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The Schizophrenic Organization

Diane Keyser Wentworth
Fairleigh Dickinson University

What is organizational schizophrenia? I propose that this condition exists in many, many organizations due to the opposing pulls of employees need to have a personal life and the organizations need to have employees accessible and working on an almost constant basis. Most organizations acknowledge the necessity for a balance between employees work lives and personal lives. This is demonstrated through the myriad of programs and services offered to address this issue. But they also have a 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) mentality that tends to overwhelm even the best-designed programs and services.

Although the term schizophrenia is a category of mental disorder, some of its key characteristics apply to todays organizations. Schizophrenia, in the clinical sense, implies a split between a persons thought and emotions. Schizophrenics display inappropriate thought patterns that often do not match the emotions displayed. Or they display emotions that fail to match the situation.

Todays organizations display some of these same key characteristics when the question of worklife balance is addressed. The thought part can be compared to organizations recognizing and addressing its employees increasingly difficult balancing act of being a good employee as well as having a fulfilling personal life.

Most organizational responses to this need involve providing resources such as onsite services (e.g., child care, dry cleaning, mailing facilities, oil change services) or referral services (e.g. child care, employee assistance programs, elder care). Many of the larger corporations have an extensive array of benefits to address exactly this need.

According to a 1997 Bureau of Labor survey, 29% of medium and large private organizations now offer some form of family benefits (child care, adoption assistance, long-term care insurance, flexible workplace). Health promotion programs are offered in even greater numbers: 61% offer employee assistance programs (usually focused on mental health counseling services), 36% offer some type of wellness programs, and 21% provide their employees with a fitness center.

An Internet search quickly reveals how big the issue of worklife balance has become. A number of academic centers have been instituted to study and document todays trends (e.g. Boston College Center for Work & Family, Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago and NORC, Center for Working Families at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, and Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute). There are also literally hundreds of Web sites and consulting firms providing worklife balance information and services to organizations.

However, the inappropriate match to these offerings is the increasing demand placed on employees in their workplaces. A number of studies have shown that average work hours have increased in the United States (Bluestone & Rose, 1997; Schor, 1991). A recently released study conducted by the International Labor Organization (as cited in Greenhouse, 2001) found that American workers have increased their substantial lead over Japan and all other industrial nations in the number of hours worked each year. Americans now work 36 more hours a year than they did in 1990. This translates to almost a whole week more. They now work 1,979 hours a year (almost 49.5 weeks) on average.

Bluestone and Rose (1997) found that the combined work hours of prime age families in which both husband and wife were working has increased dramatically. According to their calculations, the typical dual-earner couple at the end of the 1980s was spending an additional day and a half on the job every week (p. 12). This is a huge increase that obviously affects the ability to balance work and personal life.

The trend for many years was a decrease in hours worked per week. Only recently has this trend reversed itself and revealed that more hours are now expected. From 1989 to 1996 the average workweek increased to 41 hours with the average overtime reaching 4.7 hours per week in 1994 (Bluestone & Rose, 1997). Bluestone and Rose (1997) cite a 1990 Fortune magazine poll of Fortune 500 CEOs who reported that almost 90% of their high-level executives worked greater than 50 hours a week with almost 60% of middle managers reporting these hours. Thus, the 35 or 40-hour work week is a thing of the past.

Reasons for this increase in working time are varied. Greenhouse (2001) cites unnamed economists reasons: mothers with young children returning to work sooner and for more hours per week, the increase in number of salaried professionals, and the fact that many low-wage earners work more than one job. In my view, globalization, competition, deregulation in many industries, and of course, the constant downsizing and reengineering efforts occurring with regularity within todays organizations are additional reasons.

However, other researchers have suggested that the sheer number of hours worked is not the primary factor for worklife conflict. Friedman and Greenhaus (2000) surveyed 860 business professionals (employed alumni of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania) on a variety of work and family issues. They conclude that although number of hours is important, the true problem is the psychological interference of work with family and of family with work (Friedman & Greenhaus, 2000, p. 6). They argue that our continuous thought involvement with work is a central force in exacerbating the conflict between work and personal life.

Whether the central problem is a lack of time or more simply a constant involvement with work (whether in person or in thought) advances in technology are also responsible for the heavy involvement in work. Through the miracle of technology, employees can be accessed anywhere at any time. The notion of a job being 24/7 is getting more and more play in business magazines and conversations. Just the existence of the term 24/7 says something about the state of the American workplace. The idea that people are expected to be available and working all day every day makes it difficult for anyone to find a balance when their work life is so demanding. Although these types of demands are relatively new, they are gaining current acceptance and use. Employees are not only expected to have plenty of face time, they are also expected to be available any time when they are off-site.

Additionally, the advent of personal communication systemsfaxes, cellular phones, e-mail, pagers, beepershave brought the workplace into peoples homes, automobiles, and all facets of their lives. Now it is difficult to be out of touch whereas it used to be that if someone wasnt available by phone, they werent available.

What is the remedy? It is hard to envision major changes occurring without a radically different perspective taking shape. One possibility is the return of strong unions to combat these overzealous demands. A good example of this is the recent unionization of psychologists in New York State. Another potential trend comes from one aspect of globalization; perhaps the European tradition of more vacation time and time away from work will influence American culture. Let's hope that this European model will prevail.

 

References

    Bluestone, B. & Rose, S. (1997, March-April). Overworked and underemployed: Unraveling an economic engine. The American Prospect Online, 31. Retrieved February 24, 2000, from www.prospect.org/archives/31/31bluefs.html.
    Bureau of Labor Statistics (1999). Employee benefits in medium and large private establishments, 1997. (Bulletin No. 2517) Retrieved February 24, 2000, from http://www.bls.gov/
ncs.ebs
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    Friedman, S. D. & Greenhaus, J. H. (2000). Work and familyallies or enemies? What happens when business professionals confront life choices. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford Press.
   
Greenhouse, S. (2001, September 1). Americans International Lead In Hours Worked Grew in 90s, Report Shows. New York Times, p. A8.
   
Schor, J. (1991). The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure. Basic Books.

 

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