Enough Already

Like Andy, many employees, faced with longer workdays, lots of business travel and often agonizing commutes, just want to reclaim some semblance of a personal life.

“I work with these people all week. I tend to want to spend my other time with other people. I try to keep my work life and personal life separate,” says Sean Steinman, an IT technician at San Francisco-based AudioBasket, which provides personalized Web-based audio content from news sources such as ABC News, CNET, and the BBC.

That separation, he says, helps him avoid burning out the way he did at his last job, where his home life was completely overshadowed by the long hours he spent at work.

AudioBasket is at the other extreme: no retreats or other company-sponsored trips, no pets in the office, even no foosball or pool table. “Work is a place for work,” says Kim Fisher, AudioBasket’s co-founder and CEO. “If you want to get away from working, I think you should leave the building and interact with other people. That separation helps to keep people’s lives well-rounded. Long-term, I think it is really important that people continue to have social activity outside of work.”

Fisher is reacting to a trend that Jan English-Lueck, chairwoman of the anthropology department at San Jose State University, calls “workification.” English-Lueck is conducting a 10-year study of Silicon Valley culture and says that the valley’s domineering work culture constantly blurs the lines between work life and personal life. Team-building retreats and other exercises blur that distinction further, she says. “I see it over and over, things that have nothing to do with work become work.”

The dominance of work in workers’ lives is forcing them to make hard choices about how to structure their lives, English-Lueck says. Even if you telecommute, it’s hard to explain to young children that they can’t just come into the room to ask you a question. Nowadays, when workers are home – or rafting on a river or on “vacation” in Hawaii – they’re still at work.

Many of the employees at AudioBasket say they have successfully drawn a line between work and home, and it has lowered their stress level. Gavin Hurley, a Web developer at the company, finds time to rock climb and mountain bike with his own friends – no facilitator, no company-sponsored coach. While his office may be bare-bones, he’s not jealous at all of his friends at other companies who go on white-water rafting trips. He’d rather┬áspend his time at some library!