Sometimes you will send somebody an email and you will get an out of office email saying – “I am not available but you can reach me on mail or chat.” This is the world we live in now.
Today I left my phone in the house and I had a terrible sense of Deja Vu from back when I worked in the corporate world. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I really considered not going back for it just to prove my sense of independence from the ties with the pesky device and stick it to “the man”. The thought was however quickly banished by the fact that as a job seeker an employer could be trying to reach me at any time and also that my current boss is not entirely sure about where our relationship is headed and I would not want to antagonise them further by “blatantly” ignoring a call. Also, my dreams of being my own boss may just materialise on this day that I have left the phone behind and we would not want that, now would we? Also, “home” is a ten-minute walk unlike Nairobi CBD where you maybe live in Rongai and going back for it is a whole day affair (where you buy snacks to tide you throughout the journey, Lol)
My organization had a very strict reply policy that was included and measured as a Kenya Performance Indicator (KPI). It was not uncommon between the hours of nine and eleven a.m. to receive an email sent to members of the team indicating “no phone, however, I am reachable on mail and chat”. This was expected. There was never to be a reason why you did not answer your phone. If you were on leave, you were to indicate using automatic reply when you were expected back but still check your emails periodically to ensure nothing really urgent comes up. Of course, if it did come up, you would be called…and not answering was still not an option. All this and no overtime. It is in the contract after all.
I’ll take this commercial break to inform all that the phone has not rang or beeped in a message. Not even a WhatsApp forward. Tsk, this life *eye roll*.
So anyway, there has been a lot of talk of work-life balance and I will say here and now that I am impressed with cozy office layout and break-out areas with a fridge and possibly the odd drink-up on Fridays or even the middle of the week “just because”…but it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this because of the fluidity of communication between the boss and the employee. We were on first name basis there and the contacts were shared across the board so getting one’s number is simple as clicking on an excel sheet and sending the contact a message (or better yet a WhatsApp because blue ticks will indicate receipt and read). The boss can reach you at the drop of a hat.
France has begun to implement measures to curb these intrusions into personal time after the standard 8-5 (this could vary depending on the organization) in a French campaign dubbed “right to disconnect“. We have become so used to taking work home with us that it has become a norm and you will be viewed as a non-team-player if you do not toe the line. There are unspoken rules on how to conduct oneself and an attempt to break away will have you on the spot several times for “thinking you are special”, “being entitled”, “being stubborn” you name it.
In my opinion, the only way to be sure you do not fall into this work-work balance trap is to:
Make it clear from the beginning: Ensure that during the interview process you are clear what is expected of you as an employee and the hours you are expected to put in. Some offices may require extra hours beyond the five o’ clock thus going in you will be prepared for this.
Set limits for yourself: I have a friend who will take on too many work and personal engagements that she gets home too tired to even make a phone call or reply texts. She takes them on thinking she will manage (and in the end she does) but they cause physical and mental strain she does not account for at the onset.
Separate line for work and play: Have more than one phone numbers you are reachable on, one for business, work matters and networks and one for personal matters. Try as much as you can to ensure that these two do not overlap. This way, when you leave the office, you can switch off the official communication line and engage in your social circles.
Have interests outside work: Same as in relationships, it is healthy to have interests that are not dependent on your field of work, or significant other. Shed your work skin and step into your wild skin. Be it belting out tunes on a karaoke machine, swimming, just sitting on a bench and people watching. Do something that takes you out of work space and into personal space. A pilot acquaintance likes driving. He says it calms him. (I don’t get how it is different from “driving” a plane but hey! To each his own)