judging the quality of my work, there's no peer approval provided when you call me a deity. And as much as people like adulation, it's the approval of our peers - people whom we respect and admire within our field of expertise- that we need as much, if not more.

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