Email In The Bathroom: Not A Universal Good

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This Microsoft ad has been popping up in the last few days, and no one seems hugely impressed. Even assuming that it's slightly tongue-in-cheek (and I'm still not 100% sure that it is), the message that you can - should? - work all the hours available to you feels outdated, or even a spoof. You would think that by now we can all accept that work-life balance is key not just to a decent life, but to actually doing a decent job when you're actually working? Apparently not.

From the machismo-laden job adverts to products designed to eke more “productive” work time from what should be spent with friends and family, the 16-hour day seems to be creeping back as a positive concept. Some fault surely lies with the "brogrammer" company-is-all philosophy that boils down to working as hard as you possibly can right up to the point that the word “pivot” can induce a nervous breakdown when spoken aloud, or all the venture funding dries up - whichever comes first.

I'm lucky to work at a company where work-life balance is maintained pretty aggressively, but I've certainly not always been able to say that, and I doubt I will be for the entirety of my career. And even at a company that discourages excessive working hours, you'll get people who opt in of their own volition. At one point, we were faced with a time-sensitive task that was proving difficult to automate. A voice from the back of the room piped up with "Can't we just get Bob to do it manually for a few weeks? He's always awake and emailing me at 1 a.m." Luckily for Bob this was generally agreed to be at odds with what we shoot for as a company, and we decided not to take advantage of him.

Not wanting to work all the time isn't the same as being afraid of a little hard work, or even putting in the time when it's unquestionably needed; it's rejecting the fetishization of a self-destructive behaviour. There's even a term for its worst extremes in Japanese - karoshi, or death from overwork (something that kills around 20 people per year in Japan). Total productivity and output actually decline when working more than around 40 hours a week - you are genuinely less valuable than if you were doing fewer hours. Of course, none of this will matter in a company where hours spent is ingrained in the culture, or if your boss sees it as the only measurement of performance. But thankfully you can now work on your CV while attending your kids' recitals.

Do you have any tips for making sure you protect that vital time off, and making sure you get away from the office at a sane hour? After all, It's only work.

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