For many trainees, technology has increasingly blurred the lines between work and leisure time. Alex Miller takes a look at how to manage technology correctly to maximise your work/life balance
In our increasingly hi-tech world it is easy to feel like we never get a break from work, whether it is a call on the mobile phone, a text or an ‘urgent’ email message.
Technology is often blamed for blurring the lines between our work and home lives since work is becoming more mobile and can be carried out pretty much anywhere.
According to a 2013 global survey by Accenture, 70% of respondents at small and medium-sized businesses said technology has caused work to creep into their personal lives.
As such, it is important that technology is managed effectively to ensure that the many undoubted benefits it brings are not outweighed by increased stress levels and expectations that professionals should be contactable at all times while away from work.
Both employers and employees have a responsibility to set some parameters and to actively dissuade the advance of this culture into their companies.
In December 2011, car giant Volkswagen announced that company servers would stop sending emails 30 minutes after the end of employees' shifts and only start again half an hour before the person returned to work. This move was followed by Germany’s Labour Ministry.
Earlier this year, France brought in rules to protect employees from work emails disturbing them outside office hours. It has introduced rules to protect people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from such disturbances.
A deal signed between the French employers federations and unions says that employees will have to switch off work phones and avoid looking at work email during these times, while firms cannot put pressure on staff to check messages.
In many other countries, however, it remains the job of individual professionals to set acceptable boundaries and to make their availability clear.
There are simple steps that can make that possible. For example, trying not to answer emails at the weekend or on holiday is one rule worth considering. Many professionals respond to emails at any time and that is a choice people can make – but, depending on the choice made, time off may never be the same again.
Another straightforward issue to consider is finding a colleague who can handle requests so things don’t grind to a halt while you are on annual leave.
However, the problem of work and home lives blurring also works the other way too, with personal calls and internet use including social media an ever-increasing concern in the workplace.
Employers know that Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and other social sites can be invasive in employees' lives and that it is become increasingly common for employees to check in on a regular basis.
Internet and social media use, as well as mobile phone use, can cause an impression of detriment to productivity, whether that is factually correct or not. Employers need to feel confident that you can manage your own time and maximise your productivity so that your salary comes well earned.
According to a survey carried out by vault.com, 25% of employees use the internet for personal use during office hours for at least 10 minutes a day. A further 13% of workers were found to use the internet for at least two hours a day on average.
As a result, it is important to demonstrate to your employer that you have the self-control to stay off social media and get your work done, rather than using mindless activity online as a form of procrastination.
It is also worth bearing in mind employers’ policies on internet use if they have one. Even without a written policy limiting internet use, they may frown upon excessive use. For guidance, many employers believe personal web time should be limited to 30 minutes a day in the workplace.