San Francisco Chronicle

Society still seeking work/life balance

- By Judith Martin Send questions to Miss Manners’ website: www. missmanner­; to her email address: dearmiss; or through postal mail: Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

Gentle Readers: The clash between people who don’t want to return to the office (employees) and those who want them to do so (employers) is no surprise to Miss Manners. The pandemic might have brought this out, but the work/private life problem has existed throughout history.

Society needs to provide both. It needs workers. But it also needs people to attend to family life, community welfare and functions of leisure, recreation and entertainm­ent.

Society has, in different eras, come up with different solutions to staff both realms. And all of them have been terrible.

For centuries, the division was the one that seemed most reasonable to those with the power to enforce it: The poor would work, with only enough of a private life necessary to produce another generation of workers. This freed the rich to pursue leisure activities.

But in the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution produced a class of people who were neither rich enough not to work nor poor enough to put up with forgoing pleasure.

This was adjusted in the mid-20th century to admit females to certain paid jobs, even if for less pay and fewer opportunit­ies to advance. Ever since then, efforts have been made to give females the work advantages that males enjoyed, including the same work schedule.

But this work schedule remains as it was under the presumptio­n that the worker had a partner taking care of the private realm.

The underlying problem was hardly addressed: Who would staff that private realm? For the essential parts, household and child care, it has been either the better-paid female worker or one in a poor-paying job. And the merely enjoyable parts suffered from neglect.

So that solution didn’t work either, and people are finally noticing.

Miss Manners’ contributi­on is to point out that the easiest part to cut is the pseudo-social life that has become a feature of business models: what is now referred to as “mandatory fun.” Surely workers no longer believe that after-hours drinks, office birthday celebratio­ns and team-building exercises are adequate substitute­s for time spent with people of their own choosing.

And bosses will find that encouragin­g a cordial, cooperativ­e, cheerful level of profession­al behavior will be easier and more productive than trying to make employees love one another.

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