Museums and Work/Life Balance in a Digital World…plus a P.S. for Paris in Honor of Elaine Heumann Gurian

work life balance

As you know, Anne and I spent two days in Washington, D.C. at the Intercom meeting. One of the many conversations we participated in had to do with work/life balance. Actually, the conversation started out as a discussion of museum directors who believe long days are appropriate, and mutated into what leaders, department heads and directors expect from their staff in terms of time. One example offered was a museum leader who isn’t happy if her staff isn’t working at least a 12-hour day. Apparently she’s not a fan of staff who go home at what might be considered a “normal” hour.

We’ve heard this before, not constantly, but enough that it’s concerning. In fact, it came up in the discussion of family issues in this blog a few weeks ago, when women without children commented that being childless meant they were often the ones expected to stay late while people with children left to relieve the nanny or watch a soccer game no questions asked.

My question is why? Is there really a need for anyone, regardless of their family situtation, to stay four hours longer than the normal workday on a regular basis? And, when you combine a long work day with the fact that many employers expect exempt staff to respond to emails regardless of the time of day, then the idea of work/life balance becomes a bit ridiculous. Can you ever give yourself permission to shut work off? Do you?

Are you a leader who discusses how frequently you want staff to respond to email? Within an hour? In minutes? Within a week? And more importantly, what written or verbal expectations do you have regarding email and exempt staff? Are there unspoken expectations that even if they’re told not to respond to emails after business hours, those who do are the favored few, while those who don’t, aren’t?

To complicate matters, the digitization of everything blurs all the lines between work and private life. After all, you can sit in a staff meeting and read a text from your child as easily as one from a colleague. And while it’s great to hear that your daughter passed her math test or your son doesn’t have Lyme disease, the burden is on everyone to make sure that despite the blurred lines, that work gets done. Last, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s likely our own attitudes are shaped by the culture of immediacy that comes with owning an iPhone. Everything is heightened not just the world of work.

Let us know how you and your staff manage the work/life balance thing–especially when it comes to digital communications.

Joan Baldwin

P.S. It’s hard to write or talk about anything this weekend without the horrific happenings in Paris intruding. I hope all of you who are museum leaders will channel your inner Elaine Heumann Gurian this week and think about how your museum, site, organization can connect and deal/cope/unpack what’s happened. Is it enough to acknowledge the terror in the world and offer up a quiet space? Are you using social media to reach your audience about Friday’s events? Last, are there stories in your collection or site that speak to issues of ambush, pain, and loss of control? I think Heumann Gurian would tell all of us that a sure way to be permanently sidelined is to not respond to the world’s events.

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2 Comments on “Museums and Work/Life Balance in a Digital World…plus a P.S. for Paris in Honor of Elaine Heumann Gurian”

  1. I think the more often the conversation can be had directly the better. In job interviews, ask about expectations. In yearly work plan meetings, ask about expectations. If you are the head of social media for an org, talk with your department about a subbing idea (e.g., this weekend something special is happening that I want to be fully present for. Who could monitor/respond across our accounts while I’m unavailable?). And if you’re the social media person, talk with your boss about scheduling fewer hours at work since you make up for it outside work monitoring digital channels. So many small options and solutions that can make a big difference. Bottom line, if you feel like your work/life balance is being taken advantage of, speak up (ideally) or find subversive ways (less ideal) to push back. Also, check out Ellen Langer’s interview on the On Being podcast, in which she discusses the power of language to frame out perceptions of the world.

  2. Karen W. says:

    Does anyone care about the kids who get neglected because the parents are working 24/7? One of the biggest challenges in our schools is that teachers today spend a great deal of time addressing discipline issues. The reason for these discipline issues is because kids act out for they want someone, anyone to pay attention to them. Thus, there is less instruction and our kids don’t do as well in school. What most kids value hands down is time with their family. They crave that “quality” time. They want to feel valued, not just be an add on to their parents agenda book. Do we really want a society filled with angry kids who grow up to be angry adults?

    If we want to have this discussion it is necessary to address the issue of how we want to frame society in the first place. This idea of constantly working is bad for all of us in so many ways. Are those e-mails really all that urgent? Or do we make them urgent so we can feel important, needed? Urgent, in my opinion, is in the eye of the beholder. Allowing people to have lives outside of work makes them happier people and happier people are more productive overall. Think quality rather than quantity. It is sad we so often confuse the two.


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