As I flipped from app to app and channel to channel on our streaming options some weeks ago, I saw the trailer for “Severance” on Apple TV. Before reading the description, I thought this show would be along the lines of the 1993 movie, “Falling Down”. To say I was excited to tune in was an understatement. However, once I figured out Severance was not about layoffs or terminations but about Mark who “leads a team of office workers whose memories have been surgically divided between their work and personal lives.”, I went from excited to intrigued to HECK YEA! After all, who hasn’t wished we could completely separate our work lives and personal lives?
In this show, employees “choose” to undergo a procedure that causes their work memories and home memories to remain separate. Once they step into a certain elevator upon arriving at work, they no longer remember anything about their outside life. They don’t know if they have a family, if they have hobbies, what they did over the weekend, how they feel about Tom Brady un-retiring…nothing! The same for when they leave their workplace. They do not remember any of their coworkers, what kind of work they do, or whether or not they had a good day. I placed “choose” in quotes because it’s too soon to tell how much choice they truly have.
I admit that as an HR professional, that kind of separation sounds enticing. The idea that employees would be able to concentrate solely on working sans any pointless chit chat about personal issues, the Oscars, Spring Baking Championship or whether pollen is high right now sounds kind of amazing, right? Would this set up minimize crossing lines with inappropriate comments? Would zero mentions of Julie’s dating escapades improve productivity? It sounds plausible. Yet we find our characters find plenty of time to waste said time because, humans! Oh, and because employees can’t remember anything that happens outside of those four walls, no WC claims and/or no EEOC complaints whether warranted or not! What a savings for the company! /s
When I began working some (insert muffled sounds) years ago, prevalent themes included “It’s not personal; it’s business” and “You have to leave ‘it’ at the door”, whatever “it” may be. Professionalism involved not carrying the weight or impact of whatever was going on at home, especially if negative, into the workplace. We were expected and many times required to place business responsibilities above everything else including our families, friends, moral compass, and well-being. Those who could not or would not were seen as weak or perhaps not loyal to the company. This of course was without reciprocity as during these same times, I personally was affected back to back by various RIFs (reductions in force).
Along the way, attitudes towards work and personal life started to shift into what’s now called “work/life balance”. No longer is work placed above everything else. We acknowledge that work is an important part of our life, just not THE most important part unless by choice. Worker choices in employment and its terms are recognized as a key component in the employer/employee relationship. Employers were and continue to be encouraged to value individuals and another concept entered the workplace: the whole person.
Employers began accepting that it’s nearly impossible, if not detrimental, to separate our lives into compartments. When we bring our whole selves to work, we bring our creativity, our energy, our initiatives, and, skills in full. Furthermore, employers proactively seek ways to provide assistance and benefits that touch on various aspects of an employee’s life and not just those areas that happen at work. We have parental benefits, pet benefits, employee assistance programs, gyms, discount programs, pre-pandemic dry cleaning services, and other myriad of initiatives to cater to the whole person. In theory, this is helpful. In reality, much like in the show, this can also go wrong when culture become more like a cult. More on that next time.
During the pandemic, we’ve come full circle. We’ve seen a blur in our lives. With folks working strictly from home and/or hybrid coupled with technology and 24/7 cycles, if we are not careful, there is little to no separation between work and home. We are tethered in some way to work and have to proactively seek to sever that connection. If the Severance program was real, I imagine it would seem attractive as a way to cope with the constant pull from each area of our life.
I don’t have all the answers but what I do have is choice. I can choose my deal breakers and I can exercise those choices through healthy boundaries. That of course means different things to different people.
I’ll explore more on this through the lens of culture next time!
What are some of your strategies and healthy boundaries?