The 21st century explosion of information technology has had a major impact in the American workplace and is swiftly redefining the traditional work-life balance in fundamental ways. As government employees (govies), we are becoming increasingly dependent on mobile/digital technology to get our jobs done. In due time, it may be the only way we work.
“These days when you leave the office — if you go to an office at all — it’s easy to take the office with you on mobile devices. Maybe too easy,” reports Marketplace radio. “A survey by the software company Good Technology says more than 80 percent of us keep checking emails and taking calls. On average, we put in an extra seven hours a week.”
Although seven hours a week may not sound like much, remember that’s just the median. Therefore, for every full-time employee who abides by the traditional 40-hour work week – which may be more common in the public sector — there is another worker who clocks 54 or more hours a week — without pay for the extra 14 hours or more.
This dynamic change in contemporary work life poses unique challenges. As digital/mobile technology evolves and becomes further embedded in our culture, the ramifications for the workplace are largely unknown and may be mixed.
Add to this fluid situation that more Millennials are entering the government workforce, which also alters the equation of how, when and where works gets done. This rapid change is further blurring traditional lines defining the work-life balance, which appears to be undergoing a tectonic shift.
The 21st century definition of what constitutes the appropriate work-life balance may be good or bad, depending upon whom you ask.
Good & Bad News
The good news is that we will be able to do our jobs smarter, faster and more productively via the virtual workplace. The bad news is that we don’t know where and when to draw the line between work time and personal time.
Failure to disconnect only serves to further decimate the distinction between work life and private life, generally. On one hand, some of us can’t seem to break away from periodically checking our work emails – and responding – regardless of where we are, as well as the time of day or night. The downside is that this may land us in quicksand.
It makes sense that we don’t want to miss anything while working remotely, even after regular business hours. But constant connectivity to a job may take a toll not only on one’s health, but also damage personal and family relationships.
According to the esteemed Mayo Clinic: “When your work life and personal life are out of balance, your stess level is likely to soar” — this can lead to a number of serious physical and mental health risks. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/work-life-balance/WL00056
That’s why we should be more vigilant in recognizing when we eviscerate time-honored boundaries separating work time from family and leisure time. The more we violate these boundaries, the more such behavior becomes the new normal.
While the time-honored 40-hour work week may still make sense in theory, it no longer appears possible in practice for professionals. Therefore, govies need to ensure they are in sync with their supervisors on where the balance lies when working remotely.
If new rules and standards are not clearly communicated and followed, then the lines separating work life and private life will fade away. This obfuscation of work time and personal time has the potential to collectively impact govies in other negative ways.
For example, some supervisors and managers may unwittingly make false assumptions about one’s work hours. Your boss may think that working remotely carries an implicit or explicit responsibility to almost always be available and accountable at a moment’s notice. If you over use – or abuse — digital/mobile technology for work, your supervisor may rightly assume that you’re available 24/7 and manage you accordingly.
For those of us who want to maintain some semblance of balance and normality, we must make conscious decisions to shut down digital/mobile communications for work use during non-work hours — at least to some extent. This is particularly applicable when Uncle Sam is not compensating us for the extra time and work.
Granted that it’s not easy for workaholics to disconnect, we should nevertheless exercise more self-restraint, self-awareness and self-discipline. This may be the only way to ensure any work-life balance in the digital/mobile information age.
A healthly work-life balance should be one which produces positive and mutually beneficial results for the employer and employee alike. The problem for many employees is that smartphones and tablets have already become virtual extensions of the individual.
In essence, too many govies (and people generally) are already addicted to digital/mobile technology, which consumes a significant amount of time in our lives — arguably too much. Moreover, unfortunately, addictions are tough to break.
Yet ultimately the choice is ours to make, or at least help shape. We can attempt to define and control the new rules of the virtual work world, or we can let evolving technology define and control us. This all leads to the inevitable question:
How should the work-life balance be defined in a digital/mobile world?
*** All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.