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Can technology positively impact work-life balance?

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Roffey Park’s recently published “Management Agenda” research, which surveyed over 1,100 managers about their experiences of working life, revealed the extent to which managers are experiencing this blurring of boundaries between work and home life and the results were surprising.

The majority of respondents (59 per cent) agreed that for them the boundaries are blurring, which was twice as many as those who disagreed (23 per cent). This blurring was most keenly felt at a senior level, where 77 per cent of senior leaders reported that for them, the line between work and life outside work is no longer distinct.

So does this simply come with the territory in a senior role in 2016, particularly where the organisation is operating globally? We know that existing in a state of constant connectedness where the brain is perpetually on high alert can be detrimental to mental health, so are organisations really paying attention to the long term implications for employee well-being?

Not surprisingly, managers offered some alarming insights into the pressures they feel are created or amplified by their technology. Many experience a “pervasive” or “relentless” pressure to be available round the clock, with leaders bombarding their inbox long after midnight, expecting a response. There are also disquieting reports of feeling “at the beck and call of the business via your technology” and of the creeping sense that commitment is being measured by willingness to work outside of core hours.

In the words of one manager: “Constantly checking emails and sending emails at ridiculous times… can become a hierarchy of who is most committed, as once was the case of being in the office from dawn to dusk.”

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So the evidence would suggest that the technology in our pocket really is refashioning the distinction between work and non-work. But what if it can positively impact work-life balance?

What we may not have expected to find was that 31 per cent of managers feel that the abundance of mobile technology is having a positive effect on the balance between work and home, with only one-fifth reporting a negative impact.

For the majority, the benefits brought to bear by mobile technology are enough to outweigh the potential threats. Supported by legislation, flexible working patterns continue to become increasingly popular. The Management Agenda research found that the key perceived benefits of smart technology are all related to this – the ability to work from home, to be able to work while travelling and in other locations, as well as to flex the working day around other commitments. Indeed, there is evidence to show that employees are more efficient, productive and loyal and that retention is boosted where flexible working is an option.

Managers also “feel connected” via their smart technology, an absolute necessity for many and not only for their business, but themselves as individuals, most notably in a global operation: “Mobile technology means that I am connected and able to work outside of ‘normal’ working hours. Working for a global company there is no such thing as 9 to 5.”

Overall, it would appear that UK managers recognise and experience the pitfalls of the “always-on” culture as enabled by mobile technology, but regard these potential risks as secondary to the gains in speed, agility and connectedness: “My work life and personal life are integrated, I feel no embarrassment taking time out during a work day to see a school assembly and no embarrassment… working at 1am,” one said.

Maybe this is just 21st century living? We are certainly at the start of working out how to manage it. But while we may be busy applauding ourselves on the daily balancing act of work and life perhaps we should consider the question: is this really work-life blend, or just an endless pressure to be available?

It’s a fine line and one that individuals and organisations need to consider.

If you need more inspiration, these are the top ten UK employers for work-life balance as ranked by employees.

Carol Hatcher is research assistant at Roffey Park.

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