How’s Your Work-Life Balance in Today’s Digital/Mobile World?

Today’s increasing reliance on new and evolving information technology in employment has given new meaning to the term work-life balance.

That’s because the 21st century proliferation of digital/mobile IT tools to do our jobs is radically transforming how and when we work in fundamental ways. The question now is whether the transition to the virtual workplace will be a smooth or bumpy road?

The IT revolution has allowed many companies to become more competitive and efficient by liberating high-performing employees with new flexibility for important family and caregiver responsibilities. That’s due in large part to more employers embracing mobile/digital work strategies for eligible employees, primarily remote work (aka telecommuting or telework).

Benefits to Employers & Society

Many studies have shown this modern approach to work has proven successful in boosting employee productivity, job satisfaction, health, morale and engagement. At the same time, employees are being held more accountable and companies are saving money by consolidating or eliminating expensive office space.

There’s also the added benefit to society of helping the environment by reducing pollution via time consuming gas guzzling commutes. Moreover, family-friendly and flexible business practices are a valuable incentive to attract a new generation of workers, especially Millennials, whose strong desire to strike the appropriate work-life balance may be non-negotiable.

Embracing the Virtual Workplace

The new workplace reality is clear, regardless of whether employers choose to accept or reject it. That is, the antiquated brick-and-mortar workplace paradigm is shifting to a virtual business model, one in which work is defined more by what one does and less by where and when one does it.

The old-school ways of doing business are neither practical nor productive at the dawn of a new century in which mobile/digital technology has become an integral part of the work culture.

Progressive employers in the public and private sectors understand that the future is now. Many have acted accordingly by embracing virtual work practices to simultaneously enhance employee productivity while also improving the increasingly important work-life balance.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that many employees are being empowered to work smarter, faster and more productively via the virtual workplace.

The bad news is that failure to disconnect may also decimate the very distinction between work and family time.

To wit: many employees can’t seem to break away from checking their smartphones and tablets 24/7 and responding during off duty hours. Therefore, as work-life policies become more ingrained in the work culture, we need to be mindful that constant connectivity takes a toll on one’s health, family and relationships.

Where to Draw the Line

According to the esteemed Mayo Clinic: “When your work life and personal life are out of balance, your stress level is likely to soar.” This in turn may result in any number of serious physical and mental health risks for employees which hinder bottom line productivity while increasing absenteeism and health care costs for employers.

So where should the line be drawn between leveraging high-tech tools to improve the work-life balance while also making sure that employees know when to disconnect?

Some leading high-tech companies like Google are taking a scientific approach to address such questions by conducting massive workforce studies.

The bottom-line is how to make the work-life balance mutually beneficial to employers and employees alike in today’s hyper-connected information age.

And therein lies the real challenge ahead.

DBG – join me on Twitter @DBGrinberg

Note: This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

* All views and opinions are those of the author only.

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David B. Grinberg

FYI — Interesting article from the Miami Herald on the “work-life balancing act”:

  • Is there no such thing as “out of the office?”

According to the author:

  • “I’m noticing that with today’s devices, it’s increasingly impossible to really be out of the office and out of touch.”
  • “If you’re like me, you no long believe “out of office” status any more. With that option disappearing, how are any of us really going to disconnect?”
  • “It’s as if out of office no longer means, “Get lost, I am on a cruise with my family and I am soaking up the sun. I’ll respond in five days.” Instead, it now means “You might not hear from me instantly, but I’ll get back to you back to you by tomorrow.”

Do you agree?

And, if so, what can be done about this, if anything?

Carol Kruse

I’m a BBoomer, and I can remember when computers first showed up in the office. The new technology was touted as “the Salvation for long work hours — with computers you can do more, better, and in less time — providing you with more leisure time!! Book that cruise now!!”

I’m not aware of anyone for whom it’s worked that way. It seems that, as we worked faster and better, our job responsibilities expanded to fill all that leisure time — and then some, for many of us!! And now with tablets and smartphones et al, people seem to be getting almost addicted to being connected electronically. Is that happening because it’s still so new? Or fun? Are most humans really driven to be continuously connected, only disengaging when sleeping?

I think I may be one of the lucky ones, today, because I’m a staunch Intravert (MBTI). As a result, being at work all day drains my “batteries,” and a quiet evening at home with my dogs is where I ‘re-charge.’ I’ve discovered I’m even uncomfortable teleworking…and I finally figured out it’s because that means work is invading my sanctuary! My Intraversion has, fortunately, required me to maintain a clear, definitive line between work and personal life. And because evenings and weekends are my time to ‘re-charge my batteries,’ I don’t even “do” social media. I keep trying, but just can’t get ‘into’ it — I need my alone time, or my quality of life and quality of work suffer noticeably.

So, perhaps people need to learn that constant connection isn’t healthy, in the long run, and that we all need to establish firm boundaries between work and leisure time/personal time/family time if we’re to be engaged and effective in the long run. It’s not like I’m so important that the world (or even the government) stops when I leave the office every weekday evening, leaving my laptop there, leaving my phone there, “cutting the cord.”

Maybe even, more people setting and holding to those boundaries would slow down our maniacal pace of life a little!

David B. Grinberg

Carol, thank you for sharing your astute observations, you raise several excellent points.

  • I think most people are beyond “almost addicted” to constant connectivity. Rather, they are already connectivity addicts. They sleep and wake with their smartphones by their side, perhaps even checking them in the middle of the night and paying more attention to smart devices than to their spouse.
  • As you note, the solution appears to be setting strict boundaries regarding connectivity and sticking to them, which may be easier said than done: I totally agree that “…people need to learn that constant connection isn’t healthy, in the long run, and that we all need to establish firm boundaries between work and leisure time/personal time/family time if we’re to be engaged and effective in the long run.”
  • Why is it that employers in Europe and elsewhere provide more family and leisure time to employees rather than demand the “workaholic” mentality 24/7?

This all reminds me of the warnings/predictions about the high-tech future made a long time ago by two of my favorite authors: Orwell and Huxley, as exemplified by the following illustration:

Carol Kruse

I was actually thinking about the European work ethic as I wrote my earlier comment. You ask a dang good question, I’d love to know the answer. Have they been around longer enough that they’ve learned better, of do they know something we don’t?

LOVE the illustrations, David — what awesome, succinct, visual summations!!

David B. Grinberg

Thanks again, Carol, for your kind words and valuable feedback. Regrets for the delayed response.

Here’s some interesting news which you may have heard about America being the so-called “No Vacation Nation”:

It was just reported that half of American private sector employees don’t even use up all their vacation time or paid leave for various reasons — valued at about $1,300 per worker based on this new study. I don’t think you’ll find that mentality in most European countries or others. We all need to learn how to disconnect once and a while for our own health and well being — and that of our families.

According to the WSJ’s MarketWatch:

  • “Employees only use 51% of their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off, according to a survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid vacation.”

  • Americans left four days on the table within the past year, twice as many as in the previous year. That’s the equivalent of over 500 million lost vacation days per year.”