The phrase is "workweek creep," and no, it doesn't refer to an obnoxious co-worker.
Instead, it's defined as "the gradual extension of the workweek caused by performing work-related activities during non-work hours." The first known usage was a 1997 Baltimore Sun story reporting that 73 percent of survey respondents said they worked at home or the office outside of regular hours, according to the popular "Word Spy" website. The phrase joins other creepy website word usages, as in: commercial creep, jargon creep, mission creep and Christmas creep.
My wife, rather pointedly, e-mailed me the workweek creep definition last week. I plead guilty, but in my defense, I am hardly alone.
For example, I like to fine-tune this column on Sunday afternoons away from the newsroom bustle. Two Sundays ago I e-mailed questions to Leslie Howard, president of the United Way of Dane County, and Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Both replied within minutes.
It happens regularly. I e-mail someone, often a public official, and hear back almost instantly, at night, on a weekend, whenever. I rationalize that I am not really intruding; it's not like I am ringing their telephone. Whether they choose to make a timely response to my e-mail is totally their call.
Of course, it's been pointed out to me, public figures are interested in media attention, so my rapid-response experience may not be typical. Still, all of these prompt responders must be tethered to technology in some way.
Curious about the trend, I e-mailed Joanne Cantor, whom we featured in a story a year ago around the release of her book, "Conquer CyberOverload, Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity and Reduce Stress." She sees nothing heroic about my 24/7-style connectivity. In fact, quite the contrary, she says it leads to stress, can create family tensions and actually lowers creativity.
Technology is the enabler, she says, and it didn't used to be that way.
As she points out in her book, we baby boomers can recall a day when an unanswered phone left no message, the phone was only as portable as the length of its cord, fact-finding required reading books and changing television stations meant a walk across the room. (And, I could add to her list, the newspaper came once a day and the network television news was presented in one 30-minute, dinner-hour window.)
"I think cyber-overload really facilitates workweek creep," says Cantor, professor emerita in communication arts and director of UW-Madison's Center for Communications Research. She is an expert on the psychological impact of media and communications. Cyber-overload refers to easy and constant access to e-mail and, in general, the relentless nature of modern technology.
"You would go out in the past on Sundays and leave technology behind; now it is always with us," she says. And it is extremely difficult to resist answering and responding, she says. Cantor admits with a laugh that she responded to my workweek creep query during her vacation in Hawaii, violating her own advice to turn off gadgets.
A Madisonian since 1974 and self-described "recovering cyber addict," Cantor says she used to write e-mail at night or on weekends with the expectation her e-mail would be waiting at the office when the recipient returned.
More and more, she says, she gets immediate responses. "I didn't mean for them to interrupt dinner with their families," she says.
Cantor has given many speeches on managing e-mail compulsion and other behaviors tied to cyber-overload, and says even older audience members have "pretty much come on board" in embracing the smart phone culture and now struggle to set limits.
"Some of their lives are pretty well dominated by their devices," she says. It's much like a newborn baby, she says. If it cries, you pick it up. Her book is filled with self-help tips such as a chapter titled "Taking charge of your gadgets and reclaiming your life."
As I start reading it, I'm already scowling at my iPhone.
Tucson: so sad for more reasons than one
Like most of you, I've read hundreds of inches of news reports about the Tucson shootings and even more — perhaps three or four times as much — of punditry placing blame, pointing fingers and trying to measure any perceptible change to the national political climate in the wake of Arizona.
Sure, I fulminated briefly when I read Rush Limbaugh had said the shooter has the "full support" of the Democratic Party. He said what?
Mostly, though, I am just profoundly saddened, first and foremost, of course, for the victims.
But I am also saddened because each time a national catastrophe would seem to pull us together as a nation, we instead seem to attain new degrees of separation.
I can remember a chilly Friday afternoon in 1963 when my elementary school class was told President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I can remember thinking at the time that only three years earlier we had playfully worn campaign buttons to school and held a mock Kennedy-Nixon presidential vote that ended in a tie.
That awful afternoon, we quietly filed out of school and went home early to turn on TV and watch Air Force One carrying Jackie Kennedy and the president's coffin landing in Washington, D.C. We watched through Lee Harvey Oswald's televised murder on Sunday and the presidential funeral on Monday. It was four days of television without commercial interruption and without anything remotely resembling today's political commentary.
I am not so Pollyannaish as to doubt what conversations were occurring in dark corners of the adult world back then. Kennedy had been warned against traveling to Texas, where he was widely reviled, and many Americans resented him as the first Catholic president. Those feelings, however, seemed far in the background when tragedy struck.
Last week, President Obama called for a renewed era of civility in remarks at the Tucson memorial service, asking that we reject "the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."
Back on that November 1963 weekend, no such exhortation seemed necessary. There didn't seem to be Republicans or Democrats, progressives or conservatives, tea partiers or liberals. Just Americans.
But that was a long time ago.