Monday 31 May 2010

Modern slaves

Looking at my own life and that of my friends recently, I have to say I'm shocked. It would appear that with the advancement of modern technology, workplaces are slowly creeping back to the dark ages.

Living in a civilised society I learnt in history class about our progress past feudal societies and the breakthrough of the trade unions. I was told I was lucky to live in the first world people could work in fair conditions and get paid for the work they do. Recently I've had to question whether this is in fact true.

Take my husband, for example, he has a very good job with a lot of responsibility. He does his job well and is committed to his employer. They repay this by expecting him to work very long hours with no overtime. He has a dastardly Blackberry, whose little red light ensures that as long as Skip is awake he's got at least some of his mind on the job. Holidays? That's just dealing with work from a different location. Unfortunately, his employer expects this kind of dedication. It's what's needed to do the job apparently.

My husband is far from unusual, a lot of people I know work in a similar. It's the norm, these days. Admittedly I'm probably a little bitter today as I've had to drive Skip to the airport yet again for another work jaunt.

Technology has ensured that employers are able to get last pound of flesh out their staff. Blackberries, laptops, iPhones, whatever - people can now work from public transport, at home, on weekends, when sick, when on holidays, whenever. No longer can people leave work at work and walk out the door and have a life. Life is the little bits that happens when the Blackberry isn't flashing.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in good honest hard work, I just feel that work has slowly crept more and more and more into 'off' hours and family life. Maybe we've been so bedazzled by technology and the ease of it we've allowed it to take over too much. Technology has insidiously become so much a part of our lives we can't seem to turn it off, we just blindly accept that's how it has to be.

Never giving people a break, time to rest their minds or live their lives is incredibly dangerous. Our workers should be more than robots who we replace when they've burnt out. Has our society become so disposable that we think: "Oh well, if they can't do the job anymore, we'll get someone else who can." It undermines the respect we should have knowledge and experience.

In the mean time, I encourage those around me who live like that to take time out for themselves. Visit places that are incommunicado, turn off your mind with yoga and meditation, do lots of exercise, take care of yourself. Though these are only band-aid solutions.

I often hear from people I know, strangers on the radio, in the line at the supermarket that it's 'just what you have to do' and 'it will be worth it one day'. I have my doubts.


  1. here's a big HELL YES from me. I contemplated an iPhone this year, to make sure I can check my emails and so on when I'm on holiday, until I remembered the actual point of going on holiday...

    Working from home means my boundaries are often stretched - but I probably get more opportunities to live and play than most others.

    It's interesting that we think we have to be available to our employer 24/7 - but do we make ourselves that open to our family and friends?

  2. Excellent post! I agree, I think that with mobile communication - both phones and internet means we are never truly out of reach. And sometimes, we should be. Holidays should be just that, a rest from work, not 'away but contactable via these means'. When Dr's go away, they have someone covering them so they can truly be away, businesses should operate similarly. I thought work life balance was supposed to be swinign away from the 40 hour week. Perhaps they are, it's a 36 hour week with an additional 30 odd hours 'on call' at home.

    Afterall, sick leave for stress or burnout will cost companies more in the long run.

  3. Can't agree more. Taking breaks from all this technology would be a dream come true.
    Keep writing.

  4. I totally agree.

    My husband just quit his job where he was working 6 days a week 10 hours a day. Clients would still call and expect to see him on his one day off. We've had a time out from 'technology' for the last few computers, no emails etc and it's been great.

  5. Totally agree. Just today I dragged myself into work sick when I should have stayed at home, just for a few hours to get some stuff done. As I was coughing up a lung, one of the senior people at work said to me "Why don't you go home". This was somewhat surprising to me as this particular person is 100% dedicated to her job, prioritising this over everything else, including her children, so I thought maybe she had realised that life is not all about work, and she'd turned over a new leaf. As I said "Yes, I'm about to do that", she was on the phone to IT trying to organise me access to our work system from home.

    Now I don't know what part of "I'm sick" she didn't understand, but the reality is if I'm too sick to be at work, I'm too sick to work at home. I have a Blackberry myself and that is more than enough access to work after hours for me!

  6. here here!!! I have my doubts too! Only when we take charge of our own lives can we be turn off technology and switch on to meditation, exercise and face to face communication! xx

  7. PPMJ - Good point about how available we make ourselves to our employer.
    I have an iPhone, but don't work, still I am a little too enamored with it.

    alliecat - Another good point with the cost of sick leave.

    Alex - I hope that life is feeling a little more balanced. Nice to see you back too :)

    TMc - That sucks. I hope you're tucked up in bed now sans computer.

    Thanks to everyone for their comments.

  8. Great post. I couldn't agree more.

  9. It will never be worth it, ever, in my opinion. I've been there and it's a slippery slope. I gave it up after a short while and will never go back.


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