Blurring professional and personal lines is always risky. What to do with that friend request from your boss on Facebook? Do you accept, immediately blocking them from all of your red-Solo-cup-era photos? Or do you just pretend it never happened, hoping the "decline" is never mentioned? And what about that time you ducked out early to get to your kid's afternoon Little League game? Let's not even mention that morning you tearfully blabbed to your colleague about your emotional breakup.
No matter how "new age" your office, there is definitely a line and when it's crossed, things can get reeeeally awkward. But for those of you with a solid sense of office "dos and don'ts," take solace in knowing that the American workplace is becoming increasingly more personal, thanks primarily to (a) an unprecedented number of women entering the workforce, and (b) social media.
Americans are stereotypically overworked. Compared to our European counterparts, we work longer hours and have fewer days off. According to a 2011 Expedia survey, the average American worker has 14 vacation days per year, compared to France's average of 37.
Needless to say, American professionals don't exactly have a reputation for being accommodating of the personal. And the buck doesn't stop at vacations. According to an infographic released in June 2012 by ThinkProgress, surveying 178 nations, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world not to offer paid maternity leave, joining the ranks of Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
"The U.S. lags far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast-feeding," according to a study by Harvard and McGill Universities. But then, more women started running companies, your boss got Facebook and things started to change. It appears that, little by little, employers are recognizing that their employees are not minions, but people, with robust lives outside of the office.
Today, becoming a mother neither means leaving your job nor leaving your baby with a nanny. As more women both enter the workplace and head offices, companies have been forced to adapt. According to a white paper published in June 2011, "The State of Telework in the U.S.," telecommuting (i.e. working remotely/from home) grew by 73 percent between 2005 and 2011. As of last year, 3.1 million people considered home their primary place of work. That means it's totally normal to dial in for that conference call in your pajamas after feeding the kids breakfast.
The benefits of a more personalized workplace don't just extend to moms, either. A friend of mine, working as a reporter at well-known D.C. publication, noted, "I worked with a male colleague who had three young kids and he was always driving them to soccer practice or doing random parenting stuff because his wife worked too. Sometimes he'd have to write from home. But these are days when we can telecommute and email and whatnot."
And then, of course, there's Facebook: The Great Humanizer.
For those of you debating whether or not to Facebook friend your boss, DO IT. Seeing pictures of your boss with a piña colada in-hand, on the beaches of Saint Martin, is pretty much the equivalent of a 6-year-old seeing their teacher outside of the classroom. "You're a real person?! Who likes to do things besides give me homework?"
Alternatively, seeing your employee's Facebook album featuring her two little boys, clad in pumpkin costumes, really brings it home when you can't find her at 4pm on Halloween.
There are, of course, some caveats. Just as the personal is creeping into the office, the office is lurking about the home. Striking an appropriate work-life balance isn't so easy when your work phone purrs during dinner, or you have immediate remote access to every work email and document. More and more Americans might be working from home, but we're still working... a lot.
The personal is bound to blend with the professional when those on the other end of the line can hear your baby crying in the background. Or when you post those romantic getaway pictures for the viewing pleasure (pain?) of friends and colleagues alike. But that's the beauty and the bane of modernization. Decades ago, when the machines stopped running and the factory doors closed, the workday was over. But now, as technology far surpasses industry, the 9-to-5 workday has been rendered little more than a memory.