Advances in technology mean we can stay connected with everyone, anywhere, at any time, which begs the question: are we ever able to just get away?
Work-life balance used to be deciding whether to stay at the office late or bring work home. Nowadays, the decision is much more complex. The proliferation of mobile technology has fundamentally changed our expectations about availability, particularly when it comes to work. We are constantly connected, making us seem always available.
Most people don’t like to be left out and mobile technology ensures that we can be in on nearly every conversation. As a result, we have developed an unnatural need for constant contact that has caused us to prioritize by the moment.
This creates a frenetic environment where business owners, managers and employees are constantly checking a multitude of electronic communication platforms for fear of not being up-to-date on the latest issues, problems, or yes, even gossip at the office. What’s worse is that we prioritize our mobile communications over the actual physical communications occurring at the same time, even when it’s family and friends.
What Can YOU Do?
Set Boundaries: You don’t have to answer a phone just because it rings. Just because your inbox pings, doesn’t mean you need to open the e-mail right away. Work-life balance is about choice. Set boundaries of when you will and won’t answer work-related communication. Everyone needs boundaries, and if you don’t determine them for yourself someone else will. Block-off personal time and don’t be afraid to set hard boundaries.
Have a Conversation: Bosses need to set mobile communication boundaries with their team and establish a culture where everyone respects each other’s down time. Employees need to be proactive and say something when boundaries become blurred.
Setting boundaries can be as easy as just having a conversation. I’ve facilitated group sessions where management teams were abusing each other’s boundaries and creating a toxic work environment that was entirely their own fault. The problem was simple nobody stepped up and initiated a conversation about boundaries.
Unplug: Last year a team of psychologists and research professors embarked on a hiking trip into the Grand Canyon for five days for the sole purpose of unplugging from the digital world. A number of them had management responsibilities and ongoing projects that overlapped with the trip, but they were not allowed to connect to check-in. The shocking result, they all survived and the world continued to move in forward motion just fine without them.
Focus on Quality not Quantity: You may think you’re being stealth when checking your BlackBerry when spending time with the family as you fade in and out of conversations. But honestly, this will likely cause more resentment than anything else. Nobody likes “half-attention” and multitasking is rarely as efficient as we think. It’s better to cut a vacation day in half, so that you can fully unplug, engage, and make it meaningful as opposed to being distracted and disengaged for a whole day
Work-life balance is no longer about the hours you spend at the office vs. the hours you spend at home. Work-life balance is about managing the grey area of constant connectivity. Whether you are a small business owner or corporate commando, it’s likely you spend a good portion of your time monitoring texts, e-mails and social media. We now live in a globally-wired world where the expectation is that if you have a mobile device, you are available. It’s up to you to take responsibility, set boundaries, and unplug.
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook
by Dr. Woody
The Career Hot Seat
Published July 23, 2012