I was definitely not happy at work during my time in private legal practice in a Washington DC big law firm. During the initial stages of work unhappiness, I tried to compartmentalize the situation. I was happy outside of work and not so happy while at work. Split life. Then, I started noticing the inevitable creep of the work world into my personal time. On Sunday nights, I would get a bit blue. On Monday mornings, I would wake up a bit anxious. Some of my evenings were preoccupied with negative thoughts or worries about work.
I realize that historically (and throughout the world today), there have been many people (indeed, perhaps most people) who work a 9-to-5 job and were (and are) able to successfully compartmentalize their work and personal life. In reviewing literature, and perhaps from overgeneralizing based on my impressions of life in the 1950s, I get the sense that those with mundane or manual labor jobs learned to make the most of their drudgery at work and did not let their work life affect their lives outside of work that much.
But, in the knowledge economy, work is more consuming. Your work is in your mind. And, your mind does not shut off after work is done. When I was 18, I worked on an assembly line for the summer. Very tedious, physically demanding and boring work. I didn’t give my job a second thought after I left for the day—not simply because of the temporary nature of summer employment, but also because there was nothing to think about in relation to work. My summer jobs that were clerical in nature had the same feel. On the other hand, my work as an attorney was “in my head.” When I went home, thoughts regarding deadlines, clients, and partners would stay in my mind.
In the knowledge economy, work life invades our personal life because our work is in our minds. As such, it never leaves us. This invasion goes well beyond the technological onslaught of e-mails, texts, and calls that can make knowledge workers feel “on” 24-7.
I was recently working with a career counseling client who claimed she “worked all the time” and that she was sick of being expected to work 80 hour weeks. She worked full days, perhaps 9-10 hours when we added the time up and she occasionally worked on the weekends. Nonetheless, her hours were not literally 80 per week but more like 50-55 hours. Some would say she was exaggerating as people are prone to do about how much they work. I would say that her mind had become consumed by work. So, even if she was not really working 80 hours per week, she was thinking about work “all the time”.
If she had a job she loved, then thinking about work outside of work would be happy making. That she didn’t like her job meant that thinking about work outside of work was the cause of her unhappiness.
There has never been a greater time for work happiness since it is becoming increasingly synonymous with life happiness.