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The boundary between work and home

A growing number of companies are telling employees to stop using electronics to work even when you are home.  From Cecilia Kang:

Tonight, employees at the Advisory Board have an unusual task: Stay off ­e-mail.

Stash away those smartphones and laptops, the District firm has instructed. For those who just can’t stay away, read but don’t reply. And while we’re at it, ignore your inbox throughout the weekend, too, the firm added.

The consulting firm’s push for no after-hours e-mail is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn.

In recent years, one in four companies have created similar rules on e-mail, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Firms trying out these policies include Volkswagen, some divisions of PricewaterhouseCoopers and shipping company PBD Worldwide.

For the vast majority of companies and federal offices, the muddying of work and personal time has had financial advantages. Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.

And that presents one of the great conundrums of our recessionary era: E-mail has helped companies eke out more from each worker. But the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.

“There is no question e-mail is an important tool, but it’s just gone overboard and encroached in our lives in a way where employees were feeling like it was harder and harder to achieve a good balance,” said Robert Musslewhite, chief executive of the Advisory Board, a health and education research and software-services firm.

Official numbers show just one in 10 people brings work home, according to a Labor Department report in 2010. But economists say that figure is wildly conservative because it counts only those who are clocking in those hours for extra pay.

More often, employees work evenings and weekends beyond their normal hours and do not record that time with their employers, labor advocacy groups say. And that’s made work bleed into just about every vacant space of time — from checking BlackBerrys and iPhones at school drop-offs, on the way home from happy hour and just after the alarm clock rings, they say.

via After-hours e-mail, companies are telling employees to avoid it – The Washington Post.

Some professions just don’t fit the 9 to 5 hourly breakdown.  If you own or are responsible for a business, you are thinking about it round-the-clock.  Even with me, a professor and college administrator, I find myself thinking about what to present in my classes or what to do about some problem at any time in the day or night, including when I toss and turn in the middle of the night (where I seem to get my best ideas).

It’s worth noting too that when Luther was articulating the doctrine of vocation, there was no boundary between work and home, since most work–farming, crafts, most trades–was done at home (as opposed to what happened after the industrial revolution when most economic labor took place away from the family).  Thus Luther wrote about the vocations of the “household,” which included both the family callings such as marriage and parenthood and what the family did to earn a living.

And yet, arguably, the invasion of the home by the workplace, abetted by technology, may well be eroding the other vocations we have.  Notice how when we hear the word “vocation” we immediately think of our “job.”  In Luther’s day and in the Biblical writings about “calling” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:17), people would first think about things like marriage.  (See our book on the subject, Family Vocations.)

There is little doubt that today people are neglecting their callings as spouse, parent, church member,  citizen, et al., because of their pre-occupation with their work and the enabling device of their smart phones.  Would you agree?  Do we need to “rebuild the boundaries between work and home”?  Or do we need to break down those boundaries, but in a different way than we have been doing?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Agreed, though a bit of a two-edged sword. My smart phone and email make me much more efficient which helps both myself and the people I serve. On the other hand, I just spent a week vacationing and transacted more work-related things than I would ever have been able to in years gone by. Good in some ways, bad in some ways. (I’ve harbored the suspicion for a long time now that the good thing about the iPhone and computer is that you can do more work from home – which is also the bad thing about them.) Ultimately, we’re the rulers of our devices (or should be) and don’t have to answer them if we don’t want to. For me, the pluses greatly outweigh the minuses.

  • Pete

    Agreed, though a bit of a two-edged sword. My smart phone and email make me much more efficient which helps both myself and the people I serve. On the other hand, I just spent a week vacationing and transacted more work-related things than I would ever have been able to in years gone by. Good in some ways, bad in some ways. (I’ve harbored the suspicion for a long time now that the good thing about the iPhone and computer is that you can do more work from home – which is also the bad thing about them.) Ultimately, we’re the rulers of our devices (or should be) and don’t have to answer them if we don’t want to. For me, the pluses greatly outweigh the minuses.

  • Julian

    Thankfully I don’t have a Blackberry that links to my work email. However, I still have dreams of bearings, rotors spinning, oil pumping, etc. when I am home. I have lost sleep over work-related anxiety, which of course is a sinful attitude on my part. The truth is, even without a smartphone, “balance” is hard to achieve.

  • Julian

    Thankfully I don’t have a Blackberry that links to my work email. However, I still have dreams of bearings, rotors spinning, oil pumping, etc. when I am home. I have lost sleep over work-related anxiety, which of course is a sinful attitude on my part. The truth is, even without a smartphone, “balance” is hard to achieve.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    If we zoom the lens out, and take a long historical view of this, it is pretty much of a novelty that people are able to live in one location and work in another.

    Consider, for example, the modern farmer, who generally has his house on the very same property where he farms, and keeps all his equipment.

    Consider the fact that this was the way it always was for mankind.

    The phrase “publishing house” arose from the days when the printing equipment was downstairs and the family lived upstairs, etc.

    Just something to consider.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    If we zoom the lens out, and take a long historical view of this, it is pretty much of a novelty that people are able to live in one location and work in another.

    Consider, for example, the modern farmer, who generally has his house on the very same property where he farms, and keeps all his equipment.

    Consider the fact that this was the way it always was for mankind.

    The phrase “publishing house” arose from the days when the printing equipment was downstairs and the family lived upstairs, etc.

    Just something to consider.

  • http://TheSmokeFilledRoom.com OFelixCulpa

    As you point out, the concept of a stark division between work life and home life has not always been assumed. The concept arose because of the changes of the industrial revolution; it is not given to us in scripture. Therefore, it is incorrect for us to treat that concept of the relationship between work and home as if it is an authoritative pattern. So, to answer your concluding question: We should not build boundaries where scripture does not.

    Perhaps part of the balance problem that you discuss comes from the fact that people tend to break down those boundaries mostly in one direction. In the complete separation model, when a person is at work, work, of course, gets the ultimate priority; all non-work items are eschewed almost as if they were evil (those things are to be taken care of “on your own time.”) That is understandable, but only possible if both work and home respect their boundaries. Nowadays jobs often spill over into home; clear boundaries do not exist. When there is no boundary between work and home, work cannot be given the ultimate priority that it would be during “company time” in the separation model.

  • http://TheSmokeFilledRoom.com OFelixCulpa

    As you point out, the concept of a stark division between work life and home life has not always been assumed. The concept arose because of the changes of the industrial revolution; it is not given to us in scripture. Therefore, it is incorrect for us to treat that concept of the relationship between work and home as if it is an authoritative pattern. So, to answer your concluding question: We should not build boundaries where scripture does not.

    Perhaps part of the balance problem that you discuss comes from the fact that people tend to break down those boundaries mostly in one direction. In the complete separation model, when a person is at work, work, of course, gets the ultimate priority; all non-work items are eschewed almost as if they were evil (those things are to be taken care of “on your own time.”) That is understandable, but only possible if both work and home respect their boundaries. Nowadays jobs often spill over into home; clear boundaries do not exist. When there is no boundary between work and home, work cannot be given the ultimate priority that it would be during “company time” in the separation model.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    What I see when people don’t put boundaries up between work and home is burnout and stress. As a teacher, I’ve seen it ruin the lives of other teachers through illness, stress, and sometimes even family problems.

    I am as careful as possible to put boundaries up between work and home. It’s not fair to my family, and it does little good for me to be fretting about the classroom while at dinner with my family. Not to mention that there is more to life than the job.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    What I see when people don’t put boundaries up between work and home is burnout and stress. As a teacher, I’ve seen it ruin the lives of other teachers through illness, stress, and sometimes even family problems.

    I am as careful as possible to put boundaries up between work and home. It’s not fair to my family, and it does little good for me to be fretting about the classroom while at dinner with my family. Not to mention that there is more to life than the job.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    As noted @ #3 & #4, strict work-life separation is a relative new concept, and still illusive/impossible for many: Consider farmers for instance – not exactly the picturesque lifestyle many think it is.

    I myself am now in a Consulting firm – which means a lot of demands at all times. But, since you log every 15 minutes, you can get time off in lieu etc. But, as Julian @ 2 notes, even separation from work doesn’t mean that you stop working on it, even in your sleep. Sometimes, that can be productive too, as I recently discovered!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    As noted @ #3 & #4, strict work-life separation is a relative new concept, and still illusive/impossible for many: Consider farmers for instance – not exactly the picturesque lifestyle many think it is.

    I myself am now in a Consulting firm – which means a lot of demands at all times. But, since you log every 15 minutes, you can get time off in lieu etc. But, as Julian @ 2 notes, even separation from work doesn’t mean that you stop working on it, even in your sleep. Sometimes, that can be productive too, as I recently discovered!

  • DonS

    Good points above about the fact that separation of workplace and home are recent phenomena. But, in most cases, those situations (shopkeepers, farmers, etc.) involved the self-employed. I see nothing but good in this electronic revolution for the self-employed like myself — I feel much freer to take time away from the office because I can remain “plugged in”, checking my email each day from the hotel or home, and being able to access my work computer remotely, then was the case when the only thing I could do was check voicemail and rely on my assistant or partners to cover any emergency that arose. I don’t mind that time each day because I enjoy my job and it gives me peace of mind that my clients are OK in my absence.

    On the other hand, if you are an employee, this seems like a good policy. Some managers need these boundaries to be set by corporate policy because they will otherwise abuse their empl0yees’ personal time.

  • DonS

    Good points above about the fact that separation of workplace and home are recent phenomena. But, in most cases, those situations (shopkeepers, farmers, etc.) involved the self-employed. I see nothing but good in this electronic revolution for the self-employed like myself — I feel much freer to take time away from the office because I can remain “plugged in”, checking my email each day from the hotel or home, and being able to access my work computer remotely, then was the case when the only thing I could do was check voicemail and rely on my assistant or partners to cover any emergency that arose. I don’t mind that time each day because I enjoy my job and it gives me peace of mind that my clients are OK in my absence.

    On the other hand, if you are an employee, this seems like a good policy. Some managers need these boundaries to be set by corporate policy because they will otherwise abuse their empl0yees’ personal time.

  • http://www.christianhomeandfamily.com Carey

    I agree with Pete (above), in that there are elements of my technology that help me to be MORE present at home. For example, I used to be going into the room every 5 minutes to check for new emails (a HUGE distraction and disconnect from family life… and a commentary on my own need for sanctification when it comes to self-control), but now my phone, which is in my pocket, beeps when an new email arrives. It’s somehow a mind-free-er to know that for the past 3 hours (for example) it has not beeped, and therefore I don’t feel the compulsion to go check the computer.

    However, the sticky wicket remains in the fact that the phone is there in my pocket and can easily become a distraction in itself. The issue is that we as disciples of our LORD must learn to walk in the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, so that no matter the technology (a printing press OR an android phone), we are controlling it for the sake of doing all things for the glory of our King.

  • http://www.christianhomeandfamily.com Carey

    I agree with Pete (above), in that there are elements of my technology that help me to be MORE present at home. For example, I used to be going into the room every 5 minutes to check for new emails (a HUGE distraction and disconnect from family life… and a commentary on my own need for sanctification when it comes to self-control), but now my phone, which is in my pocket, beeps when an new email arrives. It’s somehow a mind-free-er to know that for the past 3 hours (for example) it has not beeped, and therefore I don’t feel the compulsion to go check the computer.

    However, the sticky wicket remains in the fact that the phone is there in my pocket and can easily become a distraction in itself. The issue is that we as disciples of our LORD must learn to walk in the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, so that no matter the technology (a printing press OR an android phone), we are controlling it for the sake of doing all things for the glory of our King.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I barely pay attention to my work email when I’m at work. It sure as heck doesn’t intersect with my home life.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I barely pay attention to my work email when I’m at work. It sure as heck doesn’t intersect with my home life.

  • brianh

    Ha ha. Kudos Mike W. Will we disglobalize due to the Industrial Revolution’s mirror image, The Financial Devolution?

  • brianh

    Ha ha. Kudos Mike W. Will we disglobalize due to the Industrial Revolution’s mirror image, The Financial Devolution?


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