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All work, no play, could be future for us all





A friend of mine works for a large tech company. And his life outside work has basically come to an end. He no longer has free time to meet friends. He has had to give up sport. He rarely goes out at weekends. He has quit his artistic hobbies, one area in which he's very talented.

But in work, he's holding down his job. Therefore, he remains thankful for the position that he is in.

"I am grateful to have a job that affords me a certain lifestyle," he wrote to me last week. "But outside work, I now have very little left to give."

My friend is not alone. More and more of us are now becoming part of a relentless working life. Clocking a 60-hour week (or more), including a chunk of the weekend, is no longer the sign of a workaholic. It's a standard expected of people in a growing number of jobs.

Ask yourself: to be well thought of professionally, are you expected to work more or less than you might have been five years ago? Our work culture is changing and tech companies are leading the way.

Evernote CEO Phil Libin once explained the concept to me very well.

"The idea is not that you need to work long hours," he said, talking of how work is evolving. "The main idea is that your job should be the main thing you identify with. We want people for whom their work is their main mission. It's their life work."

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Evernote's "core user", he said, "is someone who has poor understanding of life-work balance, someone who's always doing both. It's someone like me, who constantly strives for work-life integration."

Libin's intention was not a draconian one. He, and Evernote, are genuinely giving some people an outlet to pursue the lives they want.

But while this approach has clear results in the form of decent salaries, its ethic is beginning to yield a wider issue in our lives as its industrial influence spreads. In Ireland, as elsewhere, we are taught that winners work on Sundays and completed projects have genuine artistic merit.

"I've never had a job that requires such intensity and constant pace as the one I have now," says my friend.

"It's not a complaint. It has been my personal choice to work in the role.

"But there is now close to nothing left to give outside the standard working week. The tank is empty. You console yourself through purchases, restaurants and entertainment."

Tech companies aren't blind to this. It's one reason why they spend so much time and money marketing their workplaces as "awesome" and hailing staff as "rock stars".

In Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter or any number of other tech firms located around Dublin, you'll get the best food, the best healthcare and the best exercise facilities on site, or within a kilometre of your desktop. You'll get free stuff that you wouldn't have thought possible, extending to lifestyle accessories - even clothes.

Sure, the table-tennis rooms and Xbox halls may lie unused all day. But good salaries, cutting-edge management processes, and advanced professional mobility are very real.

And to be fair, onerous working hours are not solely the preserve of the tech industry. Many jobs in banking or law have always brought with them insane weekly schedules. (Think of Tom Cruise's character in The Firm.)

But the difference is that those jobs were generally junior executive fast-track roles, a small minority of positions adopted by the most ambitious corporate climbers.

Today's work crunch is reaching out into thousands of middle-tier positions in totally different industries. Probably yours.

The result is a growing change in what we do outside work. And increasingly, it's nothing. "Many of the people where I work are some of the most creative and intellectually engaging people you could meet," said my friend, who works a Dublin-based US firm.

"However, they are not contributing to where they live, because outside of work they have nothing left to give.

"They are merely refuelling before the next shuttle back to Silicon Valley.

"Tech companies have very cleverly mastered how to extract the most from employees. They're extremely good at it."

More and more, it is companies like these that offer up a futuristic mirror for the rest of us.

What they are doing now, we are sure to emulate.

So if you want to get a glimpse now of how our non-work lives might pan out in five or 10 years, ask their staff.

You may not want to commit to that football league or drama group.

All work, no play, could be future for us all