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The Shifting Shape of Work

7th November 2014 | Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos

Authors of Creating Authentic Organizations, Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos, dwell on the schisms underlying the 'work-life balance.'

The Shifting Shape of Work

Our industrialized past has created the conditions for what might be thought of as a ‘schism’ between how people are expected to be at work, and how they can act outside of work. This schism we have taken with us into the modern era, and along with it, a set of tools, assumptions and mindsets that are not fully adapted to current requirements.

In the modern context, when we go to work, we continue to discard our private selves and don our work personas in the process of conforming to the norms of the workplace. Somewhere along our journey to work, we make changes and adjustments to our language, demeanour, sense of identity and appearance, as a host of assumptions and customs begin to act upon us.

The sense of the divide between paid work and our private lives is no more keenly felt than during the process of remaking ourselves in preparation for entering into work. Most people, for example, will wear formal office attire for a job interview or when meeting a corporate client for the first time. The semiotic value of a suit and tie cannot be underestimated, and carries within it the whole philosophy of our industrialised past. It describes ideas of uniformity and standardization, minimization of distracting choices and reproducibility.

We know that the two worlds are interwoven, but we find our personality being divided into two factions. We are estranged and strangers to ourselves. One interviewee for our book (Creating Authentic Organizations) told us a story that illustrates this well. The interviewee- a professional, high-earning young woman who also had young children- described how, on a number of occasions, she had been unexpectedly forced to work from home to cover for childcare problems. When she was on the phone with both clients and colleagues, with her children making noises in the background (as they do), she would make up stories so that the person on the other end of the call wouldn’t think she was working from home. ‘Oh, forgive the background noise, I’m just walking past a school,’ she would say, or ‘Let me just close the door to my office, it’s like a zoo out there.’ At work we shut out the non-work self and vice versa.

One of the many consequences of this duality in the workplace is stress, which is shouldered at the level of the individual and the organization. The search for ‘work-life balance,’ has been an earnest and well-intentioned attempt to tackle this schism, but it still nevertheless seeks to treat work and non-work as separate domains- hopefully in slightly better balance. And it is perhaps no surprise then that as technological advances increasingly enable employers to encroach on private life, that people feel that this approach has failed.

Creating Authentic Organizations is out now from Kogan Page. You can order a copy at a 20% discount with no charge for UK shipping when you use the code CAORG20 at checkout on www.koganpage.com

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