At 9PM on a Saturday, I get a message “@Melodievuong” to complete a task. This is accompanied by other messages for my co-workers for other assignments. This is not the first time a spam of messages has appeared at odd hours. The directions can come as early as 7AM or as late as 11PM. I remember waking up one day, not by the sound of my alarm but the vibration of a string of messages. My FaceTime video call with my parents would be interrupted by a few messages from the company group chat updating each other on the progress of their project. While I applaud them for working diligently to meet deadlines, I cannot help but wonder if they have the separation of professional and private life.
After two weeks of observation and participation, I can attribute the lack of distinction between work and private to the use of WeChat. It is quite possibly the app to replace all other apps. It has the standard communication functions of calling and messaging, in addition to the wallet function (goodbye cash, credit cards, debit cards) and social media function (similar to Snapchat and Instagram). WeChat is practically a necessity to survive in China. At least, it is makes life much more convenient.
As a common-use app, I can see how companies would want to integrate it into their workspace. It makes communication more efficient, since the platform is already user-friendly and accessible. No one needs to be trained on how to use the app because they already use it as an integral part of their lives.
However, this blurs the line between professional and private. Using a social media app to conduct professional discussions means that your fingers do not feel the difference between typing a messaging giving an update to your manager or sharing a joke with your friend. This also means during your free time, as you are just lounging on your phone and a message appears, everyone will instinctively tap to open the message.
This reaction will happen even before you can register who the message is from. You could be reading an assignment from your boss in the late hours of the evening and may feel the obligation to complete the task. Personally, if it was a small task, I would feel like that it would be better for me to finish it now than wait to do it tomorrow morning, especially if I know it will only take a few minutes.
However, this means that I am dedicating some of my free time to work, causing the distinction to be blurred. Some people may argue that there does not need to be a division. Work should be something you enjoy and choose to do. While I do not disagree, I think this view is more idealistic than realistic. I feel that most people stay late at the office or bring work home out of obligation and not necessarily pleasure.
Especially in China, most people have a strong work ethic. They want to complete their projects to the best of their ability before the deadline. If this means dedicating a few extra hours in the evening or weekend to work, it may be worth the sacrifice. My co-workers are the perfect example.
By adding your work superiors on WeChat, they gain access to see your “moments”, which are casual photo updates similar to Snapchat or Instagram stories. While it is unlikely that these photos are bad or inappropriate, there are some things that you do not share with your boss.
The professionalism needs to be there to maintain respect. While it would be nice to be best friends with your boss, there is still a hierarchical organization present. Regardless of how casual your boss acts with you, he or she is your superior. If this structure is forgotten or neglected, when problems do arise, it can complicate things. Having a serious conversation may not have the same effect if an employee views an employer as an equal.
Nevertheless, most of my coworkers address my supervisor as “老师”, which is the Chinese equivalent of saying “Ms.” or “Mr.”. This simple act signifies respect for both the other person and the structure. While I do not anticipate this being a problem at my internship, it is still a concern to consider.
Overall, I understand why companies use WeChat as the main form of communication, but I am not convinced that I would support it as a dual professional and private communication platform. To relate it to American equivalents, Facebook and LinkedIn serve similar purposes: to connect with people. However, Facebook is used to chat and share news with friends, while LinkedIn is for professional interactions.
Maybe it is an American philosophy to separate work from play, but I think this system works better. Work should not consume your life, and I could see how this can gradually become the case without the person even noticing. Opposingly, if businesses can find employees who are this dedicated, why should they not capitalize on it? It is not necessarily an issue of balance because I do not think there is a happy medium. There is not a perfect formula to divide your time. It is all dependent on prioritizing: people find joy and a sense of accomplishment in different things, so this is unique to each individual.