More and more people are finding their jobs are not only following them home, they follow them like shadows to the golf course, the kids’ soccer games, the theater, and everywhere else they go. It seems like it is sometimes impossible to escape work. It would be great if that was because everyone has such a fantastic job that they just cannot bear to stop working, but the truth is that works follows us everywhere because technology allows and enables it and many organizations allow or even encourage it.
The Federal Leaders Digital Insight Study (FLDIS), conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and ICF, revealed a lot about how digital technology has created an “always on duty” environment for many people (35% of respondents). It also revealed how the same technology has made it possible for many people (37% of respondents) to have better work/life balance and integration and have more time for their personal lives. The FLDIS gave respondents the opportunity to write open-ended responses to many of the questions. Their view of the work/life issue came through loud and clear in those responses. Here is a word cloud from the folks who thought digital technology allowed work to follow them home:
Not surprisingly, those folks thought they were expected to be available all the time. They were concerned about intrusion into their personal time, being expected to work more and more, and having to respond to email at all hours of the day.
Here is a word cloud from those who thought digital technology had helped work/life integration and balance:
They viewed digital technology much more favorably because it enabled telework, improved their ability to spend time at home with their families, reduced their commute time, and allowed them to be engaged with work while doing personal activities rather than having to be in the office and missing those activities.
Why such a big difference? It is not as simple as the type or level of job. There are executives who believe technology tethers them to work, but there are also those like this one:
“I am a Federal Executive with 3 small children. With my blackberry and laptop I have been able to be present for my children while still meeting the requirements of my job. I have been able to be on the road, pick up kids and do a telecom before their school activity. Without this technology I would have to miss important moments in their lives or not take the current job I have today.”
I see this as good news. It means it is possible to have a job, even at a high level, and still have a life. One big difference between the people who say technology is a tether and those who see it as the enabler of better balance is the culture in which they work. Agency leaders who expect their employees to be available day and night simply because they gave them a means to do it will create employee attitudes like the first word cloud – dominated by the weight of greater and greater expectations. Those who respect workers’ time and need for balance will create environments where technology enables telework, freedom from the office and time with family and friends. Three key recommendations from the FLDIS can, if adopted, help ensure agencies create the right kind of environment for a healthy work/life balance:
- An agency’s mission and culture are the most important factors in defining work/life balance issues where digital technology is concerned. Federal Leaders should recognize that their own behavior defines workforce expectations surrounding work/life balance. As many agencies provide vital services delivered by dedicated employees who will take the time needed to do a job well, Federal Leaders should model desired behavior and ensure technology is a tool rather than a tether that prohibits employees from having free time or privacy.
- The Chief Human Capital Officers Council, in consultation with the Chief Information Officers Council, should work with agencies to develop model best practices access for work/life balance, use of email, and other technologies in off hours.
- Agencies should develop written policies that define clear expectations and behaviors for use of technology during off-work time and train supervisors to ensure they do not excessively or unnecessarily burden workers after-hours. Agencies should consider the context of their unique missions and types of occupations when developing such policies—considering needs of senior leaders, emergency personnel, personal use of agency devices, bring-your-own device policies, and the need for personal time.
These recommendations are not that difficult to implement, do not require an act of Congress, and can be implemented quickly. There is no reason not to do them, and the benefits are compelling.