Leave work at work!

Technology has certainly improved speed and ease of communication over recent years with increased productivity in general, but this increased accessibility has had much negative impact on many worker’s sense of career fulfilment.

There are frequent distractions from push notifications emails, texts and calls that decrease our ability to focus on tasks. Junior staff find they are more susceptible to being remotely micromanaged by their managers. Perhaps one of the greatest stressors is the shift in work-life balance with the erosion of work boundaries and the expectation to be contactable outside of work hours or to work overtime from home.

Most of my clients are finding themselves increasingly tied to their smartphones. A recent Research NZ survey supports this with the finding that 70% of New Zealander’s have smartphones, up from about 50% in 2013!). There is an increasing expectation that staff members should be available 24/7 to respond to work-related issues by phone. One manager informed me that during weekends and when on holiday she often receives calls and texts asking about her whereabouts and wanting solutions to problems. Although, a simple work text can seem innocuous, it still demands attention and a return to ‘work mode’.

Many corporate workplaces use ‘hot-desking’ to facilitate teamwork and collaboration. With this comes the need for mobility with laptops and smartphones. Clients have reported that even if they are sick or unwell, they are expected to continue work at home. Has home become yet another hot desk?
In addition to this, the increase in net-enabled devices also creates an expectation to regularly check emails and work-related sites. Individuals often comment that ‘everyone else checks their emails all the time, so I have to as well’. Interacting with your smartphone sometimes becomes a status symbol, with the more time you are on your device or talking to someone, the more important you feel or regard someone.

Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in the number of clients seeking career change with work pressure as a key issue. A major component of this was feeling that they could not impose clear boundaries between their work and personal life because of more and more after-hour calls and demands. People anticipate and worry about their boss calling them or awaiting a client or colleague to email or call. Work spills over into personal life reducing work-life balance, one of the key work values for many New Zealander’s.
Prolonged work stress can result in anxiety disorder and/or depression; symptoms of these include constant worrying, irritability, inability to relax, becoming easily startled by sudden noises etc, difficulty concentrating and sleep problems. A wide variety of physical problems can result from anxiety such various aches and pains, low energy, hot flushes and muscle tension.
After a period of time, which might be several months or years, people often start to see the effects of a 24/7 workday on their relationships with their friends and family. Sometimes people relish in this ‘busy-ness’ and see it as an indicator of their importance or responsibility – but many eventually come to some realisation that it is reducing the amount of time they have for the truly important people in their life. Relationship breakdowns and divorce sometimes follow those who cannot defend their work-life boundaries.

To rebuild your boundaries between work and personal life, consider:
– Turn off smartphone push notifications for email (ie no popup as soon as you receive an email) and only check work email at set intervals during the day and never after work as a general principle. Put your work hours clearly in every e-signature.
– Annotate your emails/txts to other people with messages ‘no need to reply until the next day’ etc.
– Use a separate personal email account from your work account.
– Set instant messaging apps like skype to ‘away’.
– Let afterhours calls go to voicemail and setup your voicemail message to state your work hours and that you will reply when you are back at work. Some smartphones allow you to send an automated text to a caller which you can use to reinforce your work hours. Set a special ringtone for real friends and family so that you can differentiate them from work calls.
– If there is a strong work expectation to be available afterhours, be transparent and honest with your colleagues and clients. Tell them you are putting your health first and establishing clear work-life boundaries. Let them know that you will respond ASAP within work hours.
Done consistently and firmly over time your work colleagues may start to think more about work-life balance and start respecting their own and others work hours.

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