Looking Back of 2011: For Many, a Year of Overwork – or Underwork

I’m pretty numb to the flood of year-in-review stories that the media love at this time of year, mainly because they’re largely shallow, stupid, and focus on the the blatantly obvious.

That’s not me being Scrooge because I’ve written a lot of those year end pieces of junk. Even though I’ve gotten away from them, I can still spot a deadly dull year-in-review a mile away.

But on occasion, you bump into one that has something different to say that makes you step back and think a little, and I found one this week in The Miami Herald from workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman.

Her take on this year: “For most Americans, 2011 was the year of overwork or underwork”

She has a great take on this topic that I think a lot of people will identify with, so it’s worth your while to take a good look at what she has to say:

Almost universally, stress hit an all-time high as American workers tried to cope with the new reality that work now follows them wherever they go with their mobile devices. Attorney Fred Karlinsky described his resistance to putting down his BlackBerry — regardless of whether it’s 10 a.m. or 10 p.m. “I owe it to clients to respond when they need an answer,” he told me.

Add that to the do-more-with-less attitude and obsession with productivity adopted by today’s bosses and that makes work/life balance even more difficult to achieve.

Earlier this year, I dared to put the question out there: Can you control after-hours work demands without getting fired or losing a customer?

My favorite response came from Wayne A. Hochwarter, a professor of management at Florida State University. It’s all about communication, he said. Maybe you’re answering emails at 10 p.m., but your manager doesn’t expect you to be on call at all hours. You may have inadvertently communicated the wrong message: that you don’t mind the infringement on your personal time. It’s possible to pull back — if you are clear about how you plan to handle their needs during the workday, he said.”

What is great about Cindy’s column is that it tackles an issue that not enough managers and executives spend enough time thinking about: how we’re handling workers in this new age of flex work, remote work, virtual offices, work-at-home, and on-call schedules. Despite all the focus on these new working arrangements, how much management focus in given to the impact on workers, their work, and their family/social life?

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She also digs into the ever-changing world of social media on the job, a topic that attorney Eric Meyer spends so much time chronicling here at TLNT.

This year, I heard from frustrated employers, too. The Internet has changed the rules of the workplace, blurring the lines between workers’ personal behavior and employer liability. There are no easy answers to the scenarios unfolding and technology is ahead of the law …

Workers — on and off the clock — are taking to their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to complain about everything from jerky bosses to rude customers to slacking co-workers to crappy company policies. Some firings have led to lawsuits that employees have won. “Both parties need to be careful with what they do online,” said Mark Neuberger, a management-side labor lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Miami. “There’s no direct easy answer to what’s allowable.”

There’s a lot more in her column, of course, and it just goes to show that there are some great end-of-the-year reflections out there if you just know where to look.

So take a good read on this column in The Miami Herald  because it is not only instructive but also a veiled warning that despite how far we’ve come opening up to new workplace practices, there is still a long ways left to go.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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