Work-life imbalance

PAINT AND PAPER

The new way of working is not working for me.

It has never been a goal of mine to have a job where I work before the sun rises and hours after it sets.  Despite this, I often toil away on work desperately hoping to achieve a head nod from the recipient, at best I’ll be awarded the sacred yet empty compliment of “good job.”

Back in the day, if you’ll excuse me for dating myself with such a tired phrase, a 9 to 5 job was a thing. Wait, before I move on, dating myself is appealing. I’ve always considered myself a catch. I know that my quirks and spontaneous screams while initially charming would soon grow tiresome and supersede my boyish good looks. My face would only serve as a reminder of the troubling secrets shared in the dark at 3 am in a harsh whisper. Ultimately each of these revelations would be followed with, “I’ve never told that to anyone before.” In turn, it’s best to avoid the relationship altogether, and the eventual (and awkward!) break up in front of the bathroom mirror.

Back to the subject of this ramble, a 9 to 5 job was real at one point in time. Today the idea of working only 8 hours a day seems cute, quaint really, like visiting a small town that makes their own maple syrup.

The illustrious Dolly Parton and her ample hairdo once sang a toe-tapping tune capturing the pitfalls of working 9 to 5. Her soundtrack for the working man and woman of yesteryear (the 80s) speaks metaphorically to the vicious cycle of the day job. If Dolly Parton were going to sing a less catchy anthem for the modern workday, it’d be called “Working from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.” It doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This cycle that Dolly so eloquently described seems prolonged in the modern area. Even when you leave work nowadays, at any hour with any job, you take it with you.

I work in advertising, or I work for advertising more accurately, and it’s my day and night job. The majority of the time I don’t start doing any work until after 5. This is not because I’m lazy, but for the fact that during “normal” business hours there are meetings. There are back to back meetings and meetings to prepare for the meetings. I’m double booked, triple booked, and mostly booked for the crime of having too many meetings. I’ve been in meetings where no one knew who called the meeting or who was running the meeting or why we were even having a meeting. What’s the meaning of all these meetings?

To make it a clear, I’m not an important person at work nor do I know what that means. I feel I am the important person in general and a title at a company is nothing more than someone else’s opinion. I’ve held positions with various ranks, and the only tangible value I’ve seen is in the pay rate. The luxury of allowing a loved one to order whatever they want at a reasonably-priced restaurant is a significant reward.

I receive and accept these meeting invitations, not because of my status, but because it’s the nature of the work. Companies thrive on meetings. They can’t make a decision without them. Meetings are in place to ensure everyone is on the same page, or more specifically to guarantee the team is held accountable and a single individual is not blamed when something goes wrong. That way it’s a collective failure. Not having meetings would be like trying to live without any blood. Impossible.

At night and on weekends is when I do the work. My workday ends whenever I decide to go to sleep or pass out, whichever comes first. Agencies and clients have a not so funny joke about the ridiculous hours of advertising companies. The clients will ask when they can see the next version of something and we’ll say EOD (end of day). The next question from the clients is “end of day or end of agency day?” The joke is that the typical workday technically ends at 5 (see 9 to 5 reference earlier). An agency day has no definite end. So, that next version most likely won’t be sent out until the client is resting their heads on cool pillows and dreaming about spreadsheets and market share.

If I want to end my day at 6 pm, I have to let people know ahead of time. I send an email saying I have a “hard stop” at 6. Hard stop is a frivolous saying. Is there another kind of stop–say a gradual one where I slowly careen into oncoming traffic?

In company jargon, a hard stop is simple. It means that I will be unavailable after a set time. However, I will check e-mail and texts on my phone. Otherwise, I’m off the clock. Unless you need me to verify something. Or if you want to have a quick check in about the timelines for the rest of the week. Or if you wondering when I’ll be in tomorrow. But that’s it, seriously. I’m done working for the day. If you want to know my favorite color, fine, then call me, but that’s all. I’m putting a stake in the ground.

We’ve lost time to our jobs, and now we are trying to find the time to do what we enjoy. I’d like to write more if I could find the time, I’d hang out with my family if I could find the time, I’d remember to eat if I could find the time.

Time is different from other things that you can lose. You’ll most likely find your keys after you’ve lost them, but after you’ve lost time it’s gone forever. Some people do not accept this idea and respond by attempting to “make time.” Sadly, we’re not Gods and are incapable of miracles.

I know this sounds like I’ve invited myself to my own pity party. Quite frankly, I’ve rsvp’d yes. I’m grateful for my job. I like to work. However, I’m frustrated by these blurred lines between work and the rest of my life. Can way have a little more separation between church and state?

I blame this new way of working on two things: smartphones and fear.

Smartphones have made it nearly impossible to leave work at the office. You want to be available at all times, so everyone knows what a hard worker you are. But you also need to be constantly available since work never ends (another parenthetical note here to remind you to see the definition of “end of agency day”). Everyone on your team has your phone number. It’s probably in your e-mail signature. If it’s not, someone will ask for it. My advice is to give them the number of your local pizza establishment.

Fear is in the DNA of the client service industry. Companies are scared to be honest with clients. Afraid to put their employees first. Terrified to leave food in the fridge over the weekend. All that fear makes companies, not just the one I work at, behave irrationally. Those fears are a mask for their biggest fear. The fear that they will no longer be needed.

I lied about there being only two things to blame. I am also at fault. I choose to work this way, but in my defense I’m weak. I’m just trying to keep up the pace. Maybe the entire American workforce needs to have a meeting so we can collectively make a change?

No matter what job or jobs you have we all are in the same leaky boat. We’re scrambling, hustling, pushing forward, digging in, muscling through, day and night, 12 months a year, all for the sake of proving our worth and to keep ourselves from drowning.

The only real hard stop is when you’re dead. What a way to make a living.

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