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Work Is Life?

The line between work life and home life is disappearing, says Richard Donkin, author of The Future of Work.


“We don’t stop living when we go to work, and very often today we don’t stop working when we arrive home,” he said. “Technology has merged our working and personal lives, creating a more unified experience.”

Donkin opens his book by recounting his experience at a funeral, where a colleague was checking his Blackberry, a reminder that today people can work anywhere at any time.

This change in distinction between work life and home life, along with the change in the generational workforce – the impending retirement of Baby Boomers and hiring of Millennials – adds to the impact of this phenomenon.  In 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65, launching the biggest retirement wave ever, estimated at 79 million people total.

In the past, people rarely retired early. Today, workers are either continuing to work past age 65, or are entering a semi-retirement phase prior to age 65. “The idea of working full-on one day and finding one-self in retirement the next is simply not natural,” Donkin said. “Gradual transition into part-time work seems to make more sense. It also fits this current mode of a technology-driven work-life balance.”

Social interaction in the workplace is also changing; moving away from the water cooler to social networking sites such as Facebook and Linked In. The result is deeper engagement between workers and peers across companies, albeit not in person.  Physically being ‘in the building’ is not required to be ‘present’ in a group.  Telecommuting has skyrocketed in corporations large and small. Management is finding that telecommuting can create a more productive workforce, and still save money in the form of physical space and utility costs.

A 2008 study found that those in the Millennial generation put a high priority on meaningful work, and perhaps more importantly, more than half prefer to work outside the office with flexible work hours. Most jobs currently do not offer that option. This ever-growing blurry line between home and office makes it more important for employers to embrace the idea of sharing their people.

“Just as there is greed for money in today’s society,” Donkin wrote, “there is a greed for people. Business must learn to share their people. Companies do not own the lives of their employees.”

That last statement seemed a little harsh to me, until I thought back to some previous employment situations where I did in fact feel at times like I was owned by my employer. Decisions about family and personal issues were always built around what was required at work.

When I think back to growing up in a culture where our parents were all about work and giving all of their time to their employer – many times the same employer for their entire careers – then this new culture-driven attitude toward work and life balance sometimes seems a bit out there.

But I guess that’s a result of being a Baby Boomer and not a Millennial. The cultural shift in business in the next 10 years will be very interesting to watch.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 28 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive.  He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal.  He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

Posted in As the Saw Turns
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