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BY Art A. Bennett
Q My wife is upset with me because I go into work on weekends, but that is the only time I can have peace and quiet at work with no interruptions.
A Many of the inventions to improve business practices in the last 10 years have one quality in common: they enhance impersonal communication. You need never, ever, actually talk to a teller. You can ATM and be done with it, or even do your banking on the Internet. Want to leave messages without getting into a conversation? Hey, there's voice mail!
It's as if the goal of the ‘90s was to invent ways to avoid personal contact. The fantasy is: “If only people wouldn't bother me, I could really be productive.”
I think, though, that people are realizing deep down that we need to actually talk to each other to show appreciation, resolve conflicts and enrich our experience—and even our profits. For the time being, though, we seem to be pushing the impersonalization of the workplace as far as we can go.
Will this approach to work work?
While it's debatable whether the impersonal style is good for business, it is certainly not good for a family.
A family is radically personal. Face-to-face encounters are its lifeblood. You can't just leave notes on the fridge and voice-mails on the phone as a substitute for direct interactions with your wife and kids.
The Vatican II document On the Church in the Modern World(Gaudium et Spes) defines marriage as a personal community in which the partners give themselves to each other. So, however productive you are at work on the weekends, you are paying a price at home if you aren't around.
If, however, your job really requires you to work outside normal hours to catch up, you might compromise by working, let's say, one weekend per month.
At the same time, consider making changes that will enrich your encounters with people at work. As John Paul II reiterates, work is fundamentally for people and not the other way around. It might help, for example, to look for ways to show your appreciation for what your co-workers contribute.
In my 16 years of business experience I've found that the impersonal boss who treats people as objects is generally the one who has to “waste” the most time with human resource problems and employee morale and performance issues. He's always recruiting and training because of the high turnover of people who don't feel appreciated. In other words, impersonal is not more efficient or productive.
In the short run, we might feel more productive by bypassing people; and certainly every organization should carefully reduce wasted time and increase efficiency. Seeing co-workers as obstacles, however, is bound to be unproductive in the long run.
Art A. Bennett is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.