This Policy at Work is Slowly Making You More Miserable
The easiest way to sabotage your work-life balance is to have none. For millions of American workers, there is no clear barrier between work and life; There’s no “clocking out,” and with the advent of mobile technology, people are always within reach. You’re expected to be on top of things 24 hours a day, and it’s taking a real toll on many people’s quality of life.
Let’s just say that this isn’t quite the future many envisioned 50 years ago when we were promised video phones, mobile communication devices, and jet packs. Instead, the reality for lots of workers is that globalization and the perforation of technology has allowed customers, co-workers, and colleagues in any time zone to get in touch with you at any time.
And many companies expect that you’re willing and able to respond, no matter day, night, Christmas, or whatever.
According to a new study, “Exhausted But Unable to Disconnect,” by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech, and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University, the inability to disengage from work and get away from it all is having serious effects on our quality of life. It throws a wrench in our work-life balance, and is making American workers miserable, by many counts.
Constant contact: killing your quality of life
At the heart of the study is what the authors call “anticipatory stress,” or simply knowing that you’re going to be getting calls, emails, and texts that you need to deal with, even when you’re not at work. This basically turns time away from work into time at work — even if you’re just thinking about how and when you need to respond to the communications you’re receiving.
“Using data collected from 297 working adults, the study looked at the role of organizational expectation regarding ‘off’-hour emailing and found it negatively impacts employee emotional states, leading to ‘burnout’ and diminished work-family balance, which is essential for individual health and well-being,” a Colorado State press release says.
“What we find is that people who feel they have to respond to emails on their off hours become emotionally exhausted, partially because they can’t detach from work,” said Conroy, assistant professor of Management at CSU’s College of Business. “They are not able to separate from work when they go home, which is when they are supposed to be recovering their resources.”
The study will be presented later this summer to discuss the methods and findings. But for now, it’s clear that employees across the country are taking a beating from anticipatory stress, and it doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix.
Reclaiming your work-life balance
One big part of the problem is that being able to reach workers 24/7 has become a culturally accepted norm, at this point. It’s hard to dial that back, especially now that it’s ingrained into the woodwork at many organizations. “The expectation does not have to be explicit or conveyed through a formal organizational policy. It can be set by normative standards for behavior in the organizational culture, which is created through what its leaders and members define as acceptable or unacceptable behavior,” the CSU release says.
What can be done? There’s no silver bullet, but some policymakers are giving it a go. In France, for example, plans have been set in motion to ban work email outside of work hours. It’s hard to imagine how that might work in the United States, but telling private individuals and organizations they have to restrict their communications to certain times isn’t the kind of thing that would go over well.
And we have to keep in mind that plenty of people like being connected all the time, and want to be in constant contact. How could policymakers justify, or sell to the public, that they should be able to cut that off?
What you can do is take personal measures to reclaim a semblance of work-life balance, if your boss or company is having some serious territorial issues. You can’t stop the emails and calls, but you can give yourself a break from it all.
For one, you can set your phone and profile settings to “do not disturb,” or even to airplane mode at night. If work is getting in the way of life, let life get in the way of work. Set some boundaries and routines so people know when you’re “on,” and when you’re “off.” If you don’t draw a proverbial line in the sand, people will continue to breach your personal time without thinking twice.