In December 2013 an advertising copywriter in Indonesia was said to have ‘literally worked herself to death’ after her punishing work schedule left her totally exhausted.
The story of Mita Duran was told during a symposium organised by Altruth McDowell on work-life balance and well-being at the Division of Occupational Psychology conference in Nottingham.
This symposium looked at the impact technology is having on our lives, both positively and negatively and I’ll highlight some of the key points.
More flexible than ever
Firstly though it’s worthwhile pointing out that the enormous computing capability that we all carry around with us has bought manifest opportunities to work more collaboratively and flexibly than ever.
However, the blurring of the lines between work and home life means that the concept of “downtime” may have bitten the dust. We are all on call, potentially, all of the time. In the research carried out, people blamed the ‘culture’ of the team and the expectations of others. What became apparent is that we may be the ones who are primarily responsible. We all contribute to the team culture and by our apparent willingness to respond to emails at any time of the day we perpetuate the very thing we are criticising.
Even when people have drawn up agreements with family members not to do work emails whilst at home, it appears that many of us can’t resist taking a peek when no-one else is around.
Organisations tend not to have policies or guidance around this-it's assumed we should all know how to deal with it. Many people, in fact, assume that their colleagues deal with work-life conflict better than them which can lead to not wanting to admit the struggle they have controlling how much work they do in their leisure time.
Having said that, a one size fits all policy isn’t the solution, as each of us has our own preferred way of working. Instead we need a framework to help us decide what works for each individual. Above all, teams need to talk about this to establish a set of group norms, agreed and monitored by everybody.