A short author profile for The Courier-Mail’s new Life section, which is included in the Saturday paper. Click the below image to view the version that appeared in print.
The text I’ve supplied underneath is the full article, which was slightly edited in print due to space restrictions.
How to leave work at home: Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg
If the office exists in your phone, how is it possible to claim the right to be away from it for any length of time?
This question is central to Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg, a senior lecturer in gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney. Gregg’s book is the result of a three-year study of information workers – including broadcast journalists, librarians and academics – which took place in Brisbane between 2007 and 2009.
“That question captures the twin tensions in the book’s title: the idea of work being something that we’re invested in, in a way that’s pleasurable, and the way that technology allows that relationship to be available wherever we are,” she says. “Mobile devices are increasingly marketed as this desirable object because it gives us access to every pleasure we could possibly imagine,” she laughs. “The more portable the device, the more intimate the device, right?”
If we’re to believe the companies that market these devices, that’s absolutely correct. Yet Gregg’s book contains dozens of examples of salaried professionals struggling to draw barriers between their work and leisure. This behaviour extends to checking and replying to emails outside of the workplace, in preparation for the actual workday.
“That was extremely common,” Gregg says. “It seemed to point to a sense of unpredictability in people’s work days. We once thought of the office as a mind-numbing routine of 9-5, of always knowing what’s coming, and that being part of the problem. This tendency to check email outside of the office seemed to suggest that, individually, people did not know how to cope with the pace and the unpredictability of the workplace today.”
For Gregg [pictured below], being based in Brisbane for the duration of her study was a blessing. “As someone who’s always been a bit of an outsider to any city I’ve lived in, I saw this as a great chance to look, from an outsider’s point of view, at changes that were happening in Brisbane at that time”; namely, the way in which the city was positioning itself within a creative economy.
This confusing transitional period was reflected in the workers Gregg interviewed. She met a 61 year-old university professor, Clive, who said “I worry that I’m going to miss something” if he doesn’t check his email constantly. “I’m a bit addicted,” he said. “Partly because I don’t want email to swamp me. If I had a weekend off the Internet, then on Monday, I just have a huge inbox.”
Similar anxieties were expressed by Patrick, a 24-year old part-time radio producer who barely sees his partner, Adam, since their schedules rarely align. Yet Patrick admitted “I do get a pang of sadness” when the pair were home at the same time, but both absorbed in their individual computer screens. The author dubs this being ‘together alone’.
Gregg says that maintaining an emotional distance in these scenarios is “one of the challenges of this kind of research, because you’re always needing to retain objectivity in the moment of the interview, and to say as little as possible to affect them telling you what’s really going on.”
She says that “a number of the interviews were quite shocking to me, and did make me feel that there was merit in having people talking about these issues, because they could at least become prominent in their minds for a while, to see just how much they could recognise their relationships had changed within the family structure.”
Though Gregg says she’s “no shining example” in contrast to the work/life issues raised by her interviewees, she hopes that people “take a little more independent action to refuse the pace of their workplace. Teamwork culture is very coercive because of the rhetoric of collegiality and friendship, so it does make it very difficult for people to resist. But that’s not going to stop me recommending that people do it.”
Work’s Intimacy can be ordered via Polity Books’ website.