Work-life imbalance

flowerThis COVID Spring is replete with pathetic fallacies. You can hear the birds, streets are safer for walkers and cyclists, the sky is no longer striated by aircraft fumes. In New Delhi children have seen a blue sky for the first time in their lives. Human have been forced to leave nature alone and the collective senation is staggering, like the Hebrew slaves emerging from Babylonian captivity in the final scene of Verdi’s Nabucco.

Meanwhile the crisis is going to produce many casualties beyond the actual lives lost. Journalists are being sacked. Pubs and breweries will fold. Funding and sponsorship will dry up for artists. The novelty of the crisis induces monumental lapses of judgment that expose the weaknesses in role models – some will be ignored, some never forgiven. Inequalities will grow starker, monopolies and autocracies more entrenched than ever.

The pandemic is also tipping back the balance of power in the workplace. CEOs sit prettier than ever. Office employees with contracts can hunker down amidst digital paraphernalia until it all blows over. Small businesses can be kept afloat by government largesse. Gig economy workers have nothing. Low paid manual workers still have to bus and tram to work and so more likely exposing themselves and their families to the virus.

Work-life balance had become a mealy-mouthed nostrum of the 21st century employer in the Global North, but in these curious times there is scant appreciation for people with caring responsibilities expected to work from home. People I hardly know except by their voice on the end of a digital connection – mostly men – may have nothing else worth doing in their lives other than work. My wife and I put on our professional voices muting out the background noise. I scamper away comedically from our three toddlers shutting doors behind me to find a quiet room within range of the wifi signal.

Endless virtual meetings run by people with no idea how to structure and chair and keep to an allotted time or how to allocate work efficiently… voices droning in the background as I boil pasta, empty the dishwasher, take a shit, fumble for the remote control to display Netflix or CBeebies, scramble for a connection to the afspraak with one of the kids teachers.

We pretend to hold it all together gracefully, because with the video disactivated and the sound muted you can hide the chaos around you. If the staid men in their silent, Empyrean home offices can detect what is going on, they are too discrete to comment or too aloof to care. (I should not bite the hand that feeds us.)

A good employer might say – Take care of yourself and your nearest and dearest. Think of your physical and mental health before anything else. I hear this a lot less since the lockdown. Some people having to look after kids or elderly parents or family members with handicaps cannot follow such soothing advice in these extraordinary times – they may have demanding clients who themselves are strugging to keep their heads above water – so they are forced to work at night.

These sleep deprived souls are already teetering on the edge of breakdown. Others may have the luxury of being able to slack off work – but while they are slacking, their lonelier, less encumbered – probably more male – colleagues are stealing a march. And who can blame them?

Even in lockdown a full-time job is a full-time job. But schooling just one child or creching just one toddler is also full-time job. Cooking and cleaning up after a family is a full-time job. Something has to give. (I shouldn’t be wasting my time on this blogpost.)

I am guilty too – my wife does more than her fair share of housework and childcare, even though her job is more important than mine. We feel like we are failing on each and every front. Still we keep on.