After graduating I joined IBM as a mainframe salesman –
The IBM employee handbook stated that we all had “a job for life”, and we were looking forward to it. The internet and mobile phones were yet to be invented, when we left work in the evenings or weekends that was the end of work. Basically, we lived a double life, there was working and there was not working. Sometimes work colleagues would socialize after hours but these were usually family events and work was almost never mentioned.
How the world has changed in my lifetime. No longer does any organization offer “a job for life” and mobile technology ensures that we are all remain connected, potentially 24/7. What is the impact on us as human beings in this Brave New World?
A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found:
- One third of respondents feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work.
- More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems.
- When working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%) , one third feel anxious (34%).
- As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness.
- Many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared to 29% of men).
- A large number of respondents reported a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life because of the amount of time they spent at work.
How did we do this to ourselves?
In the west we seized on new technology as a way to build competitive advantage. We would implement new technology and by doing so we could respond to customers more quickly, our technical and sales staff would be available longer hours. Senior staff would be available all hours. Of course over time any significant competitive advantage was eroded as all organizations adopted the latest technology.
It’s not the technology that’s to blame, it’s human behavior. Technological change simply outstripped social change and our ability to absorb and adapt.
I don’t know how or when we will change, but I believe we will. Thirty years from now I hope my grandchildren look back on this era and laugh at our bizarre behavior. We will no doubt appear as unfamiliar to them as our Victorian ancestors appear to us.