How do YOU define “work-life balance” in today’s fast evolving Information Age?
Is striking an appropriate balance between working versus leisure time and family responsibilities even possible anymore due to the explosion of mobile, digital and virtual technology worldwide?
The 21st century proliferation of high-tech work tools is having a profound impact on the global workplace and swiftly redefining the traditional balance between work and personal time in fundamental ways.
As any employee knows by now, we are increasingly dependent on new technology to get our jobs done. Old-school ways of working are slowly, but surely, being eclipsed by the virtual workplace — including telecommuting and other flexible work arrangement.
Some futurists even predict the robots and artificial intelligence will take over most jobs by the next century.
“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 USA-based 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 extra work per 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 in the USA, there is another worker who clocks 54 hours or more every week.
That’s an extra 14 hours or more of unpaid work on average.
This dynamic change in contemporary work poses unique challenges outside the work environment. It’s a conspicuous fact that as new technology evolves and becomes further embedded in our culture, there will be major ramifications in the employment arena. Today, we are just witnessing the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Add to this fluid situation the fact that more Millennials (Generation Y) are entering workforce, soon to be followed by the younger Generation Z. This also alters the equation of how, when and where works gets done. Such rapid change is further blurring traditional lines which have defined work parameters for decades.
In short, we are undergoing a tectonic shift, the likes of which are similar in scope to the transition from an agricultural world to the Industrial Revolution a century ago. Thus, the 21st century definition of what constitutes the appropriate work-life balance can be considered good or bad, depending upon whom you ask.
GOOD NEWS & BAD NEWS
The good news is that we are working 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 from high-tech work tools only serves to further decimate the distinction between working and private life, generally. On one hand, some of us can’t seem to break away from obsessively checking our work emails and texts – and responding. The downside is that this may land us in quicksand if we all become addicted to new technology that governs our daily lives.
It makes sense that we don’t want to miss anything while working, 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, an influential medical facility in the USA: “When your work life and personal life are out of balance, your stress level is likely to soar” — this can lead to a number of serious physical and mental health risks.”
That’s why we all should become more vigilant in recognizing when we eviscerate time-honored boundaries separating work from family and leisure. The more we violate these boundaries, the more such behavior becomes embedded into the work culture and society.
While the time-honored 40-hour work week may still make some sense in theory, at least in the USA, it no longer makes sense in practicality. Many countries in Europe have known this for decades and have put at least an equal emphasis on personal time versus work time. However, the USA has failed to follow the good example of our friends in Europe. The result is that America is an over-worked nation.
Thus, if new rules and standards are not clearly communicated and followed, then the lines separating work land private life will permanently vanish. This obfuscation of work and personal time has the potential to collectively impact employees in other negative ways.
For example, some managers may unwittingly make false assumptions about one’s work hours. Your boss could think that working remotely carries an implicit or explicit responsibility to always be available at a moment’s notice. Therefore, if you become too reliant on new technology for work, your boss might rightly assume that you’re available 24/7 — and manage you accordingly.
For those of us who want to maintain some semblance of work-life balance and normality, we must make conscious decisions to ditch work-related mobile, digital and virtual communication during non-work hours.
Granted that it’s not easy for workaholics to disconnect from technology, we should nevertheless exercise more self-restraint, self-awareness and self-discipline. This is because a healthy work-life balance is one which produces positive and mutually beneficial results for the employer and employee alike.
The problem for many workers, however, is that smartphones and tablets have already become virtual extensions of the individual.
In essence, too many of us are already addicted to new work-related technologies which consumes a significant amount our lives — arguably too much. Moreover, addictions are tough to break.
Yet, ultimately, the choice is ours to make. We can attempt to define and control the new rules of the high-tech work environment, or we can let evolving technology define and control us.
This all leads back to the vexing question: How do YOU define work-life balance in today’s fast evolving digital, mobile and virtual world? Please share your important insights below.
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