Lately, there has been a lot of emphasis on the degree to which information and communication technologies (ICTs) — in particular smartphones and the issue of constant connectivity that these afford — are affecting work-life boundaries. We recently saw France discussing new legislation about employees retaining the right to disconnect from work once they leave the office (Amiel and Petroff, 2016). Skinner (2016) succinctly argues that rather than being able to work “anywhere, anytime”, we have winded up working “everywhere, all the time”. On the other hand, scholars have begun to investigate the issue of constant connectivity (e.g. Mazmanian, 2013) and work-life boundaries (e.g. Sayah, 2013), highlighting some of its implications for employee wellbeing and stress (e.g. Nixon and Spector, 2014).
These developments raise fascinating questions that need addressing. For instance, whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are not overwhelmed by the assumption that we have to be always online? What is the role of organizations in this? Is being constantly online the tradeoff for being able to work flexibly?
My colleagues — Prof Gillian Symon, Dr Helen Roby, Dr Rebecca Whiting — and I shed light on these issues through an innovative research project entitled Digital Brain Switch (DBS) which explored how ICTs influence our transitions across work-life boundaries. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC; ref: EP/K025201/1), our team collected video diaries and data from in-depth interviews with 45 UK-based individuals from different walks of life (including social entrepreneurs, office workers, and university students). Our findings highlight the need to be able to switch off as well as some of the implications of our Digi Lives. We discuss these findings in two recent videos:
Amiel, S. and Petroff, A. 2016. France may give workers right to ignore emails at home [online]. CNN Money International – Working Life. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/18/news/france-email-work-law/index.html [Accessed 23 March 2016].
Mazmanian, M. 2013. Avoiding the trap of constant connectivity: When congruent frames allow for heterogeneous practices. Academy of Management Journal, 56(5), pp. 1225-1250.
Nixon, A. E. and Spector, P. E. 2014. The Impact of Technology on Employee Stress, Health, and Well-Being. In Coovert, M.D. and Thompson, L.F. (Ed.), Psychology of Workplace Technology (Chapter 11, pp. 238–260), New York, NY: Routledge.
Sayah, S. 2013. Managing work-life boundaries with information and communication technologies. New Technology, Work and Employment, 28(3), pp. 179–196.
Skinner, N. 2016. You’ve got mail, 24-7: a work-life blessing or curse? The Conversation UK. Available at: http://theconversation.com/youve-got-mail-24-7-a-work-life-blessing-or-curse-14409 [Accessed 23 March 2016].