In one week, I heard three stories. I've changed the names.
Sandra, six months into a new job with a global manufacturing company, was, after a workforce reduction, handed another person's role on top of her own. She works 12-14 hour days. Booked solidly into meetings at work, she brings files home to review in the quiet, until midnight. (Sandra is childless.)
I met her last week and noticed her hollow eyes and gray skin. Her spark has gone.
Betsy, a manager in the Canadian office of a North American firm, told me that her manager, a time zone away, called regularly to discuss business during her maternity leave, and now that she's back, phones as late as 10 pm. on a Sunday evening. He schedules phone meetings for 6 pm., "forgetting" it is one hour later where she is. But it's 7 pm. at her house, prime family time when wrangling a newborn and toddler.
Marcia, a service manager at a huge telecom, gets BlackBerry buzzes at 9 pm. saying, "WHY aren't you there?" Though she scheduled time off between Christmas and New Year's, she came in to work for two days to make sure a deal was completed. No one thanked her.
Is it a coincidence that each of these stories is a woman's?
When men tell me about the erosion of their personal time, they duck their heads as if disclosing a shameful secret. Or they brag. I heard two IT road warriors on a plane boasting about how long it had been since they had been home for a weekend. The winner hadn't seen his family in seven weeks. "What can you do?" he said dismissively.
Two of the three women are looking elsewhere. I've worked with each; they're no wimps, have a top-notch work ethic and understand that emergencies and crunches mean extra hours.
This demand on worker's personal time is increasing. If you are working days, evenings should belong to you, unless you have accepted responsibilities that require extended hours or on-call work. Some hourly workers welcome overtime as a way to make extra income. These women are salaried, and do not want the overtime even if paid.
If employees want to give mega-hours to an organization, that's their business. But I know too many people forfeiting their personal time against their will, cowed, resentful, exploited.
When I began working in corporations four decades ago, the hours were long at certain periods, but you could take compensatory time off, and no one expected to see you first thing in the morning after your red-eye flight from London. It was intense but civilized.
Many of you agree, and have commented on the factors that have contributed to the shift. And what can we do about it?
I deplore what the pressure to cede private life to corporate "productivity" is doing to these dedicated, hard-working women.