The same technologies that have enabled people to combine work with caring responsibilities are increasingly blurring the boundaries between the two – with negative consequences for our health and well-being.
There was a time – although it’s hard to remember now – when we had a clear separation between work and other aspects of our lives. Towards the end of the last century things began to change as employers increasingly offered ‘flexible working’ schedules. Initially driven by family friendly policies, flexible working is still seen as the panacea for parents who want to combine work with family. As more and more mothers return from maternity leave the demand for flexible schedules continues to rise. At the same time many employers are re-branding their arrangements as agile – allowing work to be carried out any time, any where.
In reality many of us are feeling pushed to work all the time and everywhere. This is leading to the growth of an #AlwaysOn culture and the consequent negative impact on well-being. Mothers in particular are often so grateful for the ‘concession’ of being able to work flexibly they routinely blur their boundaries. It’s their way of showing commitment to career while trying to meet the high standards demanded of them as parents. The result – as Dr Christine Grant has found – is women exhausted by the triple shift of work then childcare followed by more work once children are asleep. A further risk – identified by Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek – is that blurred boundaries can lead to ‘job creep’ resulting in overwork. As we all know work expands to fill the hours we devote to it!
My point here is to remind you that #AlwaysOn working is not balanced working and should not be confused with well managed flexible working.
How do we make sure our flexible arrangement results in balanced working?
I’ve already written about boundaries earlier this year since boundary management is – in the words of Professor Ernst Kossek – an essential competency for personal and life effectiveness. As an aside, she maintains that effectively managing boundaries not only improves your work-life balance but can also help you be more effective as a leader who manages others.
While the way we set and manage boundaries comes down to personal preference, making a start by putting in some micro-boundaries is likely to improve most people’s work-life balance. Creating those micro-boundaries is down to you. Research has shown that less than half of UK workplaces offer employees any guidance on managing #AlwaysOn technology; and even fewer have a work-life balance policy.
Maintaining boundaries requires mindfulness and self-responsibility. It’s all too easy to fall prey to workplace cultural expectations that say we must always be available to colleagues. And, of course, there are our own expectations that we must be seen to be ‘flexible’ (i.e. always responsive) as our part of the employment bargain. Getting into this frame of mind risks compromising our health and well-being, as well as our relationships with the important people in our lives.
As we work to #rebalance in 2020, let’s drop the guilt and cultivate a belief that to be our best selves and do our best work we’re entitled to a balanced life.