The line between work and life is increasingly blurred

The lines between work and leisure are blurring.
The lines between work and leisure are blurring.

An article I came across this week on the beneficial effects of pets in the workplace reminded me of one of the many stress-management initiatives I encountered when I was at university.

Once a term, the friendly people at the university’s health centre would bring puppies in to help students de-stress and while I never actually made it to one of those amazing puppy parties, I could see pretty clearly how playing with a small furry creature for a few minutes could help you unwind.

When I brought the subject up with a group of friends and cited the studies and research done on suggesting that a pet-friendly office could have a real effect on employee well-being and productivity, many still remained sceptical that “any work would get done”.

But I think that is only because we have become so accustomed to certain things being a certain way and people are generally unreceptive to anything that messes with an established order. I also think people overestimate the zoo-like ambience that would be produced by a handful of pets.

I think that work, and how we work in general, is changing. It is becoming more and more obvious that the thin line between personal life and work life is blurring, and this is true for most people.

It is no longer the CEO or the higher-ups who are working and on-call 24/7. The ease of communication brought about by smartphones and the internet means that everyone is increasingly expected to be plugged in and available for work at any given moment. I find that more people who are still in the early part of their careers are already feeling like they are burning out.

But work-related stress is not a new phenomenon. The missing link is our ability to respond appropriately and as a society to this issue. We need to be more aware of these trends and notice any general breeding grounds for stress.

Whereas we are lucky enough to live in a country that generally provides adequate holiday time (especially in the government sector), it is also becoming the norm for employees to be expected to work during these breaks or refrain from taking them.

I have heard time and again from friends that although you are offered a certain amount of annual leave, taking all the days will be detrimental to your career.

I find this attitude extremely dangerous as we seem to have lost touch with the fact that while work is extremely important, rewarding and a high priority in life, we are still just humans and vulnerable to all that life has to bring our way.

Whether its our emotional, physical or mental well-being, we not only require adequate rest but we also need to allow for the fact that some days we are going to be a lot more productive than others. People are not to be treated according to equations that economists have come up with to maximise gains.

Enter the age of the laid-back Silicon Valley start-up culture, which is known for a variety of things, mainly flexibility and being “fun”. It’s where a bunch of smart, capable people show up to work in jeans and T-shirts and seemingly “hang out”.

While this may seem like a dream set-up for some who find themselves in a very traditional corporate situation, I have seen this go very wrong too. Sometimes all the apparent freedom just means you are still working all the time from home or from a cafe and the reason your company is offering you so many in-house “amenities” is only to keep you at the office longer.

There is no easy solution to address the workplace environment and how it could lead to a better work-life balance. Providing your employees with pizza, access to a gym, or a puppy party might not eradicate stress but I believe that being mindful of their needs and taking steps to try to bridge that gap is hugely significant in developing a healthy work environment.

Fatima Al Shamsi is a globe­trotting Emirati foodie, film buff and football fanatic

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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