Warning! Don’t let smartphones crush your human capital

by Stephanie Zillman21 Mar 2012

More than half of Australian employees say their private life and work life are intertwined, but workforce consultants have warned organisations that while technology is an enabler, if not carefully managed it can have a detrimental effect.

The speed at which portable devices and omnipresent internet connections have redefined the modern workforce is remarkable, but many organisations are not balancing new expectations with appropriate concessions.

According to the latest data:

  • 21% of professionals are provided with a smartphone by their employer
  • 30% are expected to be available 24/7
  • Over two thirds (68%) of hiring managers expect their employees to be available to some degree while on annual leave or outside office hours

“Employees who are expected to be contactable outside of traditional working hours to deal with work-related issues would be justified in expecting their time is duly compensated,” Fred Van der Tang from Randstad commented.

He warned that when employees feel their work is infringing on their personal time, they may attempt to ‘re-claim’ time during business hours. While some degree of freedom to deal with personal issues is acceptable in many workplaces, striking the balance can be difficult. Whatever the situation, employers and employees need to be comfortable with the arrangement and there should be a clear understanding and well defined boundaries.

One danger is that when employees don’t have enough ‘down time’, motivation levels and morale may decrease and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to completely switch off. Indeed, a recent report from Robert Half found a staggering 58% of Australian professionals stay connected to work or do work-related tasks when they are on holiday. “This situation is not healthy for anyone – employer or employee. While employees need to be aware of their own boundaries, it’s incumbent upon employers to maintain reasonable expectations and ‘check-in’ with their employees regularly to ensure a healthy work/life blend is being achieved,” Van der Tang commented.

As with any rapid change to the world of work – whether brought on by external or internal forces – clear and timely communication, and where necessary, strong, considered policy adaption is the key to preserving a healthy company culture and the engagement of your employees.

The Robert Half report concluded that HR must ensure staff balance work and personal obligations, but also make work-life balance part of an organisation’s culture. Doing so will improve retention rates and morale.

Some work-life balance approaches to consider include:

  • Offer flexible work schedules wherever possible
  • Allow telecommuting (eg providing the option of working at home at least a few times a month, especially for those with long commutes)
  • Advise managers and other staff to avoiding contacting employees after hours or whilst on leave (unless it’s an emergency)
  • Give time off for a job well done, such as an early finish
  • Bring in reinforcements when necessary (eg use contract personnel at times of peak workload
  • Ensure company leaders set an example by maintaining a healthy work-life balance


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