With the advance of technology, the boundaries between our work and home life have become increasingly blurred. National Work-Life Week (26-30 September) highlights the growing importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and why we should all switch off at the end of the day…
Do you remember a time before email, before the internet, before mobile phones even? What a strange and distant land that was! It all seemed so simple back then – people commuted to the office, they worked a 9-5, and then they returned home to their families. And that was that – work finished as soon as you walked through the door. There were no Blackberries to intrude on your family suppers, no internet to tempt you away from family gatherings and the only cuddling up on the sofa you did was with your partner or children, not your laptop!
Fast forward 20 years and life couldn’t be more different. Today, our working lives revolve around technology, allowing us to ‘log on’ anytime, anywhere. But while this 24/7 access to work may seem like an employer’s dream, it’s not doing much for our work/life balance.
It’s true that being able to work remotely means we don’t have to spend as much time in the office or commuting but it doesn’t mean that we’re spending more time with our friends and family either. Instead, we’re trying to do everything all at the same time. Pete, a project director from London is a typical victim of our new 24/7 work-life culture. “I love the fact that I can work from home,” he says, “but sometimes the boundaries can get confusing. My wife is always asking me to close my computer in the evening and at weekends to spend some time with the family, but there’s a huge temptation to keep checking up on work things. It’s not uncommon for me to get a Skype call on a Saturday morning or even late in the evening – we’re a small company and that’s just how we operate.”
This new style of working has become increasingly commonplace agrees Elizabeth Whitehead from Working Families, the UK’s work-life charity. “In the last decade, the world of work has become increasingly 24/7,” she says. “Technological advances now mean anytime anywhere working, so there’s less of a divide between being at work and not being at work. This integration between work and home means that balancing work with the rest of life is more of an issue. It’s important to control technology. Being able to switch off is important otherwise you’ll get ‘work creep’ where technology means that work can follow you around all the time and intrude into your non-working life.
”‘Work creep’ can even follow you to foreign shores, intruding on your family holidays, as Emma Mercer, a working mother of three, discovered. In between ice creams on the beach, her recent family holiday was peppered with time spent in internet cafes, downloading work emails, and catching up with work projects. “My holiday was not really any different to being at home in terms of work – just warmer!” she says. “It’s something my family has accepted. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home so this is a small price to pay. As long as you’re structured and give yourself dedicated work days, you can switch off on the other days – you have to be pretty strict with yourself though!”
Achieving a good work-life balance used to be tricky because employers resisted agreeing to flexible working hours. Now we are working more flexibly than ever, it seems that it’s the employees who are resistant to switching off. If you want to discover how to achieve your ideal work-life balance, join in some of the webinars during National Work-Life Week, which runs from 26-30 September. Visit workingfamilies.org.uk for more information.