Response to Unite Connections and Unite Docs Newsletter 3

A message from the Staff Council Representatives of units 17, 20, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29, also available in French:

It’s an e-mail like so many others of the kind that floods our antiquated inboxes, announcing with enthusiasm the umpteenth update of our favourite software package. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t pay the least attention to it, but today, by chance, we decide to read this monthly newsletter on Unite Connections and Unite Docs. And much to our surprise we discover a text seemingly taken straight from the pages of a dystopian novel, heralding the programmed disappearance of our free time and private lives!
Thus we read:

Long passed are the days when we only worked from 9AM till 5PM at our desk and it was acceptable to say I didn’t have access to a certain document at 10PM. With today’s available technology we can work from home, during our commute or lunch break without much extra effort or tools needed. Considering that some of us no longer have permanent desks either, it seems very timely to move our documents to a storage accessible from anywhere at any given moment. Plugged in 24/7 – whether it is for the better or worse but definitely a shift in our working culture!

Among the many questions and thoughts that flood our minds upon reading this shocking paragraph is, of course, the desire to know who the author is. A prankster staff member? A cynical manager? A zealous intern whose memo no one took the time to review? Who would dare so casually announce to the entire UN staff that it is time to give up the old-fashioned concept of downtime? And this “for the better or worse”?

The second question that comes to mind concerns knowing whether this is merely a harmless, though very unfortunate, blunder, or if it is a slip-up revealing a deeper trend in our organization, a trend that would lead us little by little to a methodology and a work culture worthy only of the worst of the worst private companies, the kind whose employees leave the office exhausted, depressed and utterly empty.

Do we really still have a such a long road to travel to raise awareness, even within the UN, about the many risks this approach entails – disengagement, high turnover, exhaustion, burnout and severe harm to the mental and physical health of staff, to name a few?

While some are gleefully calling for 24h/day connectivity and availability, others among us will not be so quick to dismiss the centuries-old wisdom there is in nurturing our body and health to ensure peak of performance of the mind, not to mention the countless recent scientific studies that demonstrate the unsustainability of such an approach on the long term. Here is an example among thousands, from an article published in the Harvard Business Review in March 2017:

The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, which cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S., are just the most obvious impacts. The true cost to business can be far greater, thanks to low productivity across organizations, high turnover, and the loss of the most capable talent.

When did it stop being “acceptable” to spend our lunch break among colleagues, to pass our daily commute in quiet reflection, to sleep deeply and soundly through the night?

Doesn’t the UN, guardian of our fundamental rights, have other ambitions for its staff than to make beasts of burden of us all? Are the wonderful technological advances of our time meant to make us bear an even heavier workload rather than to lighten it?

If the UN welcomes with open arms this logic of money as the end-all be-all, in which cutting costs takes priority over our well-being and in whose name we would be deprived of our desks and workspaces, of our free time and days off, then how are we supposed to believe in the grand visions of humanism the leaders put forth in their missions or in its objectives for a better world? How, then, does the UN hope to defend Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wherein the General Assembly affirms that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay”?

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