Jobs & Unemployment

To Solve Overwork in an Era of Connectivity, A Cultural Shift is Needed

By Joe Boyle, CEO, TRUCE Software

It's the constant tug-of-war we play with ourselves: Do we keep at it that extra hour into the evening to check a few more things off the to-do list, or do we put the laptop away so we can tend to life outside of work?

Overwork has long been an issue employers and employees alike have grappled with as more work processes have become digital. With the unprecedented connectivity that defines life today comes the constant pressure to always be "on" from a work perspective. And employees are pleading for a breather.

We at TRUCE Software recently conducted a national workforce study to ask working adults across the U.S. for their take on the perks and pitfalls of technology at work. Not surprisingly, the struggle to achieve work/life balance was a common theme throughout. About a third (31%) of respondents said enforcing work/life boundaries is the best way employers can attract, retain and empower employees. Roughly a quarter of respondents also said having to always be connected was their biggest concern when it came to using technology as part of their job.

This topic is especially timely given America's labor shortage. With so much bargaining power being in the hands of workers, employers must consider how to act on this or potentially risk crippling attrition. So, who is responsible for managing the blurred lines between work and personal life?

A generational disparity in views

Our study found that a surprisingly high 43% of respondents said they believe it is solely their responsibility. An interesting generational difference in opinion also emerged in response to this question. People over 45 believe it is a personal responsibility and younger people see it more commonly as a responsibility of their employer.

This was the topic of a recent piece in Fast Company about who is responsible for protecting work-life balance. In it, I point out that the portion of the workforce that began their careers before the all-things-digital world made a conscious decision to bring work home. It didn't bleed into our home lives just by nature of everything being connected. Older workers have become accustomed to establishing and enforcing the work-life divide on their own, whereas people who started working in the era of Slack, Zoom and 24/7 email aren't sure how to set those barriers themselves. They expect their employer to do so.

Technology as a contributor - and solution - to blurred lines

The pandemic may have sped up the rise of remote work and thus, made the challenge of work-life balance increasingly visible, but the blurred lines were already coming into focus well before, as technology has completely changed how, when and where we go to work. As work has become increasingly mobile, specifically, with phones and laptops offering equal functionality and accessibility as a desktop computer in an office, the boundaries between work and personal life started to dissolve. As I referenced in the Fast Company article, we long ago removed the tech boundaries that separated our work and personal lives. Then came the pandemic, which tore down the physical boundaries with so many people working from home. Today, the only partition still intact for most people to maintain a divide between work and personal is a switch in their head.

With smartphones reaching critical mass amongst the workforce, the intersection of work life and personal life has reached a level of closeness like never before. It also has led to workers expecting that their company-issued devices operate in many of the same ways their personal devices do in terms of features and functionality. This shift has helped usher in employer-led technology and mobility, specifically, where workers demand a greater say in what kind of technology they use at work. The employers who've embraced this push from employees have fared quite well given the increasingly important role tech at work can play in making for a favorable employee experience.

A cultural shift

To an extent, establishing and protecting work-life balance is a shared responsibility between employees and employers. We're even seeing in Europe and Canada "Right to Disconnect" rules being established where the government is playing a role in setting these boundaries through legislation and so-called labor codes.

My take is that a cultural shift is ultimately needed to solve overwork. Business leadership must consistently reinforce that unplugging is not only okay, but it's encouraged. That time "off the clock" is when workers recharge their batteries, and it can yield more happy, rested and effective workers.

We're seeing the younger generation of workers pushing for companies to act in responsible ways that help address employee concerns like work-life balance. That generational push, along with the immense power that's in the hands of workers today during the talent shortage, has made for a powerful force to drive corporate change. And that change has been a long time coming.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.