Work & Play - are you a schizophrenic?
Posted by Doug Walters on 25th October 2013

“I don't think of work as work and play as play. It's all living.”
Richard Branson

This quote from Richard Branson sums up something which was drummed into me from a young age, yet it seems that modern life encourages us to differentiate between work and play.
I spent a lot of my childhood in the company of my grandfather. He walked to work and back each day for over 50 years, first working as a skilled tradesman (a title of honour in those days) and then as a Quality Inspector. The business employed about a quarter of the population of our small town.

My grandfather worked with the same men with whom he stood on the terraces at the local Football League ground each week, with whom he sat and watched cricket at the local club during the summer, and with whom he shared a (very) occasional pint. Sometimes, they talked about work in the relaxed banter while socialising. In that situation, it was impossible to “pull-the wool” over someone’s eyes if you didn’t know your job. Similarly, my grandmothers’ circle of friends were almost exclusively drawn from an area of approximately 1 mile radius around our home, but her family were scattered “far-and-wide” – within a 10 mile radius!

The upshot of this close-knit community was that there was no segregation between work colleagues, friends and enemies (I wasn’t aware they had any of the latter.) My grandfather would often talk about his work and work colleagues and friends during our weekly walks to watch soccer or cricket, or when we were sat at a table poring over his latest (usually gigantic) jigsaw puzzle. His job was telling skilled tradesmen who took pride in their work that they had done a bad job; yet he seemed to be liked and respected. This seemed to me to be a puzzle in itself – I knew that when I was told I was doing something wrong, I resented it, even if the criticism was justified.

Over time, I began to realise the answer to this conundrum. My grandfather didn’t distinguish between his work and his outside world. He was living one life, and he lived it by one code of principles which he applied consistently across all his affairs. If he had to reject a piece of work, he did so on the basis of fact (evidence) and his own ability as a skilled tradesman. He also threw in a measure of reasonableness by recognising the validity of a different approach, and allowable tolerances in the end product specification. In this way his judgements were accepted; that he carried out his job without fear or favour, consistently and without bias or prejudice was understood; and just because a tradesman produced a defective piece of work, it didn’t make him a bad tradesman or person. Once the piece of work was inspected and accepted / rejected, life and relationships carried on as normal regardless.

Contrast this with today. The vast majority of us commute more than a couple of hours per day to get to our work. It is rare for us to live near or socialise on a regular basis with our work colleagues. Increasingly, we communicate with our work colleagues via remote, impersonal mediums such as phone, conference call, video conferencing, email and IM. The increasing concentration of places of work in major conurbations (for example, London in the UK) means that there is a wider-and-wider gap between our family members, circle of friends, and work colleagues.

A consequence of this trend is that people can be more-easily schizophrenic, acting in a different persona in each scenario:
  • that nice, friendly, ever-so-helpful and cheery chap who lives just down the road has a daily metamorphosis on the 06:55 and 18:23 trains between home and work. He becomes the IT manager who spends his working day making alliances “against” others, obstructing the plans of his “rivals” and generally trying to clamber over others in the pecking order

  • your boss has an administration background – he doesn't know the difference between bits and bytes, but he has risen to a lofty position in the organisation where you work; he masks his lack of technical insight with endless meetings with similar (management) souls using “consultancy-speak” and talking about Risk and Mitigation. He is not respected by the people who really build the systems he is charged with delivering, and he doesn't know whether the systems are good or bad until users start to complain

  • Neither can distinguish between good or bad technicians because he hasn't got the necessary background, so he hides in hierarchy and artificial respect structures such as organisation charts and job descriptions.

    I have no doubt that my grandparents’ world, despite its comparative deprivation (washboard and mangles instead of washing machines), was a nicer place in which to live and work. I also wonder sometimes whether the modern working environment is really more productive?

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