May 27 2014

Work-life Balance in the Digital Workplace

The pros and cons of working from anywhere, anytime and on any device.

Conversations about work-life balance in the federal government have focused largely on telework, worksite amenities and other programs that offer employees workplace flexibilities.

One of the driving forces behind agencies investing in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, remote access capabilities and cloud computing is to enable employees to be productive from anywhere, at any time and on any device. Who would argue against that kind of freedom?

Before you answer, consider all the pros and cons that come with constant connectivity. The upside of having a wired workplace is employees are always connected. The downside: Employees are always connected.

A recent Gallup study exploring the effects of mobile technology on politics, business and well-being in the U.S. found that “workers who email for work and who spend more hours working remotely outside of normal working hours are more likely to experience a substantial amount of stress on any given day than workers who do not exhibit these behaviors.”

Gallup interviewed 4,475 working U.S. adults, and although the survey does not focus on the federal workforce, there’s a lot federal managers can learn from the results. “Nearly half of workers who frequently email for work outside of normal working hours report experiencing stress a lot of the day yesterday, compared with the 36 percent experiencing stress who never email for work,” according to the study.

While most workers reported increased stress, they also rated their lives better than did employees who do not use email outside of work. Here’s Gallup’s explanation: “It is possible that by emailing or working remotely outside of normal hours, workers associate such behaviors with greater professional success and accomplishment, thus elevating how they think about and evaluate their lives more generally.”

This could shed some light on how feds rated work-life balance satisfaction across government. In The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government 2013 rankings, feds ranked work-life balance fourth among the most important factors for overall satisfaction and commitment. Effective leadership, employee skills-mission match and pay ranked higher.

The government received an overall work-life balance score of 58.2 out of 100. The score “measures the extent to which employees consider their workloads reasonable and feasible, and managers support a balance between work and life,” according to the report, which is based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Overall work-life balance scores have dropped 6 percent since 2009.

Employees and managers are responsible for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. At the General Services Administration, the agency’s telework policy makes that clear. “Employees are responsible for maintaining flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of the supervisor, employing organization and work team,” according to the policy.

In its policy, GSA also says that “policies concerning time and attendance, leave, compensatory time, and overtime remain in effect, regardless of whether the employee works at the Agency worksite or appropriate alternative worksite.” Management is responsible for supervising work using the Fair Labor Standards Act.

For managers, that could mean rethinking what time they send emails to employees and making clear what the expectation is for returning emails, messages or phone calls, especially outside of normal business hours. That can be tricky if employees work outside of traditional work hours.

As hard as it may seem, employees should build downtime into their schedules and not feel guilty about it. The website Lifehack recommends powering down, no matter how much they love their jobs. Here are Lifehack’s 10 keys to work-life balance.


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