Where is the off switch?

Technology has entirely restructured an individual’s way of working. Where we may still have a separate space for work and home, the two are now enmeshed due to the versatility of technological devices (aka casualisation). While it may be a more convenient and efficient way of working, the concept of “liquid” life via convergence of work and home now means that we are living under constant uncertain conditions.

The issue raised now is that there is difficulty maintaining a healthy home life because our lives are so intertwined with technology. Workers now feel the pressures of always being “switched on” and contactable outside of work hours. Even at university, I already have a first hand experience of this. Despite our tutors setting on campus consultation times, I noticed that more people email or tweet their concerns and questions. While this may be appropriate, encouraged (in a media and communications course) and an efficient way to interact, it still poses this idea of always being connected and therefore feeling a strain to relax during off work hours.

TIME Magazine published an article stating that in the past few years, companies such as Google have taken measures to ensure their workers have a healthier balance between work and home life. Furthermore, in January 2012, Europe’s largest automaker Volkswagen vowed to deactivate emails on German staff BlackBerries while not at work. Their devices are set to only receive emails half an hour before and after work hours. It’s good to see a company taking on board the powerful affect technology had on their workers, and finding ways to maintain equilibrium. Whilst we are only just adapting to a digital age, I hope that more boundaries are made for workers so they are able to have “off” time. In light of this, there is research to support that regular downtime prompts better productivity.

Zia plugged in

Results in a study undertaken in February 2012 suggested that because we are constantly immersed in technology, it not only becomes habitual but addictive. The research found the majority of people consider social networking platforms and emailing more difficult to resist than cigarettes and Alcohol. In the study, 205 adults were required to wear devices which recorded almost up to 8, 000 reports of their daily desires. Sleep and sex were the most dominant, however desires for media and work proved the toughest to resist.

Carolyn Marvin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, alleges that the addiction to our devices is a result of wanting to be “a successful member of middle class society” and states that that this is achieved by “showing our dedication to professional work and being available at all hours of the day”.

 Our concurrent immersion with all forms of media prompts contemporary modifications in the economy. While the various spheres of daily activity converge, the line between work and home are increasingly blurred.

References:

Deuze, M 2006, Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work, March 19, Indiana University

Knowledge@Wharton 2012, ‘Why Companies Should Force Employees to Unplug’,  TIME Business & Money, weblog, 16 February,  viewed 22/08/2013, <http://business.time.com/2012/02/16/should-companies-force-employees-to-unplug/

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12 thoughts on “Where is the off switch?

  1. Its sad to think that while there should be a balance between our work lives and our home lives, in most cases there isn’t. You said that people wanted to show they were successful in the middle class society by showing dedication to their work and being available at all hours, but what happens when that success-fulness has been established? How do they then form relationships when all that they have been focused on is work? Also bringing in the point you made about productivity; people who are so immersed in their work are losing life skills in socialisation and work productivity skills. Work can only get you so far in life and on its own, I don’t think that it would be that rewarding.

  2. Thats so interesting about the steps that Volkswagen implemented to ensure their workers have a good balance between work and home, i think all work places should implement this! I wish my work did that – everyone sends emails all day and all night even sometimes past midnight and they all expect replies before work the next morning. Just like you said the line between work and home has definitely blurred, the only difference is our physical setting, and when most of our lives are online anyway that hardly presents a boundary.

  3. It is now hard to separate working time and non-working time because we can be contact all the time and we can do our works almost all the time. I really don’t like the thinking that we have to be available 24/7, I want some free time from work.

  4. It is always nice to see that big corporations and business are realising the issues that are surrounding their employees and technology – while dedication of one’s job is awesome to have there will be a need to have a separation between working and life outside of work. I wonder if this continuing addictiveness to technology and one’s job would lead to people literally being forced into having time off not just from work but all technology – I know in relation to the amount of annual leave people get from where I work, once they attain a large amount of annual leave, they literally get forced to have time off and relax.

    Technology has become a part of our lives – to the point that our social, work and any other aspects deal with smart phones, computer – technology, where will there the line be that shows someone is an addict and the dependence of technology is in every aspect of one’s life… how will someone escape from it then. Nice post.

  5. It’s awesome to see some companies, like Volkswagen, leading the pack and looking after their employees so not to erode their personal time with work expectations. This liquid labour and the accompanying high stresses placed on employees really don’t seem sustainable. There are such high expectations of availability and flexibility and most people don’t seem to be coping and/or are feeling its negative effects on home life. What happens when everyone eventually fizzles out?

    • I love and strongly agree with the idea that some companies are actually understanding that in order for their employees to be happy and productive, they need to let them live an actually life and not just breath work every second of the day. I found it really scary to know that we has a society find it more difficult to put down or turn of a phone or computer screen then we do giving up cigarettes. But I do believe it because I myself go a bit crazy if I can’t check my Facebook every couple of minutes, sad I know but I just can’t help myself.

  6. Great post, as someone who just finished posting a blog on the pros of incorporating social networking with work this was a really interesting perspective and one which, if I’m honest, I hadn’t even considered. It still amazes me that social networking is actually now being recognised as an addiction. I remember taking a class for my university in which the tutor said that personal sites like Facebook were not to be accessed at anytime in the tutorial and if anyone thought they couldn’t do that there were actually counselors waiting that they could go and talk to. I was flabbergasted. I am definitely always connected throughout my day although I personally do not find this to be stressful and I think being connected actually comforts me. However, I could understand people becoming unhappy with no ‘down time’. Really interesting read.

  7. This state of being “switched on” outside of the workplace stems from our constant need to be connected and informed. With Facebook and Twitter acting as catalysts for staying in the loop, now employees are finding it hard to remove themselves from work outside of the office. Whilst I think it’s very important to have plenty of down-time away from the daily grind, I don’t see it as a completely negative thing to want to work a little harder for your employer.

  8. I understand that some people don’t want their jobs to take over their lives, but I think that it’s great that people can take work home with them and keep going. It saves time from having to refresh your memory the next morning, and it enables persons to multitask. So that if persons want they do not have to do as much in the day; their work is more spread out and less stressful. I guess it depends on the persons and their workload; whether they want to be switched on every morning to work super hard all day or never be switched off and keep going at a slower pace.

  9. Wow! That Volkswagen example is very interesting, and I think has begun to sway my thinking on this topic. I blogged about being in two minds about being constantly switched on, with my major reason for always being on is increased productivity (I’m a marketing major give me a break :P). However on the flip side employee’s aren’t paid to respond outside of work-hours.
    I think that more companies need to follow suit towards the Volkswagen way of business.

  10. I really love the amount of research you put into the blog post. It’s all very interesting for us as we’re studying media and communications, which means we’re going to be in an industry that demands the most of us. Funny that you mention tutors and consultation times, because I don’t think Ted (Our lecturer from UOW – if I have to identify him) has any. His whole life is a consultation time. I really do feel sorry for him, but a part of me thinks he kinda likes it too.
    In the 2012 study that you talk about, I’m surprised that they didn’t study teenagers as well as adults. Most teenagers I know are glued to their phones or computers . It would be interesting to see if the desire to be connected is greater than anything. Or perhaps if they did the study in 20 years time, would the different generation have a higher desire? Perhaps.

  11. Woah, excellent examples! I love how they illustrate the fact that the tables are starting to turn on this ‘presence bleed.’ The demands that work has on our time is so heavily represented in our society, not just through microelectronics like smartphones allowing us to remain constantly connected in platforms and email servers but in popular culture and the media. How many times have we watched a sitcom where the protagonists family or home life suffers when they gain success and therefore more responsibility ‘at the office.’ Its nice to see corporations stepping up to the plate, turning the tables and basically saying, we arent demanding your time, we trying to give it back to you.

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