While our electronic devices have given us access to information at an unprecedented scale, it has also allowed workers to be constantly available to their organizations and bosses. Managers are able to contact employees outside of business hours and make last-minute requests for additional work. In this way, subordinates are routinely overloaded. 

To satisfy this organisational pressure, employees have adapted to become what sociologists have called ideal workers: people who are 100% dedicated to their jobs and are always on call 24 hours, 7 days a week. To satisfy these insane work demands, employees must repeatedly choose to prioritise their jobs ahead of other parts of their lives.

Thus, ‘ideal workers’ rarely make personal plans for the evening. Even if they do, they do not talk about it. Even if they do make it for their evening plans like a movie or a dinner date, they would not hesitate to respond if an urgent request for work comes up during their personal time. ‘Ideal workers’ routinely sacrifice their private times with family and friends just so that they can conform to these expectations. 

Before we vilify the employers for overworking their employees, there could be cultural issues that are contributing to the problem. One of the symptoms of being tethered to our electronic devices is that we feel like we are constantly on crisis mode, as though every task is super, undeniably urgent. However, this is unlikely to be true in all cases. In addition, perhaps employees would not feel the pressure to work all evening if productivity during the day was increased. Perhaps, the workspace could be rearranged to minimise distractions or that employees can be taught productivity hacks.

Negative Impacts of 24/7 Work

Considering the amount of time that employees are spending at work, plus the incursions of work-related tasks on their personal time, family life may start to fall by the wayside. It becomes increasingly difficult to gather for family dinners as people spend more time on their electronic devices rather than with one another and parents start to miss important events in their children’s lives. All these would gradually and insidiously lead to a breakdown of family relationships.

Without familial support, one becomes easily susceptible to fatigue and burnout. Burnout is seen as an “occupational phenomenon” that is characterised by chronic work stress that is not successfully managed. If the stress at work persists over time, then employees can develop more serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Besides, the 24/7 working culture has indirectly promulgated gender inequality in the workplace. Research has shown that while men tend to simply work the extended hours, women tend to opt for flexible work programs so that they can spend more time with their families. However, these less demanding hours often present a hindrance to women’s careers. Women who may have thriving careers outside of a 24/7 work culture find themselves unable to progress. If more organisations start to realise that being on call at all hours is not necessary, then steps may be taken for professionals to maintain a better work-life balance.

Right to Disconnect: Laws Banning 24/7 Working Culture

France is the forerunner in establishing legal frameworks to protect a person’s right to disconnect. They have introduced legislation which stipulates that every employee contract must include negotiations about how connected employees are outside of office hours. Italy has also followed suit with similar legislation. It is hoped that if employees know upfront what their job will entail, they would be better able to find a balance between constant communication and personal time.

However, can disconnection only be achieved through legislation and is passing legislation even a good idea? There are some who advocate that strategic disconnection and reclamation of work-life balance does not start with the enacting of legislation, but with the taking of ownership. Specifically, one needs to learn how to disconnect from our ‘overwired’ and digitally distracted world.

Coupled with the disconnection, we could also move towards a more productive work life by:

  • Scheduling 2-3 times a day for engaging and responding to email rather than a habitual checking of email on the smartphone throughout the day; or
  • Scheduling regular time for focused work without being drowned by administrative tasks such as meetings and email communications.

 

YouTube: Are French workers lazy because of their short hours and long breaks?

 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Do you think there is a 24/7 working culture in Singapore? Why or why not?
  2. As a student, how do you manage your time? Do you think you would be able to achieve work-life balance as you enter the workplace? Why or why not?

 

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. incursion’: an invasion or attack, especially a sudden or brief one
  2. vilify’: speak or write about in an abusively disparaging manner

 

Here are more related articles for further reading:

 

  1. The Telegraph: Nothing wrong with the 24/7 work culture?

Everyone is familiar with the cliché of the multi-tasking, stressed out, 21st century portfolio worker, desperately trying to stay on top of things as they juggle work, family and relationships, while not falling apart under the pressure of it all.

In response, there is a growing regulatory backlash against the 24/7 work culture. Some big German companies have started banning emails out of work hours. There are campaigns under way to put that into law, both in Germany, and somewhat inevitably in France as well. Don’t be surprised if the EU issues a directive preventing companies from contacting their staff when they are not in the office.

In reality, there is nothing wrong with the 24/7 whirlwind. It can be stressful, but it enables flexible working, which is great for mothers. It pushes forward globalisation, which hardly respects time barriers. It lets innovative firms grow quickly, and it has enabled a class of high-powered freelancers to emerge. We’re better off for it.

It is Germany, apparently determined to cling on to a 1950s industrial model, which is putting up the most resolute defence of the nine-to-five working day.

 

  1. Fast Company: Laws banning after-hours email won’t fix our 24/7 work culture

As a psychologist who has spent much of the past decade writing about the impact of living in an overwired world, I’ve thought a lot about the very issue Espinal wants to tackle. In my first book, Rewired, I demonstrated how our overwired and digitally distracted world was slowly eroding our ability to focus, and worse yet, rewriting our brains. In my most recent book, Create More Flow, I returned to this problem in order to offer powerful and actionable strategies to disconnect. This is exactly why I think legislation alone won’t work when it comes to regulating work-related communications after hours.

 

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