I recently came across a survey by LinkedIn which polled over 18,000 employees in 26 countries to understand what factors influence career satisfaction around the world. A key finding was that work/life balance was the second most important reason for changing job. A further piece of research concluded that mobile technology plays a role in achieving work-life balance, although "respondents express mixed feelings about its impact on their personal lives" - 77% acknowledge they gained in flexibility, which 80 % assume was essential to work/life balance; however, 70% admit that technology brings work into their personal lives.
We all strive to achieve the ideal balance between our work and personal lives but we also appreciate the flexibility that mobile technology gives us to communicate whenever we want. Therefore, the question isn’t really if technology is a villain or a hero, but if we use technology as a new powerful tool to work and communicate or if we let it decide in how we organise our lives.
A Faustian Bargain?
When thinking about mobile technology in our lives, it’s difficult to imagine not using it. As Media theorist Neil Postman said, "any technology is a Faustian bargain: it gives us something important but it takes something that is important in return." In the case of mobile technology, we’ve gained a huge amount of flexibility, networking capability, instant access to knowledge at the tips of our fingers (depending on the network speed...). The price to pay would be our own instant availability, the same way we’d expect other people and resources to be. But we also need to remember how a century ago some people said that the telephone would never be successful because masters would always expect their servants to pick up the phone! Any disruptive technology affects our behaviour in a way it is difficult to foresee.
Flexible working is a good example of how technology indeed helps us to be more productive, without damaging the work/life balance. This is something everyone has already experienced: if there is a specific task to do that requires full concentration without being disturbed by colleagues, phone calls or any other interruption, it is great to have the ability to do it from home or outside of the office.
Defining Your Own Work/Life Boundaries
I think we should see mobile technology as a great tool that we can use to help us work smarter, and enjoy all its advantages, but we should not become overly dependent on our own inventions. Therefore, the challenge is to integrate both our working and private lives. This is actually what we do with our mobile devices: few people have separate phones for work and for their private contacts. Even though Facebook and LinkedIn serve different purposes, we do have friends on LinkedIn and colleagues on Facebook.
This is the same sort of attitude we must take with technology. We have to define what’s important for us at which time of the day, the week and the year, and act consistently. If you’re having a family dinner, you certainly don’t need to have your smartphone at hand. Nonetheless, you should not feel guilty to check your emails in the evening if you feel like it. It may help you arrive with a purposeful mind in the morning, without any backlog.
As Fiona O'Hara, managing director of human capital and diversity at Accenture, puts it: "although technology has to be managed carefully, there are so many ways in which it can enhance our working lives if we set appropriate boundaries. And companies that can provide the tools and the culture to help us find that right work-life balance will reap the rewards when it comes to attracting and retaining the best employees".