Being amped-up on technology, from smartphones to tablets, has not only changed the way we work, but the way we live. You only need to walk into a restaurant and count how many dinner patrons have their mobile devices out on the table next to the silverware to see we have difficulty disconnecting from the workday.
On average, we are putting in 46 minutes of work before we even set foot in the office to begin what has now turned in to a 12-hour workday. The snowball effect of being voluntarily plugged in around the clock is a growing sense that the boundary between work and home is disappearing.
Employees are using their mobile devices to stay connected with work, even on weekends and during vacation. On the other end of the spectrum, flexible time means a new understanding is now in place, one that gives employees the authority to take care of family responsibilities during business hours in exchange for being accessible outside of the office.
It's nearly impossible to keep work and home separate. And as a result of merging our professional and personal worlds, we actually experience less concentration in both our work and home life. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, difficulty concentrating is one of the signs of imbalance, along with feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and guilty that you're neglecting certain areas of your life.
What does this mean for so-called work/life balance? Has technology made achieving this goal impossible and finding a healthy balance simply unattainable?
The truth is, striking the "right" balance, or at least embracing the work/life merge, is a matter of adjusting our expectations as well as the amount of pressure we pile on ourselves. It's about choosing your priorities and knowing when you need to drop everything to extinguish a fire at work and when you need to put away your phone and be fully present in your personal life.
The CMHA offers these tips to help manage the expectations of work and home, which will hopefully create a feeling of being more in control of your own life:
Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day to boost productivity. Getting away from your desk for 10 minutes occasionally is all it takes to be more effective and get more accomplished.
Set priorities for the following day, but make sure your list is realistic to achieve.
Don't respond to emails as soon as they arrive in your inbox; shut off your email alerts to avoid being distracted from work as messages come in.
Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early so that you can communicate any doubts with your manager well in advance of the due date.
Take all your allotted vacation time. Schedule a week or two away from the office so you can recharge and return feeling refreshed, ready to be productive.
Create a buffer between work and home by getting some exercise or listening to some music before starting into your home routine.
Share household chores with other family members. In a crunch, determine which chores are critical and which can be let go.
Start a vacation savings account and set aside some money every payday to save for future adventures.
Pursue a hobby that is not related to work.
Love it or hate it, the work-life merge is a reality in today's demanding, technology-driven world, whether it is by choice or by necessity.
However, where the boundaries are placed is completely up to the individual. You can allow work time to infiltrate your personal life or you can integrate components of both and find a workable way to manage them both together. In the end, you may find that it is better to merge than to be submerged with the guilt that comes from trying to have it all.
-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai
Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.