WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JAN. 23, 2015
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The Importance Of Disconnecting From Work

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There has been an almost unstoppable march of technology into the workplace over the last few years. Much of this technology has enabled us to increasingly do work from wherever we like.  Whilst this is often touted as heralding a new age of worker empowerment and the destruction of the 9-5 lifestyle. In reality, it has often meant work has encroached ever more into our personal lives as we check our emails throughout the day.

A recent paper authored by researchers at the University of Surrey highlights just how damaging being constantly switched on is for our wellbeing. The paper looked at 65 previous studies into the matter to try and see if a consensus could be found over just how this new way of working is affecting our lives.  Collectively, the 65 studies involved over 50,000 employees and showed that this way of working was incredibly harmful to our health and wellbeing.

The analysis revealed that employees generally hoped that the new technology would bring them greater flexibility with regards to their work hours, but in reality often meant they were available 24/7 instead.

"Using varied technologies for work outside of office hours is a complex issue which is here to stay and needs to be addressed. Staying "switched on" might increase flexibility and efficiency at first glance, but in the long run, it can result in longer work hours and can be detrimental to wellbeing due to stress and work-life balance issues.

"We need to re-think unlimited 24/7 access to work, and manage technology use more wisely and in particular, more actively. Researchers, employers and employees need to work jointly on how to make the use of technologies as beneficial as possible, reducing the negative effects. Otherwise, there is a danger of unintended knock-on effects," the researcher says.

The importance of giving yourself some ’me time’

The crucial role free time plays in our wellbeing is emphasised by a second study by researchers at Birkbeck.  It revealed that not only does good quality personal time improve your sense of wellbeing, but it can also make you a better and more engaged worker too. The researchers conducted two distinct experiments to test their hypothesis. The first saw participants record a diary of their ’me time’ over the course of a month, including both what they did but also their perceptions of the time. The second then asked participants to complete a short questionnaire detailing things such as their work life balance, engagement levels at work, satisfaction with life and their family relationships.

The results revealed that the people who managed to get some top quality me time (rather than simply the most) were both more engaged at work as well as being happier about their life as a whole.

"Me-time is a much talked about concept usually because people lament that they don’t have any. Interestingly we found that me-time doesn’t have to be solitary and is more beneficial if it involves freely chosen activities. Opinions varied whether mundane routine tasks, such as housework, count as me-time -- doing the washing up does not reap benefits for everyone!

"Overall our research suggests if people take time out to recharge their batteries and experience the time taken out as high quality, this reaps benefits for their own psychological wellbeing, their family relationships and for their employers as they are more likely to perform better at work," the researchers say.

Of course, it’s one thing to understand that having some good me time is valuable to yourself and your employer. However, it’s quite another to jump off of the treadmill and detach from work, especially when your colleagues might be quite happy to show their ’dedication’ by staying plugged in.

How do you manage your own work life balance?  Do you have any rules you try and abide by regarding the use of technology for work activities when on your own time?  I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

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