A few weeks ago I visited Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. It was a lovely spring day and we walked around the pond taking in the scenery and standing in the spot where Henry D. Thoreau’s tiny cabin once stood. During our walk I began to think about the idea of reflection. Reflection is important in any workplace. It is through reflection that we can consolidate our gains and make meaningful improvements in the way we do things. It is the difference between learning from our past experiences and mistakes and barreling forward repeating them.
Reflection is critical but is it the duty of workplaces to assure that it occurs? Is it part of the job an employee is hired to do? The way we draw the lines between work and non-work is mystifying in any field because we define work as what we are paid to do. Figuring out the solution to your latest staffing dilemma while taking your morning shower is not work; checking the headlines on the New York Times at your desk, is work. Finally making a decision about which candidate to hire while jogging is not work; talking to your co-worker about the Lost finale, is work.
In some ways this seems unfair. Reflecting on our jobs outside of the office is essential for us to be productive and effective employees. It benefits our organizations and our supervisors greatly, yet, we don’t get paid to do it. I wonder however, whether this is a necessary evil. Is reflection something that must occur outside of work? Is it even possible to do while we are “on the clock”?
Some organizations use “on the clock” reflection very effectively. CREW is itself a form of reflection done in a work environment. These are however, group reflections as opposed to individual reflections. They are absolutely essential but do not replace the need for some private reflection as well. The trouble with trying to institute private reflection at the office is that it is so difficult to define. As mentioned above, work is what we are paid to do. Private reflection is simply thinking, it doesn’t look like we are doing anything. In addition, many people reflect while exercising, meditating, or listening to music which have the appearance of decidedly non-work activities.
If you have read past columns, you know that through CREW employees are encouraged to bring some of their lives and their selves into work in order to be happy and effective at their jobs. Is it simply the corollary that work must also come into our lives? Is it not only unrealistic but also undesirable to try to draw the lines between work and life too rigidly? There is certainly a difference between blurring the lines between work and life in this way and letting work entirely invade one’s life, but is it possible to bring work into life in a way that is actually beneficial to both the employee and the employer?