May 30 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 for government employees have focused largely on telework, worksite amenities and other programs that offer them workplace flexibilities.

Those perks are often associated with private sector companies, but more state agencies are harnessing the power of technology to offer employees greater flexibility. 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 for the survey; although it does not focus on the state government workforce, there’s a lot 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.”

Some CIOs say workplace flexibility is an incentive for new IT employees, according to a 2011 survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “Generally, the work/life balance offered by state employment is attractive enough to attract and retain individuals who have developed appropriate skill levels.”

In the report, NASCIO highlights Utah’s success in offering employees a four-day workweek. However, that later came to an end after the state’s residents complained that they did not have access to services on Fridays, according to CNN.

The California Department of General Services defines a good telework program as one that “facilitates temporary limited duty, increases the state’s ability to respond to emergencies, amplifies effective use of new technologies within state service, and improves employee morale resulting in increased job effectiveness.”

The National Association of College and University Attorneys published an electronic bulletin that recommends managers specify employees’ assigned work shifts and hours in their telecommuting agreements. “But keeping accurate track of non-exempt employee work hours and recording them properly can make telecommuting by non-exempt employees administratively impractical,” it states.

Some telework policies make clear that management is responsible for supervising work using the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. For managers, that could mean rethinking what time they send emails to employees and making clear what the expectations are for returning emails, messages and managing workloads remotely.

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.