Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Name Is Melanie and I Am a Social Workaholic

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Name Is Melanie and I Am a Social Workaholic

Article excerpt


IT'S an odd phrase, isn't it, but, according to psychologists who have been researching women's work habits, a Social Workaholic is what you call people whose social lives at work are as important as their social lives at home and whose work colleagues are their greatest friends. Sad, is what most other people call them.

Actually, not all my dearest friends are people I work with or have worked with; lots are though. I like it that way. But it goes without saying that these latest findings from occupational psychologists on behalf of the Tea Council (which is anxious to promote office tea breaks) are presented in terms of a social problem.

Inevitably, given researchers' assumption that we all identify with American sitcoms, Social Workaholics have been described as so many Ally McBeals, the waif-like television lawyer played by Calista Flockhart, whose life revolves around work and relationship difficulties. Actually, here I must part company with my newfound category - my dearest friends would hesitate to describe me as waif-like, still less, workaholic. But our collective tendency to blur the distinction between work and play is presented as a failure to get a life, symptomatic of overlong work hours, an expression of the stress from which, according to yet another survey - this time from the Health and Safety Executive - one in five British workers suffers.

But the truth is that we take our friends from the people we spend time with. And most people spend the greater part of their day at work. Take these two circumstances together, and it's not particularly surprising that the social life of young women revolves increasingly around the office. Men are used to the phenomenon of the after-work drink, the working lunch, the office sweepstake - now both sexes are doing it. Don't misunderstand, I'm not talking about office affairs - just about the social identity you acquire by virtue of your job.

It's to do with the agreeable nature of a readymade constituency into which you slot simply by virtue of coming into work. And this holds good whether the work itself is congenial or not. If Aristotle were in business now, describing the modern polis and the way people function as a community, I bet he'd be talking about an office, not a city-state.

Because for most people, all the other institutions that used to bring us together don't really function any more, such as church parishes, the Young Conservatives, trade unions, women's institutes - all those associations where you met up with people by virtue of your locality or your interests.

And given the mobility of Londoners, the sheer numbers of us living alone (there are about a million single women who do) and the tendency of most people to push off and leave their families as soon as they finish school, it's difficult to have long-term solidarity with your neighbours the way I took for granted when I was growing up. …

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