“Are you answering work email?”
I was. It was about 9:30, and my wife, son and I had just returned home from evening prayer. I had been out the door shortly after 5am to prepare for a 7:30 meeting, and a day filled with the usual mix of church and communications.
And she called me on it. The message wasn’t urgent, and could have waited until morning. And in the long run, consciously being at home was more important.
But I’ll admit, most of the time, it doesn’t seem that simple. I work online—a task not limited to one geographical location. Intense conversations and technical issues often crop up outside of business hours. The combination between pastoral ministry and the Internet seems to present a situation in which boundaries are hard to define. And I know I’m not alone in that: I’ve seen friends and family who work in business, health care, and education answer phone calls and emails during dinner, movies, grocery trips, family walks… Let’s call it what it is: we, as a society, are always on call.
If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably heard that many in Europe have recognized that this way of living is problematic. Following workplace regulations set by corporations like Volkswagen, BMW and Puma, Germany’s ministry of labour passed a law prohibiting employers from contacting employees by phone or email outside of business hours. France followed suit.
For me, the most interesting element of the news from Europe has been the North American response. One forum questioned whether this was an April Fool’s joke, with comments like “I bet Germany never makes it to the Moon,” “There’s also a law preventing them from taking heavy winter coats on trips to Russia,” and “are fathers required to take a 1 year paternity leave in Germany?”
Really? Could it be that we are so tied to our work and vocations that we’re unable to turn the phone off? These are tools, right? Do carpenters carry their hammers to the dinner table? Do bakers sleep beside sacks of flour and crates of eggs? I don’t know, maybe they do. But it seems to me that we have some thinking to do. How can we best go about life/work balance in the modern world? Do we need well-defined boundaries? And do they need to be legislated?
What do you think? And how is it working for you?