aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Working Weekends is BAD for You!

Posted by Ellen on January 28, 2010

Have you seen the TV commercial with the three skiers on the lift, each with their app-infested phones? At least one is doing something related to work… 

Then there’s the commercial showing a man poolside on vacation who tries to hide his laptop but his wife finds it anyway when she almost sits on it?

These commercials make me crazy.

Too many of us are working around the clock, seven days a week. We’re the “constantly connected” generation of employees — thanks to e-mail, the Web, and the thousands of cool apps that make staying in touch with what’s going on “at the office” much easier.

Some of this is the result of an increasingly competitive attitude among workers – Who’s working the longest hours? Who is most deserving of the limited bonus pay? — The result of a depressed economy and the need many people feel to prove their worth.

Our society encourages all of this — not only are there commercials galore touting the advantages of 24/7/365, wider, broader, faster access, but even “60 Minutes” had an episode about how the workweek is going away.

All of this is framed in a very positive light: see how cool it is to be constantly connected? See how much we need to be globally competitive?

At the same time, Americans are experiencing higher stress (and all the physical ailments associated with it), less sleep, and higher levels of obesity than ever before.

We’re killing ourselves, working all of this overtime.

It’s the slow suicide of at least one generation of Americans — probably more as time presses on.

Don’t try to tell me you’re one of the innocent ones. You know you haul books, magazines, and articles you found on the Internet home to read over the weekend. You trot your laptop back and forth to the office every day (or keep your cell phone on) so you can keep track of your e-mails,

Confess it: you’re worried you’ll miss something.

The fact is, you’re not likely to miss anything.

Yes, we all have the occasional emergency. We all have the now-and-then weekend meeting.

But how much are you contributing to your own overtime? How efficient are you really being with your time? (See “Running Out of Time”)

How unhealthy do you want to be?

Because recurring, refreshing breaks — e-mail and cell-phone free weekends and vacation — are imperative if you want to stay healthy.

And focused.

Case Study, a True Story:

Before I worked for an association, I worked as a project manager (among other roles) at a company that developed Web-enabled elearning. The company also had teams of programmers building learning management systems (LMSs) for companies including some major US auto manufacturers and phone service providers.

These were multi-million-dollar projects. They had intense deadlines.

When I walked through their cube area, I marvelled at how such amazing computer feats could be summoned from the brains of these code magicians. Everything we produced — from the LMSs to the elearning courses — came from the creative talents of the employees.

Take the employees away, and all that would be left was a building of desks and computers. Unlike a manufacturing company, where if one worker goes away you hire and train someone to stand at the machine and perform the same tasks, these programmers and developers and graphic artists and writers were not so easily replaced. Their project knowledge alone was critically unique.

When a very major project started to go very wrong, these people were asked to work more hours — some logged over a hundred hours a week. Think about that: 7×24 = 168 hours in a week. Working that much means you’re doing nothing except driving to and from work, catching a few hours of sleep, showing, changing clothes, and working more than 14 hours a day inbetween.

The demands started slowly — just give up this weekend. Just work an extra hour a day. Now we need you to work Saturdays.

Then vacations were denied. Six-day workweeks became mandatory.

The company started ordering in pizza and sandwiches for lunch and dinner so no one would have to leave. They kept coffee flowing for free and charged just 25 cents for a can of pop.

Those not on the team started volunteering to help. They didn’t have the same skill sets, so they couldn’t help write code, but they could walk dogs, feed cats, do laundry.

Marriages ended. Affairs started. One Web developer was hospitalized.

And every day I walked into the office surprised to see that everyone who was physically able — and some who weren’t — kept showing up.

We’ll push ourselves too far sometimes.

We should stop.

Because here’s the rest of the story:

For all their hard work and dedication, the programmers started making errors. They didn’t realize it — they were too sleep deprived and malnourished to notice. They were burnt out.

Our bodies will work past our brains sometimes (you’ve heard those stories of heroic rescues where people say they didn’t even think — they just acted).

We need to feed our brains. We need nutritious food. We need sleep.

And we need to give our brains a variety of things to think about. To see. To experience.

The programmers couldn’t do that in their cubicles, not after weeks and weeks of staring at the same screens in the same building surrounded by the same people.

Association professionals can’t do that, either.

We need evenings that are our own — our time to laugh with our loved ones, swim at the Y, take dancing classes, or relax with a good novel.

We need weekend strolls in the park, shopping in the mall, movies on the big screen.

We need vacations that take us places we haven’t been before, to visit places we aren’t planning as locations for future educational events.

We need to let our minds — and our spirits — rest.

To do less is to risk burnout.

Because if you burn out, what good are you to your organization?

What happened to that LMS project? Well, eventually it got delivered to the client, but the cost was far too high for the company to bear. The corporation decided to excise this now unhealthy chunk of the company as if it were an infected tumor or a cluster of cancerous cells. The monitors went dark and the doors closed forever.

How does all of this relate to alearning?

Recently, a colleague at a small-staff organization sent an e-mail about the aLearning book, and in our exchange she mentioned the challenge of getting so much done with so few resources.

You can’t implement an alearning strategy without the time to do it. You can’t maintain online learning options without the energy to sustain it.

As association professionals, it’s important to focus on our members and what they want and need. But if we don’t focus on ourselves, too, we’ll never be in a position to give them that.

So, are you ready to turn off your e-mail for the evening? Stay away from your laptop for the weekend? Book yourself a week’s vacation (better yet, two weeks) to get away for awhile?

What’s stopping you? Why is committing slow suicide the highest priority in your life?

Give me one good reason.

2 Responses to “Working Weekends is BAD for You!”

  1. What matters is not how much time you spend working, but what you accomplish with the time you work. And don’t start tasks when you don’t have the resources to finish them.

    • Ellen said

      I completely agree, David! Sometimes we don’t realize we’re in too deep until we’re so deep we can’t crawl out. Unfortunately, when that happens in an environment of poor leadership (as we experienced at that company), the best ways out of the hole are closed off.

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