Separation between personal and professional time dies hard

Summary : we’re being told that the frontier between personal and professional is bluring, that ubiquitous tools are going to make it deprecated. We’re also told that that it’s a very good thing because more and more employees are demanding it, not mentioning young generations for whom this separation seem to date from the last century. In fact the problem is deeper : albeit anyone want to be able to act anytime very few people want to be the subject or the receiver of any action on what they consider as private moments. And that changes everything…and can contribute to deterioriate human relationships in the workplace if no one takes care.

The fact that the frontier between the time dedicated to personal live and the time dedicated to personal live is slowly disappeating. I’m talling about time, not about the content of these two sides of one’s lifes, what is another kind of debate.

What is indisputable is that the nature of time has no link with places anymore : people can work from home, from any location in fact, as they can take benefit of their lunch break to deal with personnal issues while they’re at the office.

Another indisputable thing is that with the evolution of mobile devices, the work environment is becoming ubiquitous. In fact, saying it can becom would be closer to reality and, paradoxically, it seems that employee’s expectations in this field are far from being met by what enterprises deliver.

Then, it’s said that an unavoidable cultural evolution makes people, more precisely younger ones, feel that the separation between professional and personal times is artificial and want to be able to manage their time as they want. Who did never find reassuring to be able to say ”ok…enough for today, I’ll finish this emails this weekend” or “anyway, I’ll be able to react remotely if needed”.

But when we dig further, things are far from being that obvious. Albeit the frontier is not as tight as it was, it’s not being broken down either. If fact it’s a one-way change.

There’s a kind of schiziphrenia between what’s seen as an ease (being able to do something out of one’s worktime to be more flexible or responsibe) and what is seen as an intrusion in one’s life (receiving an email or any kind of request while not supposed to be working).

There are three situations :

– finishing one’s work or doing some in advance : one send an email, share something in a collaborative space. There’s not expectation to get any reaction before people are back to work.

– one faces an emergency situation : one send something and expects a reaction. Two means : email or instant messaging. At the other end, the recipient may be offline or do as if he did not noticed…

-  the misunderstanding : someone does something on a saturday, thinking no one will react before monday but that, at least, that’s done. At the other end, someone feels he have to react and do something because the other has… What what not the purpose of the original sender.

The issue is not with mixing times but with  intrusion and constraints. As long as it’s about asynchronous collaborative tools things can be managed, but when a message or an alert is sent that may cause many problems. And who says exchang means that there are at least two people involved.

Conclusion ?

– don’t take everything we’re told for holy truth.

– favor asynchronous collaborative spaces so the freedom of some won’t threaten other’s privacy.

– collectively bild a policy if not rules within teams because that’s not about a sum of individual preferences but a global mechanism. When one starts, another feels he has to do the  same…and so on even if it’s not an obligation.

Anyway, things have to be clarified because misunderstandings may quicly make the atmosphere strained and negatively impact some employee’s self-balance.

Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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