January 7 2008 - A recent poll of executives and professionals by MRINetwork, a major international search and recruitment organization found that the majority rarely stop working. Typically, they worked evenings, weekends, and during their commute. Many believed that their employers were responsible for creating the situations that lead to overwork.
70% of 500+ people surveyed said the organizations they worked for did not do a good job at fostering a work/life balance. 65% of participants in the poll were frequently still working after normal office hours, a further 19% worked 'sometimes', 9% occasionally. Only 5% said they never did so.
Michael Jalbert, president of MRINetwork, commented:
"They often feel they have no choice but to work as much as it takes to meet management's expectations. More enlightened managers, however, are beginning to realize that the X and Y generations are much more committed to forging a balanced life than the retiring baby boomers. This will inevitably lead to a reevaluation of the performance requirements of individual positions within many companies, especially as the younger generation moves into higher management levels."
"A number of factors influence the rising number of people whose work day extends far beyond the traditional hours," Michael Jalbert said. "Obviously technology that makes staying connected almost anywhere in the world effortless is a significant contributor. And for many people that's led to an almost compulsive need for 24/7 interaction."
He noted that many organizations were understaffed. "Most people simply have more work to do than they can accomplish in eight or even ten-hour days . In some cases, working overtime has masked the need to hire more mid-to-upper-level employees. If the work is getting done satisfactorily, senior management may not be aware of gaps in their workforce."
But many employees love what they do. "The greater their interest and commitment to the work they do, the more they seem to work - even when it's not required of them. To these people, the ability to stay connected to their work via a variety of technological devices is an asset rather than a liability."
Michael Jalbert notes that, especially for telecommuters, there is a blurring of the distinction between being 'at work' and 'off work'. "As much as employees value flexible work schedules, this arrangement can also encourage working more and playing less."
Setting Boundaries Between Work and Home
E-mail, text messaging and cellphones make it so easy to keep control of your work from home. But a study by Michigan researchers in 2003 found that people who integrate their work and family life are not always happier.
Ellen Kossek, a professor of Labor and Industrial Relations at MSU, found that people who create boundaries between work and family are actually more connected to their families than those who integrate their jobs and personal lives.
"We need to realize that it is OK to shut work out of our personal lives," said Kossek. "It's counter intuitive, but spending more time specifically on work may actually help you spend more quality time with your family."
Kossek and her collaborators - Professors Susan Eaton of Harvard University and Brenda Lautsch of Simon Fraser University - surveyed 95 supervisors and over 300 of their employees. They studied how separating or integrating work with family obligations impacted workers' happiness, time at work and performance. The survey revealed that managers who integrate tend to have more work and family conflict than those who separate.
"Work can take over our personal lives," said Kossek. "If you're working from the family computer in the middle of the family room, your kids see you at work and don't understand why you're physically there, but mentally you're someplace else."
"An easy way to begin to tell if you are an integrator or a separator is to ask, do you have one calendar or two? Do you have one key chain or two? Your ability to put up boundaries to your work and family may be able to help improve your happiness."
"If you must integrate, the best way to help your family is to have a separate door to the office," said Kossek.
It seems that some people are naturally more integrated in their style than separated. "Women managers, on the whole, are more likely to be integrators than men," said Kossek.
Integration or separation may have an impact on the amount of time an employee spends at work.
"All these technological time savers really end up taking more time," said Kossek, who found that on average people who worked from one office spent 43 hours per week at work, those in two places spent 45 hours per week at work and those working in three places spend an average of 52 hours per week at work a week.
"Counter to the popular perception of flexibility allowing people to excel in both their work and personal lives, employees who used portable work were rated lower in performance evaluations by their supervisors," said Kossek.
"Lower performance evaluations may actually be because supervisors do not know how to manage distance workers."