(The Humanitarian Social Network)
At the start of 2012, there was lots of pieces on how we live life in the digital age. There are obvious advantages to this with new technologies and how we can use them to reach out to people and help populations however, there is a disadvantage as well. I came across the term ITSO, or the inability to switch off from this New York Times article called A Time to Tune Out by Roger Cohen.
The article starts by stating that the automobile company Volkswagen has:
responded to demands from its works council by agreeing to stop the e-mail server to its BlackBerry-using employees a half-hour after their shift ends, only restoring it 30 minutes before work begins the next day.
HOW FREAKING COOL IS THAT? How many times have you sat through a dinner where 80% of the people (including you) are on their crackberries or iPhones and checking mail and looking increasingly more stressed out? I love the way Roger Cohen puts it:
Inhabiting one place — that is to be fully absorbed by and focused on one’s surroundings rather than living in some diffuse cyberlocation composed of the different strands of a device-driven existence — is a fast-dwindling ability. This in turn generates a paradox: People have never traveled as much but at the same time been less able to appreciate the difference between here and there. (emphasis added).
That line resonates so much with me especially as an aid worker. Being in the moment is really important and I would encourage everyone to try it--even as an experiment. Just put your phone down and don't check it for two or three hours. No one is going to die (obviously, this does not apply in the throes of an emergency when in fact, people can die).
The article points to worker burn out and how it's being addressed at least in Germany but I think a lot of those principles apply to those of us working in the humanitarian sector as well. I did in fact, stop checking my email right before bed and I tried not to check my work email on the weekends and was mostly successful with that. I am not in any emergency setting currently and I should be allowed weekends at the very least to re-charge. People forget that...a lot. A charged and energized person is better equipped to deal with the challenges that they have during the week. Keeping myself engaged with a life outside of work actually helped my work performance and I was able to bring a lot more to the table. It also gave me a much needed break from the stresses of work that can breed cynicism and frustration. I began to let people know that emails would not be checked over the weekend and yay for my colleagues, they all respected that. I might have gotten one or two side long glances but I did manage to not work some weekends and do other things like go for hikes, do yoga, study for my course, read books, catch up on movies in my pajamas all day etc.
Everyone knows they have to take time for themselves but carving out that space isn't the easiest thing to do. Setting expectations around your working hours is one way of doing this. And fighting off that macho stereotype that if you aren't working or responding to emails on the weekends means you are slacking off or getting left behind or don't have what it takes. It takes more guts and courage to tell people to back off and that you mean to take care of yourself. There are some managers that have good practices of telling people to not work on weekends or respond to emails etc but they are far and few between---the biggest issue in my eyes is institutional recognition of worker burn out being a very real issue and some visits to a therapist at the end of your mission is really not going to solve it.
What do you guys think? Do people have good and bad practice within the industry to give examples of? And when do we think the change will come from within our agencies to support us to live healthier and more balanced lives?