A recent employee satisfaction survey sent me back to 7th grade. To those awful memories of standing in the gym in PE, waiting to be the last one picked for a team.
I love my employers, and I think it’s great they take the time to ask us what we think of working for them. The section of the survey that upset me was a very small part about how to encourage employee participation in initiatives designed to improve health. Would we like to join teams? Internal teams or cross-company teams? Or just submit to regular blood pressure and weight monitoring?
The whole concept made me feel so deeply exhausted. Let me count the ways.
- Instead of using my free time to meditate or go for a nice walk by a stream, must I now feel obligated to push and strive during my down time, too?
- Isn’t this yet another way for older people, and older women in particular, to be discriminated against? What I mean is, my numbers are never going to be as good as a 25-year-old’s, so why would you pick me for your team? This goes whether you’ve already hired me or not.
- To build on that point, if you’re worried about the numbers, and you’ve got women closing on 50 on your team, be afraid. To maintain weight at my age, I need to exercise at least an hour per day—not counting driving to the gym, showering, changing, driving back, and fitting in lunch. To maintain vitamin D levels, I’m supposed to get 20-30 minutes of sunshine in a state of maximum undress, every day, preferably at a southern latitude. According to my chiropractor, apparently real sun is better than supplements, or fake sunlamps, and it should be on my whole body, not just my face. According a printout my doctor gave me from the local sleep clinic, I also should sleep 8-10 hours, and I should do this in line with my personal circadian rhythms, which happen to be from around 2 AM to noon. I should also minimize stress, do yoga, meditate, and eat organic meals prepared from scratch. Is my company going to give me all the extra time I need for this? Are the younger folks on my team going to be okay with it?
This all leads me to another point. Which is mounting workplace stress. I hardly know anyone, young or old, who isn’t taking psychotropic meds—antidepressants, mood stabilizers, benzos, and whatnot—just to cope with what their jobs or schools are asking of them. How does that affect healthcare costs, I wonder? And how does workplace stress affect eating, blood pressure, sleep patterns, etc? Many of these questions have recently been raised quite eloquently by Marc Ambinder in the The Atlantic.
It’s not realistic for companies to address all these factors. In the Secret Pulse of Time, Stefan Klein does discuss how some European companies are trying to accommodate circadian rhythms…ah, Europe! IBM has on-premises exercise facilities, but friends who work there say they never have time to use them. Friends who used to work at StorageTek said the same.
The last time I remember having work-life balance was during the dot-com boom, when although we had crunch periods in which we put in 70-hour weeks, we mostly could get our work done in 40 hours. And as part of company policy, no meetings were scheduled from 11 AM to 1 PM, and everyone from the CEO on down was out on the Boulder Creek Path or at the local climbing gym (where had a corporate membership). That is to say, the company culture protected our health through and through, rather than just nagging us about it.
But the key, I think, was the 40-hour week. That’s hardly the norm anymore. (Incidentally, I love everything else about my job, and expanding pressures to work harder and longer are often outside the immediate control of our actual bosses and companies.)
It’s not that I’m not willing to take responsibility for my own health. I work from home on a treadmill desk (I built my own; it’s uglier but cheaper than the one depicted here; and it’s bullshit that you lose the weight this guy claims—or maybe you only do if you’re a guy). I go outside as much as my workday allows, which is less and less often. I’m a backcountry skier, which means that I climb my own mountains to ski them. But I’m also getting tired. I find that it takes a little longer to write an email, which means that when I have 20 to write before leaving for the gym, I might miss my weights class. I have less of that edge to ride myself that much harder. These days I’m just more attracted to that nice walk by the stream than I am to a sweaty spin class.
Asking me join a team and spend my dwindling free time huffing and puffing isn’t going to help me bring my numbers in line. It’s just more likely to add to stress levels and turn me back into a sullen pre-teen.
You can make me join the team, but I see it as a sure-fire recipe for a lunch of 3 Musketeers bars.