Technology's effect on work/life balance

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 1 October 1999




(1999), "Technology's effect on work/life balance", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 23 No. 7.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited

Technology's effect on work/life balance

Technology's effect on work/life balance

Keywords: New technology, Working hours, Telecommuting

While technological advancements have helped employees balance work/ family demands, many say that e-mail, voice mail and other new technologies have lengthened their workday, according to a report by The Conference Board. Many employees say they are expected to check messages after regular work hours, during the weekend and even while they are on vacation.

The study, Work-Family Round Table: Technology's Effect on Work/Life Balance, is based on a survey of 62 senior human resources executives in companies throughout Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA.

While it is not usually a formal policy, many employees and departments are expected to monitor their e-mail and voice mail after work hours. Some surveyed executives say such discipline is needed to maintain balance.

The study includes wide-ranging comments from executives representing a diversity of industries. Says Sandy Fazio, Manager of Employee Relations at Gannett Co., Inc.: "If your manager is on vacation and e-mailing people daily, that sets a terrible precedent for other people at the company".

"Devices like beepers and e-mail can make it difficult to escape work and even harder to catch up with missed work", says Deborah Parkinson, Research Associate in The Conference Board's Human Resources/Organizational Effectiveness Division and author of the report.

Ted Childs, Vice President, Work Force Diversity at IBM, says that setting new work boundaries will become a matter of ethics. "We have to come together and talk about the concept of ethics, this 24-hour access to people and what technology is doing", he says. "It's like the scales of justice. It's promoting productivity, but we have to begin to ask the question, 'At what cost, at what price?'. And promoting productivity, but disrupting morale or our ability to retain employees is not equitable. It is not a return that any of us wants to have."

Says Kathy Gallo, Director, Human Resource Matters, Andersen Consulting LLP: "Like any major change, it's going to take us a while to set boundaries. It's amazing to see the accelerated change over the past ten years, and I think we can expect even more over the next ten."

While more than 80 per cent of companies allow employees to telecommute, only 6 per cent of employees do so. More than 60 per cent of employees are unable to telecommute, largely because of job requirements- such as operating machinery and greeting customers- that make it necessary for employees to be on-site. Other inhibitors include concerns on the part of both supervisors and workers who want employees on-site where they can be supervised.

For further information, contact Sandra Lester at The Conference Board. Tel: +32 (2) 675 54 05. Website:

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