Stop the Modern-Day Sweatshop

            For those of you who read this column fairly regularly, you know that I have taken to working from home like a fish to water. I love everything about my new work life: working in my casual clothes, having my Zoom uniform of shirt and tie hanging next to me as needed, getting ready for a meeting five minutes before it happens, and being home thirty seconds after it is over.
            I like to cook, and I love making my breakfast and lunch each day. I love saving money on gas and food. I enjoy taking a mid-morning walk with my dog. I even enjoy indulging in an occasional cigar on my new office balcony.
            I don’t miss the commute. I don’t miss waiting on people to show up. I don’t miss small talk, crowds, or noise.
            I am glad that I have employees who can work on their own schedule and produce quality work at their own pace. I am grateful that when my employees need time to take care of personal or family things, they can just go and do it without having to feel like they are shirking a work responsibility. I like giving my employees freedom to work and live on their own terms.
            And finally, I like knowing that my business continues to grow.
            Despite all this good stuff, a friend of mine got me thinking about the dark side of all of this newfound “freedom” that I am experiencing. She recently left her job and is looking for new opportunities.
            But she raised a red flag that I have not been completely aware of in my work. She says that in her corporate job, our new virtual workplaces have created a “modern-day sweatshop” as she calls it. Some companies that have sent their employees home to work have come to expect their employees to be available all the time. There are no longer set work hours.
            It is as if the trade off for being able to work from home is always being ready and able to work. Of course, that is unreasonable and unsustainable.
            It goes without saying that if employers can get more work out of their current workforces, regardless of where those employees work from, then the employer is going to become more profitable. And the beast will continually need to be fed as the hunger for profits is insatiable.
            Suddenly, since home has become the workplace, home has stopped being home and is instead always the workplace. As I said, that is an unsustainable model.
            So how can this be stopped? You know me. I come from a union background. I am not one of those union people who subscribe to the theory that unions are a cure-all for everything that ails the workplace. I know that unions can occasionally serve as impediments to progress.
            But in a scenario where an employer expects more from its employees and blurs the boundary between work and leisure, I think that discussions need to take place to set firm boundaries. Employees acting alone have limited power to create the boundaries. But acting together, a clear line between work life and home life can be established. While unions can clear the way to force the conversation, employees who are hesitant to go that far still need to think about finding a way to have a discussion with the employer to establish clear boundaries.

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