Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to improve work-life balance and wellbeing, but what has been termed ‘the switched on culture’ can also pose challenges for the personal life of employees. We are experts in the field of technology use and work-life balance and have hosted a variety of seminars, workshops and events related to the switched on culture. Our research findings have been widely published and disseminated at national and international conferences. Here is a summary of how some of our research findings could inform your organisation’s practice and what you can do to improve your own e-resilience.
“Think of work-life balance as a (good) challenge, and not a problem”
Dr Almuth McDowall
A great deal of research has focused on the factors that underpin work-life balance and conflict, but much less is known about what people can actually do to improve their balance. Over the last few years, Almuth McDowall has undertaken research with the police and other professions to look at how individuals can effectively juggle their own work life balance. Her research has shown that being proactive, so thinking in advance about what you can do to improve your work-life balance, is more effective than waiting until a problem occurs.
Take a moment to reflect how good you are at the following aspects of your life:
- Putting work-life balance on the daily agenda, and making it a priority?
- Thinking about work-life balance as a (good) challenge?
- Organising your time?
- Managing the boundaries between work and other aspects of your life in a way which suits you?
- Making technology work for you by using it wisely and adapting your behaviour as required?
- Looking after yourself physically and mentally?
- Coordination and negotiation of your personal work and non-working life needs?
- Managing the expectations of others (and of yourself)
McDowall, A. & Lindsay, A. (2014). Work-life Balance in the Police: The Development of a Work-Life Balance Self-management Competency Framework. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(3), 387-411.
Measuring your e-work life…
Dr Christine Grant
Christine Grant has undertaken research including interviews with exemplar e-workers and a large-scale survey with a view to understanding how they manage the impact of technology on their work-life balance, well-being and job effectiveness. Findings indicated that technology can produce both positive and negative outcomes for individual and organisations. For example, it can offer a great deal of flexibility for parents, carers and those wishing to work flexible hours. Conversely, the availability of technology can also intensified working hours, meaning that it is now harder to ‘switch off’ completely. Christine found that exemplar e-workers use key strategies for coping and ‘switching off’ in order to maintain boundaries between their work and personal life. These strategies have been developed alongside the e-work-life scale providing individuals and organisations with solutions to manage technology usage. The e-work life tool is available for research and can be undertaken via the website or by contacting Christine directly – see https://ework.coventry.ac.uk/ for more details.
Consider the extent you use some of the following strategies:
- Do you set a good example to others when using technology, e.g., sending and responding to emails outside normal working hours?
- How does technology use affect your own well-being and others around you?
- Who do you respect when it comes to technology usage and why? What strategies do they use?
- How long do you spend sitting at your computer without a break? Research has found that sedentary behaviours can impair health in a number of ways.
- Does your organisation provide a policy to help you manage your e-working and well-being?
- To what extent do you think about work when you are with your family and friends?
Grant, C. A., Wallace, L. M., Spurgeon, P. C., Tramontano, C., & Charalampous, M. (submission April 2016). Construction and initial validation of a scale to measure the psychological impact of e-working on well-being, work-life balance and job effectiveness. Journal of Computer Behaviour.
Grant, C. A., Wallace L. M., & Spurgeon, P. C. (2013). An exploration of the psychological factors affecting remote e-worker’s job effectiveness, well-being and work-life balance. Employee Relations, 35, 527-546.
Thinking about recovery from work and how it impacts on work-life balance
Prof Gail Kinman
Gail Kinman conducts research on how emotionally demanding and knowledge intensive work can impact on personal life and health. People in such occupations tend to be deeply involved in their work and may find it particularly difficult to switch off at the end of the working day for several reasons such as interest and involvement in their work as well as workload and feelings of responsibility. Nonetheless, work can drain personal resources in two ways: a) by limiting the time available to relax and recover and b) by causing people to worry about work problems during their personal time which makes them physically present but psychologically absent. Lack of opportunities to detach from work can have serious consequences for recovery, work-life balance and job performance. The use of technology can increase the potential for time-based and work-based work-life conflict, so it is vital for individuals and organisations to develop ‘rules of engagement’ that fit in with our needs and preferences.
Consider the extent you use some of the following strategies:
- Set clear boundaries for technology use regardless of physical location, e.g. spend some time off line?
- Develop physical ‘corridors’ to separate your work and personal life, e.g. going for a walk, cooking, reading the newspaper?
- Use techniques such as mindfulness to help yourself switch off psychologically from work and focus on the present moment?
- Prioritise relaxation and recovery time regardless of workload and feelings of job satisfaction when you may work long hours.
Kinman, G. (2016). Enabled intensification? ICT use, work-life balance and wellbeing in UK academics. BPS invited symposium. Proceedings of the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology Conference, 232-235.
Kinman, G., Clements, A. & Hart, J. (2016, in press) Work-life balance and wellbeing in UK prison officers: The role of recovery experiences. Criminal Justice and Behaviour
Kinman, G. & McDowall, A. (2016). Work life balance and health in a time of austerity. In S. Lewis and N. Payne (Eds.) Work-life Balance in the Recession and Beyond. Routledge
In Between “on and off” it’s “me”: Practising a mindful use of technology
Dr Cristina Quinones
Cristina Quinones has been exploring the concept of healthy and unhealthy use of technology, and examining whether people get “addicted” to technology and how this may occur. Through large survey-based studies conducted in different countries, she has found that what has been coined “problematic or addictive” technology use accounts for less than 10-13% of respondents. These are people who report a sense of loss of control and experience real conflict between their excessive use of technology and their personal life. Nonetheless, a further 20% showed excessive signs of engagement and could potentially be at risk of developing a more problematic relationship with technology over time. This is particularly important since Cristina’s longitudinal studies suggest that those who engage excessively in internet-related activities after work experience more negative mood and recover less effectively from work, thus increasing the risk of stress and impaired productivity in the long run. Considering that we often engage on technology in a rather automatic fashion, Cristina is now researching strategies that can help people stop and reflect and to develop a more mindful engagement with technology so that between “on” and “off” there is more of an healthy “me”.
Take a moment to reflect how good you are at the following:
- How many times do you go online during the day and approximately how long for?
- In your view, how much of this is automatic behaviours (i.e. you go online without thinking why you are doing it)?
- What would happen if you were to ask yourself “What am I going online for” when you check your phone?
- To what extent does going online interfere (or enhance) your productivity and your family and social life?
- What could you do to help you manage your use of technology more effectively?
Quinones. C., Griffiths, M., & Kakabadse, N. (2016). Compulsive Internet use and workaholism: An exploratory two-wave longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behaviour (in press)
Quinones, C., & Kakabadse, N. (2015). Self-Concept Clarity, Social Support, and Compulsive Internet Use: A Study of the USA and the UAE. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 347–356.
Quiñones-García, C., & Korak-Kakabadse, N. (2014). Compulsive Internet Use in Adults: A study of prevalence and drivers within the current economic climate in the UK. Computers in Human Behavior, 30, 171-180.
Fuelling the switched on culture ourselves?
Svenja Schlachter addresses in her doctoral research project voluntary work-related technology use during non-work time in order to investigate why many employees engage in more work after hours using technologies even if this is not formally mandated by the employer. She is further interested in how this staying “switched on” during formerly designated non-work time affects how we recover from work. Although perceived expectations of others and society considerably affect how we use technologies to engage in work-related tasks outside of work hours, Svenja’s research has shown that we cannot deny that this behaviour is also self-driven, either because we relish being always-on and in the know, or because we lack the self-control to keep our hands off our electronic devices, and thus have a share in creating and maintaining the switched on culture. Svenja advocates a more conscious and active management of technologies and encourages employees to stop being on autopilot when engaging in work-related technology use during non-work time.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you ever explicitly discussed expectations of yourself and significant others at work in relation to availability and responsiveness during non-work time?
- Do you actively manage expectations of others or do you respond whenever someone is contacting you, even though you said you will not (e.g., having an out-of-office reply stating that you will respond on your return and then respond straightaway anyways)?
- Do you use technologies for work-related activities during your non-work time consciously for a specific purpose or just because you can and they are close by?
- Do you use technologies next to other activities without really using them (e.g., unlocking the screen to check for notifications and then doing it again after a couple of minutes)?
- What can you personally do to manage your own work-related technology use more actively and in a way that suits you regardless of what others are doing?
Schlachter, S., McDowall, A., & Cropley, M. (2016). Voluntary work-related technology use during non-work time: Reviewing major themes in existing research. Manuscript submitted for publication.