Like many people, I have a smart phone. It’s excellent for both working and personal connections. In an instant I can exchange words with friends who are scattered across the country and participate in a stream of communication. I can monitor email from anywhere, which proves handy whether I’m keeping an eye on urgent issues or working while travelling.
I love being permanently connected to the world and I adore the feeling of control I get from remaining on top of everything that comes my way. I guess this means I don’t really know how to distinguish between work and life anymore. They’ve merged into one.
Many articles online feature people who chip away at the time they spend with their families and friends, lose sleep because they’re too busy speaking to the boss or check work email during dinner or on weekends. But this goes beyond work interfering with life. What happens when life interferes with work?
What do you do when a message comes in from a friend who works a different shift so weekdays are the only time they have to chat? What happens when your plumber is available to fix the sink only during your working hours? What if you need to go to your child’s school play on a Friday morning?
For me, the lines between work and life are so blurred that I can barely see them. Generally, when I’m physically in the office I’m at work and when I’m out of the office I’m not at work. However, I work remotely one day a week, so my physical location isn’t much of a distinction. I often check work email when I’m out of the office—and I often check messages from friends when I’m in the office.
These fuzzy boundaries have no effect on my productivity. I’m still an effective member of my department team and I get my work done. If I need to concentrate on a task, I set my phone to Do Not Disturb so that I can focus. If I take a lunch break with a friend and we run late because we are busy catching up, I work a little later to make up the time and get everything finished. So far, I haven’t had the feeling that work is taking over my life. I can still easily walk away from email, go read a good book, and switch off from all electronic connectivity.
I love this flexible approach to working and balancing my life however I please. In earlier posts I have identified that, as a millennial, I’m drawn to the concept of flexible work—and today’s technology makes this work style increasingly achievable. When my parents were my age, as soon as they stepped out of the office they weren’t readily contactable, so their work needed to be completed before they left. Now, I can leave the office at 5:00 p.m. and continue to work if I want to. If I were job hunting and found two equivalent jobs at different companies, one offering flexible work and the other offering a 9-to-5 fixed schedule, without a doubt I’d happily choose the company that offered flexible work.
Organisations who want to attract younger workers need to be increasingly open to flexible work while at the same time deciding how their company will define the concept. Can people check their social media occasionally in exchange for an extra 30 minutes of work, or will their policy be more (or less) strict than this? Are employees allowed to take half a day off with the understanding that incomplete work will be finished another time—for example, taking a morning off in exchange for working into the evening? Could people have the freedom to compress their work week into four 10-hour days and take Friday off?
It is important to note that flexible working does come with a price—and it isn’t for everyone. Stuart Heritage, writing for The Guardian, identifies in his article that each employee needs to make sure they are the right kind of person for flexible work. If you can’t make a clear switch between your work and your personal life it might not be the right move for you. Employers must take on the burden of not only recognising the symptoms of burnout and identifying when people are working too hard, but also calling out someone when their life is taking over and their work output isn’t quite up to scratch. Keep in mind, too, that flexible work isn’t possible for all professions. My mum, for example, is a nurse. She can’t exactly nip out on a Tuesday afternoon to do her Christmas shopping and then pop back in later to finish her shift, when there are patients in need of urgent care.
What do you think? Do you think organisations need to harness the flexibility of new technology and changing attitudes, and be open to flexible work for their employees? Do you think there’s a place in today’s constantly connected global market for people to choose when, where, and how they work? Or do you think it’s more important for employers to control the exact hours employees work to maximize productivity and avoid employee burnout? Share your thoughts in the comments below!