Many of us regard technological developments and innovations as having a positive impact on our lives. Extending the capacity of software, hardware and machinery has in lots of ways improved the quality and efficiency of our day-to-day living, but has it really offered us more freedom, or just meant we are now able and pressured to squeeze more into the same amount of hours per day?
Thirty years ago, when a senior manager took annual leave there was virtually no choice but to simply be “on holidays”. There were no mobile phones that had global roaming to allow anyone, anywhere, anytime to make and receive phone calls. There were no personal laptops that allowed internet and email access at the press of a button. Unless you voluntarily gave your colleagues and clients your home phone number and perhaps the number of the hotel you were staying at, businesses simply had to survive without you.
The overuse of email as a communication tool has largely changed this for professionals – though it is quick, versatile and effective, not only is it impersonal but in lots of cases has shown to actually decrease productivity levels. Too many employees opt to waste hours of their day sending and replying to multiple email threads, when a simple phone call would cover all points of the same conversation in a fraction of the time. The same applies to SMS on mobile phones. Using these very evasive and remote tools has become so commonplace that some companies have now had to stipulate to employees that calling in sick via SMS or email is simply not an option.
Despite the drawbacks of these technologies, the bottom line for most professionals is that there is little to no excuse now for not being “available” in some form. The concept of someone not owing a mobile phone or using an email address is laughable to most, yet this is having a serious and profound impact on the delicate balance we all strive to achieve, yet at times simply fail to navigate, between work and the other competing aspects of life. For some the demand of being “on call” has become extremely stressful, intrusive and destructive. The lack of control over life can eventually become too overwhelming.
Government studies have shown that encouraging employees and employers to regard work-life balance initiatives as a tool for success offers many mutual benefits including:
Increased job satisfaction, therefore increased productivity and quality of performance
Adequate exercise and “time-out” periods improves overall physical and mental health, thereby decreasing levels of sick and stress leave (which can cost companies huge sums of money)
Opportunities to engage in other areas of life decrease negative feelings towards employers, thereby increasing retention rates (which also cost companies significant amounts of time, resources, training and money)
Many organisations now offer work-life initiatives that encourage both employers and employees to strike this “balance”, with a key component focusing on encouraging flexibility via “telecommuting” – perhaps through negotiating a work from home arrangement, or agreeing on work hours outside the standard 9am-5pm structure.The question is has allowing this flexibility had the opposite effect – rather than the desired sense of freedom and control over when and how you work, has this merely blurred, or even removed, the boundaries of where work starts and finishes in an average day?