Monday, March 19, 2012

Trapped in the Office

This is the post that just won't die. I tried to write it, then decided it was bunk, but then I keep running across other things that relate to it.

My original thesis was: Americans work too much. Our priorities are out of balance.

This was inspired partly by another book I read recently. It's called Spousonomics, and it combines my love of economics, human behavior, and psychology with my love of relationship stories.

It's a pretty good book, although the jokey way the authors focus on sex as a motivator can sometimes be annoying. They present dozens of different couples, tell the story of how they met, and then how they got into some major conflict/tension they're having in their relationship. Then the authors (an economist and a journalist) apply economic principles to "solve" these marital issues.

Everyone takes away their own message from these kinds of lessons, but the common theme I noticed throughout the book was time management. People didn't seem to make enough time for each other, their families, or their relationships.

The refrain I heard over and over (probably because I was keyed in on it) was that so-and-so was at work too much and couldn't devote time to their family.

In one case, a wife uses some economic principle to change her schedule and it benefits her relationship, but as the authors point out, it's not a fool-proof solution. "Some nights she'd be legitimately trapped in the office until late."

I wrote that down:
Some nights she'd be legitimately trapped in the office until late.
This bothers me. Unless you work as a magician's assistant, no one should ever be "trapped" at work. It just shows how skewed our priorities are that this sentiment is just taken for granted-- a necessary aspect of working life.


That was my original thesis. But as I think more about it, it's kind of simplistic. People want to do a good job. I do value a conscientious work ethic. Incompetent, lazy, shoddy work drives me crazy. It is a credit to our national values that people work hard and want to be productive, useful, contributing members of our society.

And really, when you compare our lives to those of almost every generation before us, we have TONS of leisure time. We don't have to grow our own food or make our own clothes or build our own homes. We have it so easy.

You think peasant mud farmers in the Middle Ages had any leisure time?

Maybe that's what bothers me about the work-all-the-time mindset. For most of us, our work is not so important that we can't just put it down at the end of the day and say, "This can wait til tomorrow. I have a home, family, and personal life to tend to."

It's all about balance.


Because of my ambivalence about this issue, I decided not to publish this post.

Then two things found their way onto my Facebook feed.

The first was this article from the British paper The Guardian : Top five regrets of the dying. A nurse compiled a list of the regrets she most often hears from patients who are dying.

Number 2 on the list of regrets? I wish I hadn't worked so hard. This regret came from "every male patient that I nursed... most were from an older generation... All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

The other thing that caught my attention was this video:

It's Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, saying that she makes it a point to leave work every day at 5:30. What's striking is that this video needs to be made at all. Why does someone need to make a big deal of the fact that she's able to leave work at a reasonable time every day?

What does it say about our priorities that this is a bold brave act?

I didn't go looking for these items, but they found me. Obviously other people are thinking about this issue, too.

Let's get some balance in our lives.


spleeness said...

Great post, I just Facebooked it -- felt like you put out a lot of important information people could benefit from. Thx!

Tim said...

Awesome-- thanks for the FB love, spleeness!