Reflections on the “UK always on culture” from Hungary, Greece and France

By Almuth McDowall (a.mcdowall@bbk.ac.uk), April 2016:

Over the last couple of weeks, life has been very busy! I had the chance to visit Hungary on holiday with my girls, then Greece and France for work travels. What wonderful and thought provoking experiences I had, which I am sharing with you here. Our first stop, Budapest, was full of lovely surprises. My friends were quite right when they said, “if you like Vienna, then you will love Budapest!” We had a great time exploring the sights and walked everywhere. The welcome could not have been more friendly, and we loved the architecture and the pace of life, which is generally much slower than in London. “Can’t we move away from Britain?”, my girls started begging me? I am not sure if this really came from the heart, or was just a part of teenage “the grass is always green on the other side” type attitude. I could not help but notice that conversation in the evenings was sparse, as the older two girls were permanently glued to their mobile phones checking Instagram and Snapchat. Only my nine-year old reads one book after another on her nook. But our phone were also a great enabler, helping us book tickets to the Spa but avoid the queues, and last minute seats at the Opera! This was a new experience for all of us. We agreed that on an average day we all prefer Bring me the Horizon, but we were glad that we went! Having such new experiences meant that we all returned to the UK refreshed despite all the walking and travelling. But there was no rest for the wicked, in this case me.

Less than a day to repack and off to Athens to the congress of the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology (http://www.eaohp.org/conference.html). The congress and my hotel could not have had a more evocative location, right in the centre in-between the temple of Zeus and the Acropolis! More on this in another blog entry. Whilst busy, the congress also afforded the opportunity to walk around Athens, as Plaka with its myriad of small shops is nearby. Whilst I was initially irritated by the many request to look and buy, with a discount of course, I decided after a while to speak to shop keepers where I could and learn more about the challenges they face. A lady owning a handbag store turned out to be a fellow psychologist who cannot find work in this field in the current economic circumstances. She is now leading a campaign to support local manufacture and business, as many of the goods on sale are cheap imports from China or India which destroys the local infrastructure. I happily supported the cause by buying bags for my girls, and internet is affording us the opportunity to stay in touch, a real benefit of being “globally connected”.

From Athens, I was off to France, to visit the University of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille for an intensive workshop with French, Belgian and German researchers organised by Marina Burakova-Lognier and Edith Galy-Marie. We do not hear all that much about research in France in our field of work psychology, and I learned that one reason for this is that some institutions are rather suspicious of French scholars publishing in English. As a result, they keep to French, which means that those of us with rusty school French are unlikely to read the original publications. A real shame, as I discovered many shared interests around the always on culture, both from a psychological but also sociological perspective around how work is changing fundamentally. My colleague Professor Jan Dettmers from Hamburg Medical School also shares an interested in the phenomenon of “extended availability”. It was also the first time that I met an individual who combines work on a second PhD in Chronobiology (the first one was on sociology) with work as a fire fighter (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marc_Riedel2.); who had fascinating insights into various forms of on call duty.

But the most interesting aspect was to watch and learn how our French colleagues conduct their working day when visitors come to town. Lunch breaks were scheduled for two hours, complete with three courses and wine on the table which I politely declined (honest!). The pace of work was slower and more reflective than I am used to, not least as we were conversing across different languages. This was a good thing however, as having to explain ourselves more slowly and simply than we usually would facilitated reflection on terms and concepts we take for granted – for instance, has technology become a separate domain in our lives, or is it a tool to help us manage boundaries more effectively, getting in the way of recovery when we overdo it? We are fired up to collaborate on a European scale, so watch this space. Of course, technology is making this possible, as we have already set up online project management tools, and are busy communicating via Whats App and other channels.

There was also a happy ending to my girl’s “always on attitude”. My husband bought them old fashioned e-readers whilst I was away. Rather than being glued to their phones, they are now glued to books – electronic or not, the content is the same, so everyone is happy.

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