Technology has a profound impact on our lives, by and large affecting when, where and how we live and work, as well as influencing how we see and understand the world. But now that we’re always on and always connected, how can we strike a healthy work-life balance that ensures we don’t lose our humanity in the digital age?
The price of our time
More than one-third of respondents (36 percent) to a survey by Future Workplace for Kronos Inc. said they had given up work-life balance. Millennial and Gen Z employees were especially sensitive to this loss—83 percent reported they felt they had given up work-life balance, as opposed to 29 percent of Baby Boomers.
Meanwhile, in the Pew Research Center’s July 2018 “Stories From Experts About the Impact of Digital Life,” Carolyn Heinrich, a professor of public policy, education and economics, writes: “If someone would have told me I was going to spend 10-12 hours in front of a computer most days to do my job, I would never have chosen my current occupation, but it seems like most jobs these days require constant computer use.”
The rise of ubiquitous broadband and mobile network devices has wiped out the lines that traditionally separated our job from our private life. Numerous recent studies have examined this trend. Take the economic think tank Washington Center for Equitable Growth, which found that nearly 30 percent of management and legal workers reported working 45 hours or more per week; or The New York Times piece on Amazon employees who put in 80-hour work weeks.
Restoring work-life balance
“You might have not noticed it yet, but we are already living in The Matrix, where distracted behavior is encouraged to keep feeding the machine,” writes founder of Consciously Digital Anastasia Dedyukhina in her book, Homo Distractus: Fight for Your Choices and Identity in the Digital Age. “As in the movie, it starts with a realization. A good place to get your red pill is to start measuring how much time you really spend online across all devices and how much of this time is productive.”
Ironically, Deyukhina said she turns to the Internet to help her strike a healthy work-life balance. She explains that she uses a browser extension to measure how much time she spends online across all devices, and how much of that time is actually productive.
Alexander Kjerulf takes a fundamentally different point of view. As the founder of the organizational management consulting group Woohoo and an author and public speaker who addresses topics related to happiness at work, Kjerulf has said he believes work-life balance doesn’t actually exist anymore.
“Traditionally, we see work and life as competing activities fighting for our time,” Kjerulf said in an interview with CIO. “There’s work and then there’s ‘free time,’ implying that work is not free. And the term balance implies that more work automatically means less life. But where I take issue with that is we only have one life—we just happen to live some of it while working and some of it engaged in other activities.”
So, what’s next?
There are numerous and varied ways to hold on to humanity in the digital age, according to those who have been studying the problem and searching for solutions. Consider these five steps:
1. As is true when seeking to resolve other life issues, the first step may be reflection—taking a step back, as Science Daily reports, and making an effort to become more conscious of the actions, thoughts and feelings we experience in our daily lives. This simple exercise can give us the broader perspective we may need to better understand and direct our lives.
2. Disconnecting from digital networks and machines for a period of time each day may be another means of stepping back and considering our daily lives from a more balanced perspective. Using this time to interact in person, rather than virtually, with family, friends and your community can ground your life and help bring you happiness.
3. Making time to reconnect with nature may be another way of restoring balance. According to researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley: “It’s hard to overstate how much good nature does for our well-being: Study after study documents the psychological and physical benefits of connecting with nature. People who are more connected with nature are happier, feel more vital and have more meaning in their lives.”
4. Take advantage of flexible work options. Employees with flexible work options are more likely to have less stress, better mental health, better physical health and improved sleep patterns, according to a national study from the Families and Work Institute. They’re also less likely to allow stress and negative thoughts and emotions spill over from home to job and vice versa.
5.Take advantage of work autonomy. Autonomy is directly linked to job satisfaction, a 2017 study found. This includes taking control of your schedule and maximizing your time—blocking off time in your daily calendar, for instance, when you’re not receiving any calls in order to focus on a singular task, or keeping a daily afternoon slot open for meetings and brainstorms.
The digital world is not slowing down, so it may be up to you to slow down within it. Examine the work-life balance in your daily routine and ask yourself: How can I best connect with my humanity?