So, being that I’m old enough to be an AARP member (that still shocks me every time I think about it), I’ve been in the work world for quite a while.  I started working part time back in high school at a mini-factory of sorts, making quiches. Not a bad gig, actually.  It did have its down sides, as every job does.  Like when you were assigned the job of processing the huge block of cheese into grated cheese, and you’d break out in hives from the fumes.  But it had its up sides too.  Like getting to take home the ones that came out of the oven with cracked crusts!

But one thing I’ve noticed over the years … what used to be thought of as the “9 to 5” world has now become a “24/7” thing.  And I think everyone can agree, this is NOT a good change!

Back when I first became a paralegal, I worked at a law firm.  Law firms are notorious for having their employees work a TON of hours.  It’s all about the billables.  I would regularly work late.  And I’m not talking 7 p.m. or even 8 p.m.  I’m talking 10 or 11 at night!  At times I’d be there would be even later, taking car service home at 2 a.m.  And on a rare occasion, I’d never get home.  I had a change of clothes in my office and a sleeping bag stored under my desk for times when I would have to pull an all-nighter, catching a half an hour or so of sleep before starting the next full day.  I don’t care that you get dinner paid for by the company, or even the car service home.  Nobody likes to work that many hours!

When I was ready to leave the law firm for an in-house position, I sat down with one of the partners I worked with on a consistent basis.  He didn’t want me to leave and offered to have the law firm pay for me to go to law school.  I was extremely honored!  I found out that only one other person before me had been given that offer!!  But, I turned him down. I didn’t want this kind of life.  I want quality of life.  I wanted to earn enough to pay my bills and save for vacations and retirement.  I didn’t need to live in the style of what is commonly thought of as being “rich”, because to me being rich is having a family who loves me, good friends who are like family, and the time to enjoy the things life has to offer.  The long hours were the main reason that I was leaving the firm to begin with. 

After the law firm, I worked at jobs that were more reasonable in how many hours I had to work in any given day.  But I would say that in the past 10 years or so, it’s gotten to the point that even the “in-house” hours are getting longer. I know there are certain industries where this is always going to be the case.  But now more companies want to have more done, by less people.  And the project loads just keep getting more and more heavy!  Businesses usually want everyone on a blackberry or smartphone, connected all the time to the office. 

Taking the weekend, or a vacation, completely away from work-related interruptions is practically unheard of!  Weekends and vacations were traditionally meant to let a person recharge their batteries, so they can come back to the office better prepared to tackle the work on their plate.  Well, to be honest, this can only be said to have been “traditionally” if we only look back to 1908, which was when the current 5-day work week was started.  But now it seems that we are regressing to have to work 24/7, albeit some of that time may not be in the office itself.

How is not getting this “off” time having an effect on us?  There is no rest, there is no recharging.  So are we really as productive in the hours we are working?  Now they have desks that you can raise up so you can stand for part of your day, to reduce the risk of stroke.  Seriously?  We have become so glued to our desks that we are risking our very health!

The United States ranks VERY low on the scale of countries that are best for a work-life balance.  It’s not even in the top 10 of the best countries for a good work-life balance. Heck, it’s not even in the top 25! And it’s worse in the metropolitan areas of the country.  These are the areas where leisurely walking down the street will annoy others around you (um, New York, I’m talking about you!) Everyone is rushing around to get more done in less time.  Why do we feel that we need to live to work, rather than work to live? 

I remember a past job of mine, where during the interview my soon to be boss had told me that, if hired, he expected that I would have a blackberry and that I would check it during the hours that I was not in the office.  He indicated that if he sent me a message to take care of something, that while it could wait until I was back in the office to be done (unless the message said to do it right away), that he expected that I would at the very least respond to the email to let him know that I had gotten the message.  It got to the point where the first thing I would do when my alarm went off in the morning was to check my blackberry.  It was also the last thing I did before going to sleep.  If I happened to wake up in the middle of the night for whatever reason, I would immediately reach for that device! By the time I left that job, I was so stressed out and drained.

At my next job, I refused to allow them to give me a blackberry or company work phone.  I told my next boss that IF it were extremely urgent that he need to reach me, he had my phone number and my email address (personal one, not work).  Otherwise, I would see all emails when I returned to the office.  I put my foot down that my time away from the office would be MY time.  Of course, every time I would go on vacation, he would manage to find something to email me about.  Usually every day while I was away.  And these were things he could have asked of another person who was in the office.  I knew this was more of a power play for him.  So, if it were something that I knew was really and truly not urgent, I wouldn’t answer.

If you’re the type who is constantly checking your work email …. stop that right now!!!  Put your foot down.  Let your colleagues know that you will check email IF there is a big project that is VERY time sensitive.  But that otherwise, your time away is YOUR time!  At first it will seem VERY strange to you to not check.  But believe me, if someone is emailing you at 10 p.m., they can wait until 9 a.m. to get that answer!  The world won’t explode!  Let’s take back our lives and start thinking that we are working to live, not living to work!  Put away the work phone and actually enjoy LIFE!