Yes, that’s right, I’m going to talk about the big, pink and white polka dotted elephant in the room. Work/Life balance.
I guess it’s a little funny that I’m thinking about this so much on Administrative Professionals Day. The day people are supposed to remember to thank their admins for all the crazy stuff we do.
I’ve talked and worked with many admins over the years. One clear theme seems to always be present; working pretty much constantly. Checking email on your phone, booking travel for an exec on the weekend, staying up to 4am working on presentation for the board of directors, going on “vacation” but still answering emails, stepping out to answer a phone call during a romantic dinner with a partner. The list goes on and on.
And it isn’t just admins. It’s recruiters, bankers, TPMs, teachers, engineers, executives, sales people, PR, marketing. It seems like it’s almost everyone. And everywhere you look, you see people checking their phones, or iwatches. People are engaged, but they’re not really engaged in the world around them. They don’t see things. They take pictures and look at them afterwards trying to remember what it was like to experience something they never actually looked at.
What happened? When did it happen? Why did it happen? And how the hell do we keep it under control? Especially when it begins to effect our health. Not just mental health, but our bodies as well.
I’m not sure if technology is fully to blame here, but it definitely plays a role. It allows us to stay connected. All the time. No matter where we are. Even in Antarctica. Satellite phones and internet were available for a cost. I’m sad to admit, but that was the first time since I gave in and bought a smart phone in 2011 (yes, I waited a LONG time before I gave in) that I disconnected completely. In fact, I don’t have as many pictures as one would think because I took the time to experience what I was doing and actually look at things. I remember what the penguins sounded like because I sat there and listened to them for hours. I can recall the sound of skiing down a mountain in fresh un-tracked powder because I wasn’t recording it. I was living in the moment. I was mentally present.
Once back on land though, I synced my phone immediately and was checking emails, messages, Facebook, etc. Wondering what I missed. Especially for work. I was offline for 13 whole days. The world must have imploded. What did I discover? Nothing. That’s right, absolutely nothing had happened. And if it had, there was nothing I could have done anyways. I was in Antarctica!
Thinking about it now, I know when and where I developed this insistent need to be in constant contact with my job. The company that bought me my first smart phone. I was supporting 6 executives there and they had needs. Busy travel, calendars, errands, and meetings that needed attention on a whim. And so I became available 24 hours a day and I never looked back.
My x husband didn’t seem to care much that I took phone calls any time of day, booked travel on the weekends, and stayed up for 28 hours working on presentations for the board of directors. Sometimes I wish he had said something. Sometimes I wish I had more courage to speak up and say no. Instead it became “the norm” for me. I would go out to lunch with my fellow admins at different companies and it was expected that you would be on your phone the whole time. No one ever said anything and I continued to be on call 24/7. Until one fateful day. I don’t remember much about that day, except it was the first day of my life I actually wished for someone to smash into me in traffic so I could take a break from work. This thought was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. Finding a way to be good at my job, but also being able to disconnect.
No one seems to disconnect completely anymore. No one. Not the executives, not the engineers, not TPMS, not the bankers, and certainly not the admins. I’m pretty positive, other than analysts and investment bankers, admins are the worst when it comes to disconnecting. We are always on our phones. We check our emails constantly. We check in when we’re “on vacation”. It’s almost like an addiction of sorts. We’re addicted to knowing what’s happening and what needs to get done. Prioritizing, organizing, helping. I’m so guilty of this, but I’m also not extremely proud of it. There are times when it is, in fact, an emergency and a meeting needs to be scheduled for the next day immediately, but most of the time, it can wait until I get into work at 7:30am.
Back in the day before the invent of smart technology, people went home and spent time with their families. They left work at 5 or 6pm and didn’t talk to people until 8am the next morning. Sure, sometimes there was an emergency, but generally speaking, I’m pretty sure everything was ok.
Some people like working all the time. So I’ll shout out to them and say, awesome for you, but that’s not for me. After a bazillion years in the admin role, I’m really over the overtime and the constant checking in. My stress and unhappiness and time spent working has manifested itself in anxiety, eczema, blood pressure, a cyst in my wrist, and re-curring trigger finger (the last two are also caused my incorrect posture and keyboard/mouse setup).
So here I am. I find myself wanting to back out of checking emails constantly, and being able to take real vacation. You know. The one where you go someplace amazing and experience new things… without my phone. I don’t want to constantly be worried about what’s happening at work after I leave. I don’t want to wake up at 2am in a cold sweat hoping everything goes smoothly for some meeting my exec is having the following day. I want to go home and focus on me and my family. My husband, my cats, myself.
But I don’t know that I can without being criticized. So many people seem to think that if you turn off work you’re not doing a good job. I disagree. I think if you have time to recharge, you’ll be able to do a better job when you are actually at work. I know there probably isn’t a job without any overtime, but perhaps there is one that allows me to de-stress more often so my body/mind can go back to it’s equilibrium. Or maybe, just maybe, I can find a better balance in the job I’m currently in.
My boss is pretty adamant about spending time with his family and it does trickle down to his directors/managers. Perhaps I need to take a good, hard look at myself and step back from the attachment I have to always being connected. I’m fairly certain that disconnecting more often will lead to improved work quality as I’ll be able to look at things with more clarity because my brain won’t be overloaded. It’s worth a try because option B is continued health issues and ain’t nobody got time for that.🙂