We've all been there, out with friends after work and halting conversation because you're still engrossed in checking work emails and eagerly awaiting that important response you've been refreshing your inbox for all day!
Our work and home life are no longer two separate entities. This merging of worlds has been made possible due to mobile technologies and portable WiFi, so whilst we may be out of the office in body, we're still there in mind. Dolly Parton's catchy adage: 'working 9 to 5 what a way to make a living' perhaps no longer rings true as mobile technology can lengthen the working day with emails only a click of a button away, making us essentially accessible 24/7.
I recently carried out research into the impact of technology on work-life balance and found that; 89 per cent of participants surveyed checked work emails in the evenings, around 94 per cent first thing in the morning, before work, and around 82 per cent of participants logged on to read work emails on days off, with more women than men checking work messages on days off. Whilst many workers take work home with them my research also found that staff maintain social contact while at work and found this helped reduce stress levels. Perhaps the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter during work hours could be a worthy trade-off for checking emails out of hours?
The research also highlighted respondents did not want employers to limit their technology with 59% of respondents reporting they were happy with their work-life balance and claimed the flexibility that technology allows is actually good for their stress levels. It appears that control over usage could be a significant factor in mediating the impact of technology on wellbeing with most individuals able to regulate usage themselves. An employer taking away this control and taking away the flexibility to check work emails outside of work hours or setting restrictions on social media in the workplace could potentially cause more stress to workers. A good example of this is when Yahoo employees felt aggrieved when told to stop working remotely with the use of mobile technology. It is clear that individuals would prefer to make this choice themselves and have full control over how and when they use technology, in and out of work.
So is this so called work-life merge an advantage or disadvantage?
Mobile technology in a lot of ways has greatly enhanced our work-life balance, allowing workers to choose the location, time, and pace at which they carry out their work. However, the convenience and constant accessibly of mobile technology can also have a negative impact on our social and family life as well as our mental health. A 2001 National Work, Family and Lifestyle survey identified that 50 per cent of people believed mobile technology was increasing their stress levels and putting them at risk of developing mental health problems.
Overall it does not appear beneficial to expect everyone to use technology in the same way, so either expecting everyone to use it and be available at all times or banning its use in or out of work would not be conducive to an effective work-life balance. Instead individuals benefit more from discovering how best to make technology work for them.
My advice to anyone struggling to switch off from the office or technology is to set aside allotted times to check emails. For example, whilst at the dinner table, switch your phone off or put it away and engage in conversation with your partner or family. Pulling up a chair and having regular round-the-table family time helps children learn and grow and it's often the only time couples have to speak about their day or discuss any problems. Similarly, before bed, have an hour or so technology- free time; checking emails and social media before bed can allow for things to play on your mind and prevent you from relaxing and having a good night's sleep. Moreover, whilst out meeting a friend or enjoying a hobby, put your phone on silent and enjoy offline 'real' conversation and eye contact. I enjoyed a sign I saw in a cafe the other day that cited: 'No WiFi here, talk to each other'. It's sad that we have to be reminded to do that and it's no wonder we are coined the 'online generation'.
On that note, I think it's time to log off!