It doesn’t matter whether it’s during office hours or on the weekend — when your boss sends you an email or a text, you have to answer it. In many ways, technology has brought our work environment closer to us, and in the process, obliterated our independence and work-life balance.
Think of it like an “electronic leash.” It’s not something that we think about it — at least, as long as the “we” being addressed are Americans and not the French people, who introduced a law that would make it perfectly acceptable to ignore work emails off-the-clock.
That seems almost blase, but let’s think about this for a second.
Americans have an impressive work ethic. Let’s not knock that — it’s the work ethic that gave us one of the most complex and powerful economies in the world. But we as laborers have let management take advantage of us for too long. That you answer that text at 10 p.m. in the evening expecting some restitution for it isn’t selfish. If you’re on the clock, you should be paid for the work you do. Doing work on your own time without pay is giving management free labor.
Why is it okay for management to get things for free but bad for workers to demand restitution for their time and energy?
And while it starts with off-the-clock emails and texts, it doesn’t end there.
Consider that productivity has continued to rise an at impressive rate, falling only a touch in 2015, while wages have been stagnant for decades. On top of that, 90% of working mothers and 95% of working fathers report work-family imbalances according to a 2010 study by the Center for American Progress. I don’t imagine that’s change any since then.
And the consequences of a work-life imbalance are dire — for instance, the dangers posed by occupational stress.
For good or ill, France’s new law highlights this, and attempts to rectify it among the French. It’s at least attempting to do something about the problem.
So why do we Americans subject ourselves to this?
Because of a glut in the labor market and a lack of leverage between labor and management, especially since we’ve allowed the Republicans to all but gut labor unions with right-to-work-for-less laws.
For instance, poverty in this country is a big problem; 15.3% of Americans lived in poverty last year. That’s a figure comparable to the whole population of Australia. Most of those people cannot afford to tell their boss to get stuffed when their boss expects them to answer emails or texts off-the-clock, even if they aren’t getting paid for it.
And they should be. That’s their labor and their time.
Some people will be tempted to say that this is why Trump got elected, but it’s not. The majority of the poor voted for Clinton. Trump “won” — insomuch as winning on a technicality can be called “winning” — because upper and middle class white people sold out the country and the poor people.
So you can thank a middle class white Republican the next time you find yourself working off-the-clock or without overtime. It’s their fault.