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Work / Life Balance

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?



Comments

Work Life balance

Hi interesting commentary, I am currently undertaking a PhD, researching "the role of information technology in work life balance in the Australian context" it is primary research by interview I have currently interviewed about 20 professionals and would love to hear from anyone that read the article and would be interested in being interviewed.I live in Sydney and have conducted all of the interviews face to face but could use the phone if you are not in the Sydney area.David

Work Life Balance

new technology has led to lots more flexibility but as noted you're never left alone. I think its important for leaders and supervisors in workplaces to model good behaviour for staff. For instance, taking holidays and not being on-call; not calling people on the mobile outside work hours unless really urgent (and honestly how life-threatening are most office matters??!!); allowing time for people to think - it's the only way to come up with a creative idea.

What to expect from Maternity leave

in reference to the article published in today's Daily Telegraph relating to Maternity leave's effect on a woman's career (Maternity leave kills career, women believe)

As a mother of two who is balancing a career I have learnt that it is important to be realistic and clear about what you expect to come back to and what you would like to come back to when the time comes to start work again. Depending on the industry you work in, you may not be able to return to exactly the same position as before you left, but do you really want to and have you or your priorities changed since having your children ?

More on maternity leave

The priorities do change once you have a baby. A rare woman, even the most career oriented, would want to miss those first words or first little steps, all those precious moments that make the first years of your baby's life unique and will never be repeated. For many of us, however, returning to the workforce sooner or later is not a question of want, but a necessity and part of the family's careful long-term financial planning. That's why, being the first time mum still on maternity leave, I find a little disturbing the notion that the job you return to might no longer be the same as the one before you left - because no-one needs stability and security that the job brings more than a new parent.

Luckily, among the stories of how maternity leave has killed someone's career, there are others of how more and more employers introduce flexible policies that make their workplace better for women - for example, see the story of Michelle Levy at Mallesons Stephens Jacques (SMH's "My Career" of 21-22 July) who not only kept her job while on maternity leave, but got a promotion.

I tend to agree with Cristine Castle (see reference in the Daily Telgraph's article) that with determination and strong time management skills you should be able to pick up and move on in your job after giving birth. Leaving your child to go to work might be one of the toughest decisions you'll have to make, but the support of your employer willing to offer part time options and the availability of good quality affordable childcare in your area can make that choice so much easier.

some good points

Modern technology has effectively removed the restrictions once imposed on us by time. Night and day is irrelevent, the supermarket is open 24 hours and the boss thinks he can ring you at home on eight o'clock on a Sunday night. So what though? The idea that the 'work life balance' is currently in crisis is a complete myth. Imagine working in the fields three hundred years ago or in a Victorian mill. There was no work life balance, you worked your guts out for little reward doing exhausting, dangerous, manual labour, worked endless hours in the home with no labour saving devices, got old before your time and died. People now have far more effective leisure time than ever before. It's amazing that newspaper columnists can whine about people spending endless hours in front of the TV or Internet and at the same time complain that people now have ever less free time than before because of new technology.

The answer to the 24 hour office scenario is simple. If your boss rings you up outside of office hours then charge him for his time and present him a bill on Monday morning. If you rang him up and asked him to come round and mow your lawn on a Sunday do you think he'd do it? And would he do it for free? It's not about technology, it's about people standing up for themselves. Furthermore people waste time at work answering E Mails because IT'S NOT WORK. They know it's a skive, you know it's a skive, why pretend any different? It's like a school kid 'organising' their revision notes instead of actually reading them. It looks like work, but it isn't. If managers don't want people wasting their time at work dealing with stupid e mails then STOP SENDING THEM.

It's usually employers who are dubious about telecommuting, feeling that people won't work properly if not supervised. Companies should give people tasks and then allow them to complete them how they want, within a deadline. It's managers who insist on 'jackets on a chair' not the workers - often women - who would have a much easier life if they could work from home. You'd come out well ahead in the work life balance if you didn't have to trudge through a two hour commute every day.

It's not 'overwhelming' though. In reality the more pampered and lazy we get, the more obessed about 'stress' we become. Walk round an old church yard, see how many young women died in childbirth, or men in war or at walk. Count the numbers of dead one year old children. That's stress, not your boss ringing you up on your mobile while you're on the bus and would rather be texting your mate about where to meet for that nights booze up.

In the end we have to make choices. You can't 'have it all'. You can have children, and a lower standard of living, or work all the time, have some great holidays and die old and alone. People have to make that choice and to pretend there's some magic solution to give everyone the best of all worlds all the time is infantile.