Are the walls between our personal and professional lives crumbling?

Blur When I was growing up, my dad set the standard for how a business person behaved.  He went to work every day, did his thing and came home.  He would, on occasion, bring some work (read — paper) home with him.  I’m sure my dad made friends at the office but I didn’t know or hear about them.

My parents socialized (bridge, cocktail parties, etc.) with the neighbor couples.

They’d occasionally have to go to a dinner or host some work people at our house.  But those were rare occasions. For the most part, his two worlds were pretty separate. 

Today, I look at my two worlds (work and personal) and the line is awfully blurry.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s a good thing. Just in the last couple of weeks…

  • I’ve twittered (to my professional network) about my daughter’s incredible performance in her one act play
  • I read on Facebook that one of my employees didn’t crawl out of bed until 4:30 pm
  • I’ve posted family photos on my Flickr account
  • I’ve gotten a ticket (the game Parking Wars) on Facebook from a Microsoft exec
  • My marketing/branding blog has promoted a purely social event in NYC
  • I’ve had lunch with a client and we mostly talked about our kids
  • I sent a condolence message to a marketing colleague when I read her Twitter that she’d lost their family pet
  • In rapid succession, I joined a branding group and our church’s group on Facebook
  • A blog reader sent me a link to view his video chronicles of his personal journey with weight loss
  • I have pet work colleague’s (fluff) friends on Facebook (not as bad as it sounds)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Are you experiencing the same thing?  Online or offline, are your lines getting equally blurred?

What do you think about this phenomenon?  Do you think this merging of our lives has something to do with the fact that the old work day of 9-5 is also a thing of the past?

What’s the upside?  Downside?

22 comments on “Are the walls between our personal and professional lives crumbling?

  1. David Reich says:

    Interesting observations, Drew. My parents’ work life was pretty much separate from their personal life. I started out like that too. I intentionally kept the two separate, thinking my wife and my friends would have nothing to talk about with the client or editor friend. But over the years I’ve met people through work who have become friends — clients, co-workers, editors. The workplace — and now social media — allows us to expand relationships that can become real friendships. What a bonus!

  2. Janet says:

    Absolutely experiencing the same thing. It’s a little scary, in fact, and not only because Mike S. had a great post last year about putting things online you wouldn’t want your employer to see. Even without the Internet as an enabling tool, had an experience here at work this week where a co-worker whom I consider a friend had to go to the hospital. Another co-worker had filled me in on many private details, which she had learned from the hospitalized person. Turns out, my friend in the hospital really didn’t want all these details known – but the blurred line of our working and personal relationsihps had caused the other person to unwittingly share too much.

    I don’t see the 9-5 workday as a thing of the past just yet. In fact, I fight hard to keep my work out of my off-hours… though admittedly that was different when I was self-employed. I work to live, I don’t live to work. 🙂

    It’s harder for my self-employed, home-based husband, who really doesn’t have any “weekends” anymore – not because he’s always working, but because he doesn’t have that separation of “work days” vs. “days off.” I work all week and have the weekends to look forward to. He is “always on call” for his business so his days all blur together. He has to leave town to feel like he’s getting time off.

    Janet

  3. Manizesto says:

    An interesting trend, this is. I hear stories all the time about people not getting a job because of a compromising photo or video found on Facebook by a potential employer, work associates who request to be Facebook friends and bosses that expect a response because you have a Blackberry.

    It’s up to each individual to set boundaries between work and personal lives. Just because you could be working right now doesn’t mean you should work (or be expected to).

  4. Liz Strauss says:

    You bet! I’ve been talking about the same thing. How our lives online and off have become almost seamless. I think it’s a good thing.

    It’s when we stop drawing lines that we integrate better. The computer became a tool and no longer a toy . . . the Internet is becoming a natural part of our world like a telephone. For US.

    Most people are still only searching. We’re early still.

  5. Yeah, it’s amazing how much they have become melded. My wife isn’t too happy about it, but…. I’ve made some very good friends. At the same time, it’s requiring me to give up some formalities (work), but maybe we need to be more human at work anyway.

  6. David,

    Did you ever imagine the blending would occur at such a molecular level though? I’ve always had friends from work etc. That doesn’t seem anywhere near as extreme as what we’re all experiencing today though.

    I’m not complaining, just noticing. Like you, I enjoy the perks.

    So, how do you get away from work, if work is everywhere?

    Drew

  7. Janet,

    The situation you described doesn’t even involve social media! Imagine! 🙂

    How does your husband get away from work, even when he’s out of town. With a laptop, PDA or cell phone — we are reachable everywhere!

    Drew

  8. Hey Jon,

    It is indeed an interesting trend. I know that for at least the last 18 -24 months, I have checked applicants Facebook and MySpace accounts.

    I like a lot of the blending. But I think it makes it even harder for us to step away from work completely.

    I wonder what the long term ramifications of this new and from what I can see, long-lasting trend will be.

    Are you experiencing this as well?

    Drew

  9. Liz,

    There are plenty of plus sides to this new wrinkle in our work/life balance — I agree. And I love that we’re the pioneers of this journey.

    But, it’s a little tricky too, don’t you think? I’m curious, Ms. Never Sleep — how do you unplug and get away from it for awhile?

    Drew

  10. Geoff,

    I wonder if one of the by-products of this trend is the 21st century version of golf widows.

    What has been the most significant “change” in how its changed your work?

    Drew

  11. Yes! Especially with the small and innocent little things coming about such as Twitter. You can help but blur the line between business and professional rants and ideas. I think it helps us if we know when to draw the line. I can’t imagine my clients being thrilled about me cursing like a sailor on Twitter because I just crashed my car. As long as we are careful, and cautious about what we say and do when it gets to this point, it all generally works out well.

  12. Daria says:

    this is liquid reality where all boundaries, roles and values blur. everything becomes relative, we can switch between roles as we want. play becomes work, work becomes social. family home becomes office. most of fixed boudaries became fluid, we can’t understand and explain the world through them any longer. we create constantly the new meanings to keep up. all blends and is blended.

  13. Terra,

    A good reminder…we are more visible than ever before, so we need to be mindful that we are on display. Not just for our intended audience but for anyone who has the desire to look for us.

    Drew

  14. Daria,

    And do you think this is good or not so much?

    Drew

  15. Cam Beck says:

    Once upon a time, there was a clear line. Now I’m working when I’m playing and vice versa. I’m amazed at how much thinking about work I can do in the 2 minutes it takes me to brush my teeth.

  16. Daria says:

    Drew,
    I think it is very challenging and can be dangerous when used withou caution. It is good as it creates the new possibilities. It is bad because it can have serious consequences, just to mention stress, as we have less time to take a breath and relax.

  17. Cam,

    I agree…the blend is really a blur. And for the most part, I think it’s a very good thing, on both sides of the equation.

    But how do you step off the merry go round? What’s your trick?

    Drew

  18. Daria,

    I agree…I think the burn out factor down the road is going to be huge.

    We used to have an artificial divider between the two worlds, which allowed everyone down time. Now, we’re going to have to create that same divider and enforce it ourselves.

    Good stuff, but we need to be responsible for taking care of ourselves too.

    Drew

  19. Gavin Heaton says:

    I don’t believe in work/life balance. The challenge is taking personal responsibility for the life that we choose. We can’t have it all, so there are always choices … sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the choices are our own to make. It’s just that sometimes the options aren’t pretty — or we are unwilling to take the steps in our “professional” life that we would easily do in our “private” life (and vice versa, strangely enough).

  20. Gavin,

    Talk a little more about the “I don’t believe in life/work balance.” I think you’re the first person I’ve every heard articulate that.

    Can you tell me a little more?

    Drew

  21. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    Funny .. my dad was in sales and worked from his car or at home. Mom worked for her family’s company and there were always calls at home for one of them. My first paid job (other than babysitting) was for my mom’s family’s company and I worked after school and on weekends. My life now as a consultant is home based – has been for the almost 27 years I’ve been doing this – and it’s always been a big blur.
    Someone asked how you get away from work – and I counter that sometimes it’s not necessary.. there are parts of the blur that work well – like the friendships – and there are the times going to the theatre or a concert or reading non-work stuff. “Away” has a different connotation today.

  22. Joan,

    A great reminder that our perspective is never the only perspective. Sounds like for you, this blending of personal and professional life is just a continuation of a family tradition!

    Drew

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