Why has maintaining a work life balance become so hard?

This guy needs a better work life balance

Photo by CC user LaurMG on Wikimedia Commons

The work-life balancing act hasn’t always been as difficult as it appears to be today. Contributing factors, such as the normalisation of 24-hour connectivity and increasingly automated jobs, mean we’re burning the candle at both ends while simultaneously living in fear of being replaced.

As time goes on, we could see future generations struggling to save their personal lives from being completely smothered by their careers. What was once a work life balance may become an impossible battle. For those looking to join the working world, it’s one of the greatest concerns.

It’s almost certain that technological progression and economic fluctuation will continue to blur the boundaries of work and play. These are factors of life we cannot escape; but both employers and employees need to adjust their company culture and outlook to better consider the constant external influences that are causing office responsibilities to eat into our personal time.

Greater competition and anxiety in the jobs market

Rocked by economic crisis and threatened by competition from an expanding global labour market, anxieties around job and income security have intensified over the last decade.

Growing up in the shadow of the recession, younger employees are focused on achieving economic stability. A long term career within one company is no longer seen as effective way to get this. Instead, jobs are seen as stepping stones, enabling workers develop skills and experience which bring them closer to their dream job – one which is stable and well paid.

This increase in movement between positions means that employers are getting greater choice of qualified applicants, further intensifying competition. Recruiters behind highly specialised job roles, which require a lot of experience and expertise, are able to be somewhat ruthless with their applications, due to the sheer volume.

For instance, the specialist SAP recruitment agency Eursap have revealed that many recruiters will skim over a CV in less than 30 seconds, or use computers to highlight key phrases before moving onto the next application. Needless to say, many applications could be dismissed based on a glance at the first page.

In order to increase chances of securing a job, candidates are pushing themselves to work much harder and for longer hours than they would in a less competitive environment. This extra effort is eating into a free time, tipping what we think of as healthy balance between work and personal life.

Technology preventing us from switching off

Through smartphones and tablets, we have the ability to work from almost any location at any time of day. While this development has obvious benefits for companies, it has also lead to workers losing sight of what is and isn’t an appropriate amount of time to be working in a given day or week.

Being constantly available means that we are all, to some degree, on call. We feel obliged to check our work emails over the weekend and spend time outside of the office on business projects.

In this way, we have become somewhat vulnerable to being overworked; managers know we are connected and expectations have shifted. But this has left younger employees, who have always worked this way, feeling guilty for not working as often as technology allows. This has become integrated into their work ethic, 40% of those surveyed experienced feelings of guilt for taking all their allotted holiday time away from work, more than double that of the previous generation.

Restoring balance

The chances of us becoming less dependent on technology and therefore less available to work in our free time, are slim. However, technology could also be used to reestablish work-life balance. Used effectively and intelligently, it can allow for greater flexibility and control over the time we allocate to ourselves.

In order for technology to play a positive role in restoring equilibrium, individuals need to become aware of how their devices may be preventing them from disconnecting with their work. It is therefore necessary to be proactive and disciplined when it comes to our downtime – not checking emails in the evening and being clear to other colleagues about when it is and is not acceptable to take work related calls.

How many hours employees are expected to work each day or week need to be better aligned with what an they can manage, allowing for more personal time free from office interruption. Changing company culture to create better lines of communication will give managers a clearer understanding of how workers are feeling about their work-life balance and bring attention to individuals who, due to personal responsibilities such as child care or house moving, need a more flexible schedule.