Seminar Two

The impact of technology across the life span and its impact on boundary management

Friday, 15 May 2015, 10:00 – 16:00.

Venue: The Keynes Library, Birkbeck, University of London, Gordon Square, London

The second BPS-funded seminar on the implications of the ‘always on’ culture explored the ways in which individuals use technology across the lifespan. The seminar, hosted by Almuth McDowall and Gail Kinman at Birkbeck, University of London, brought together researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines to explore how people use technology for work and leisure, how they manage work-life boundaries, and the implications for balance, wellbeing and job performance. The seminar was considerably over-booked, which shows the high level of interest in the topic. Feedback from delegates was extremely positive. The final seminar in the series is by invitation only and will identify key outputs and priorities for research and interventions to help people engage more positively with technology at different life stages in different working contexts.

Keynote: Professor Ellen Kossek, Purdue University, Indiana, USA. Author of the best-selling book “The CEO of Me”

For a more detailed programme, please read here.

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Speaker Summaries

Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek

Work-Life Boundary Management Styles: Development and Future Directions

Our keynote speaker, Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University in the USA, presented her research on ‘flexstyles’, which refer to the different ways in which people manage work-life boundaries – integrating, separating or volleying between both. Technology allows people to work flexibly, but there is strong potential for work to colonise all aspects of life. Ellen argued that a high degree of self regulation is therefore required to avoid overload. Nonetheless, she explained that the extent to which individuals feel in control of their work-life balance and whether it fits their values and needs are more important for wellbeing than whether the domains are separated or integrated.


Professor Gillian Symon & Dr Rebecca Whiting

Capturing the Everyday Negotiations of Work-Life Boundaries and Transitions

Professor Gillian Symon of Royal Holloway School of Management and Dr. Rebecca Whiting of Birkbeck reported findings from their EPSRC-funded Digital Brain Switch project. This used an innovative combination of video diaries and interviews to explore the implications of mobile technologies and social media for managing work-life boundaries and transitions between domains. They presented five highly engaging case studies of people from various life stages and backgrounds to illustrate variations in integration/separation between life domains and role switching strategies. Findings showed that technology can enable flexibility and encourage blended identities where people may be boundary-free. New integrating practices, such as ‘working lite’ were discussed, where people mix business with pleasure (for example, by reading work emails while watching TV with a glass of wine in hand). Interestingly, evidence was provided that young people may be attempting to reduce their engagement with technology and creating boundaries by using various self-regulation strategies, such as leaving their smart phone at home to avoid ‘temptation’ at work or college.


Jonathan Fenn & Danny Kay

The Digital Generation Gap

Jonathan Fenn and Danny Kay from Ofcom presented an overview of the findings of their Digital Day survey: an in-depth study of the media and communications activities of 1644 UK adults and children over a seven-day period. The findings demonstrate that we are now typically spending more time on media and communications each day than we spend sleeping. Many age-related differences were observed: e.g. middle-aged people spend as much as 47% of their day emailing, whereas the average young person spends around two-thirds of their time on their mobile phone – with most of that time spent texting. Similar to Symon and Whiting’s findings discussed above, this study revealed that multi-tasking is extremely common, with 99% of adults’ media multi-tasking at any point across the week.


Professor Monique Valcour

Mindfulness: The Ultimate Technology for Balance and Well-being in an Always-On World

The final talk highlighted the benefits of mindfulness practice as a way to achieve balance in an ‘always on’ world. Many organisations are using mindfulness-based interventions to enhance wellbeing in their employees, with demonstrable effectiveness. Professor Monique Valcour, of EDHEC Business School in France, argued that being fully present in the moment without judgement (which is the key element of mindfulness) is antithetical to multi-tasking. The key to aiding recovery and achieving balance, she argued, is to find out what energises us and what drains us. Monique demonstrated some simple but highly effective mindfulness skills, with strong potential to encourage meaningful connections with other people as well as personal balance.


Funded by a Research Seminar Competition Grant from The British Psychological Society.

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