CMI Blog

Technology Fights Back: Can we stop work from taking over our lives?

work_life_balance_it_company_london.jpgIt is the 10pm email that you shouldn’t have read, in which a colleague accidently gives misinformation to a client. What do you do? You do what most of us do: turn down the TV volume and send a nice reply clarifying everything so that the client wakes up to the correct information. 

The problem is, at 10pm you should not be working. You should be in ‘off’ mode, allowing your brain to relax, repair and prepare for another day. Just read the NY Times article “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Much Needed Down Time,” if you are sceptical. We need a break from our phones, computers and other digital devices.

The good news is, a growing number of organisations, companies and even a European country are pushing back against the creeping extension of the working day.

One company to do so is Daimler, which has allowed employees to set up their email so any messages they receive while on holiday are deleted. An automated response tells the sender their email has not been received and suggests an alternate contact. Volkswagen announced years ago that the company would no longer route emails to employee BlackBerrys during the evenings. And similarly, managers at Deutsche Telekom agreed they would only send emails to staff during the working day.

Interestingly, the idea that limiting the length of the working day boosts productivity dates back to early in the 20th century, when economist Sidney Chapman published his discussion of how worker productivity varied according to the hours worked per day. It was not long after that, that Ford introduced the 40-hour work week. They were able to demonstrate (90 years ago!) that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight and the working week from six days to five, while also increasing pay, both increased worker output and reduced production cost.

But what has happened since 1926 is technology has developed and brought work home with us. Even with official working days reduced (like they have been in Sweden where 6 hour working days is becoming standard) our smartphones are adding an extra TWO hours on to our working day. Even our social lives feel a bit like ‘work’ thanks to social media platforms in which people can send you chats, messages and in-mails, making you feel like your down time is spent once again… typing.

What to do?

If you are a company that would like to help your employees achieve better work-life balance, contact your IT company and ask them about setting up out-of-hours email-blocking or some of the other IT measures mentioned here. Your IT company will likely be able to advise on additional measures that may help with your business’s unique circumstances.

But perhaps the most effective action management can take, is to set an example. Turn your blackberry off at evenings and on weekends, and don’t respond or send emails. Simpler said than done, we know.

 


 

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