A new UK study reviews the benefits and stress associated with technology enabling contact with work tasks on a 24/7 basis. Researchers discovered the “opportunity” for individuals to work at home during non-working hours may be good for some but for others the capability may lead to stress and angst.
Researchers from the University of Surrey in collaboration with Birkbeck, University of London, and the University of Exeter reviewed 56 studies on the subject. They found that a “one size fits all” approach to the use of technology outside working hours, such as switching off email servers outside of office hours, is not conducive to the needs of every employee.
In the study, investigators identified a number of factors that contribute to people choosing to work outside of hours. The internet and improvements in information and computer technologies have made non-manual work increasingly portable and accessible. This “wired” phenomenal results in employees finding it far easier to work during non-contractual hours.
Researchers discovered that many employees felt pressure from their organization to be constantly available and to engage in work during non-work time. The stress was exacerbated when expectations about what was required was vague.
A desire to prove dedication and “go the extra mile” were also found to be reasons why people were working more than their contracted hours. An employee’s behavior may in turn also shape what is expected and lead to additional out of hours working (e.g. a colleague who has been available at all times is expected to be available in the future).
However, the researchers also found that increased access to technology and working outside of office hours is actually preferred by some employees. Employees explain that this flexibility improves their control over their workload, leading to increases in self-reported efficiency and performance.
Researchers also found that employees appreciated the benefits of being able to monitor continuously the information flow and stay on top of their work.
The study, “Voluntary Work-related Technology Use during Non-work Time: A Narrative Synthesis of Empirical Research and Research Agenda” appears in the International Journal of Management Reviews.
Given the disparity in how employees chose to work, researchers recommend that employers give individuals control over their working patterns. Employers should also actively involve the worker in any decisions or policies about technology use so employees can reap the benefits of modern technologies without being enslaved by them.
Lead author Svenja Schlachter from the University of Surrey said, “A failure to disconnect from work can negatively impact on a person’s well-being and health. Many individuals report feeling pressured into logging in after hours to complete work, a task that is becoming more commonplace with the advance of technology. However, the flip side of this is that some actually prefer the flexibility this offers.
“Although employers implementing policies such as restricting accessibility to emails outside of office hours take a step in the right direction to ensure a good work/life balance for their workers, such regimented approaches to when you should and shouldn’t be working do not work for everyone.
Employers need to work with their staff to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behavior, as it is ultimately up to them if they switch their phone off or not.”
Dr. Almuth McDowall, from Birkbeck, University of London said, “Our research stresses two facts. First, there is no blanket solution to how to maximize technology use for communication. Second, we need to put the issue on the table and spell out expectations about what is reasonable. Then agree on some boundaries whilst retaining flexibility.”
Professor Ilke Inceoglu, from the University of Exeter Business School, said, “We have found the internet and new technology can give people flexibility in the way they work, and they feel this can make them more efficient and feel empowered.
But other people feel enslaved by the constant need to check and reply to emails, and managers must lead by example to ensure their well-being is protected.”
Source: University of Surrey