I might be a little late to the party on this one, but having just finished the first season, I felt compelled to write about the 2022 TV show ‘Severance’.

I have done my best to not include any spoilers, and hope that if you haven’t watched this sci-fi thriller yet, you are compelled to.

‘Severance’ brings the concept of personal life versus work life to the forefront of our minds.  It sparks thought-provoking questions about:-

  • the control employers have over their employees
  • to what lengths employees are willing to go for professional development, and
  • the impact of work on personal life, and vice versa.

The show delves into the complexities of modern-day work culture, raising important issues that, I felt, were worth exploring further.

One of the central themes of the show is the level of control employers wield over their employees.  In case you haven’t watched it, the fiction organisation, Lumon Industries requires its employees to sign a unique contract that includes an unusual clause: all employees must separate their work and personal memories.

In order to do this, employees must undergo a surgical procedure whereby a Lumon chip is implanted into their brains.  The chip allows the company to control the memories of their employees; when they enter their workplace all memories of their outside life (i.e. the life of their ‘Outie’) are erased.  Likewise, when they leave their workplace at the end of each day all memories of their work life (i.e. the life of their ‘Innie’) are erased.  This in effect creates two different conscious versions of themselves, one totally unaware of the other.  Terrifying but intriguing stuff!

Would you ever allow your employee to have control over your brain functions? Apparently we’re not that far off this technology being possible (read more here).

Lumon Industries are able to get away with this huge ethical breach as employees sign the contract at the start – well it is the ‘Outie’ that agrees to it.  The ‘Innie’ has no control; even if the ‘Innie’ wants to resign, the ‘Outie’ has to approve it!  And of course as their work life isn’t affecting their life outside of work, they rarely do approve it!  So their ‘Innie’ is stuck until retirement!

This concept, challenges the notion of what our individual identity comprises of.  It forces us to look at how ‘work-life’ and ‘personal-life’ are so intertwined and shape who we are, the conversations we have, the things we do both at work and outside of work.

Furthermore, it raises questions about the extent to which we’re willing to let our ‘work-life’ shape our identities and how much of our ‘personal lives’ are we willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of our professional careers.

In the modern working era, we are seeing traditional boundaries between personal and work life becoming increasingly blurred.  With the rise of technology, employees are often expected to be available and responsible even outside of traditional working hours.  With remote working we are now able to work from places that were traditionally ‘holiday locations’ or ‘our personal spaces’.

How much of ‘our time’ are we willing to let ‘work time’ encroach on?

Severance shows (in an extreme case) how this blurring of boundaries can have significant impacts on employee’s mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.  Although Lumon’s employees come to work free of the ‘baggage’ of their personal lives, they spend a lot of time questioning who they might be on the outside and why they’re doing what they do at work.  And similarly, on the outside they go home unaware of office politics, disputes and what they’re made to do at work.  Whilst this can be somewhat freeing and work-stress isn’t carried home, imagine not being able to answer the question “what job do you do?”

Although I can see the benefits of separating our ‘work-life’ from our ‘personal-life’, for me, one doesn’t exist without the other.  Experiences in both are key to learning and shaping who I am as an individual.

‘Severance’ well and truly serves as a reminder to critically examine our own attitudes towards work and personal life, and to prioritise our well-being in the modern world of work.  I can’t wait for season 2.

I would love to know your thoughts about these questions and ‘Severance’ in the comments below!

Natalie Harper

Author Natalie Harper

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