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A Question of Balance

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted Monday, January 07, 2013 09:30 AM
 
 

By Samuel Greengard

In today's unpredictable business environment, one thing you can count on is that you won't be enjoying a 40-hour, 9-to-5 workweek anytime soon. The dynamics of the workplace have shifted radically over the last couple of decades. Mobility has ushered in an era of connectedness that wasn't imaginable during our parent's generation. And global competition has never been greater.

But there's another side of the story: Americans are obsessed with work and can't shut off their devices. Recent studies indicate that Americans work 30 percent more than Europeans, despite nearly equal productivity levels.

Who doesn't check voicemails and e-mails in the evening, on weekends and while on vacation? Who doesn't find it necessary to write a report or fill in a spreadsheet while out of the office? For that matter, who takes all their vacation days? Over the last year, the number of unused days has spiked from 6.2 to 9.2, according to a 2012 Hotwire survey.

Let's face it, in the never-ending arms race otherwise known as business, information technology frequently determines whether an enterprise soars or stumbles. But there's also an oddly American line of thinking that goes something like this: The organization, co-workers and the world cannot manage without me, even for a moment.

I'm not a psychologist or an efficiency expert but a couple of things are apparent: 1) If you're constantly tethered to work you're miscalculating your importance, unless you're an emergency room surgeon or a member of the bomb squad; 2) an always-connected approach isn't healthy or sustainable.

As we wade deeper into the digital age, it's clear that something must give--and the enterprise must set the tone. Already, a handful of companies--including Volkswagen and Boston Consulting Group--are studying ways to periodically shut off the e-drip in order to improve job satisfaction and deliver better work-life balance.

Meanwhile, younger workers are pushing back by demanding BYOD. If they're going to be connected 24x7x365, it's going to be on their terms. Accenture chief technology strategist Gary Curtis says the first question he hears when interviewing candidates is: What device will I be allowed to use? "Young candidates boldly ask this question within the first five minutes,” he explains. “If they don't hear what they want to hear they're out the door."

Ultimately, CIOs must help fashion a work environment that offers a better balance and accommodates workers through BYOD, flextime, telecommuting, job-sharing and other tools. Squeezing every minute and every ounce out of workers isn't a recipe for long-term success.