We all work and live in the technology era, which means that we are always being presented with new technologies for how we connect, and our cell phones are core elements of our lives. How does this technology impact boundaries and work-life balance? There are different opinions on the subject.
In some ways, living in the technology age presents some more complexities to the work-life balance challenges than our parents faced in their era. Technology is ubiquitous. It makes us universally accessible. It has also has erased many of the natural boundaries that used to exist between work and life.
If our parents felt stress from not being able to connect due to boundaries that existed in their time, our work-life balance stress these days is caused from not being able to disconnect because the boundaries are gone.
Technology to blame?
Is technology the cause of why we don't have the boundaries between work and life anymore? It is easy to point the finger at technology as the reason behind why we multi-task, don't check out, and often choose a work-life blend approach.
Technology is a facilitator, but it alone might not be why we constantly check in. I recently talked with a group of business owners, employees, and leaders from different companies in different industries about technology and boundaries. The discussion yielded an interesting trend:
Technology clearly played a role in why we don't have clear boundaries between work and life, but it is simply playing into a bigger fear:
The fear of being the ones who set boundaries in a world where technology has erased boundaries. In other words, we are worried that we'll kill our careers if we take that risk.
It's a legitimate concern, especially if you are a parent who is trying to preserve family time. No one wants to the person who says, "I can't be reached right now" when the person next to you says "text me any time."
Given that, how can you set boundaries in a technology driven, high accessibility world?
Go Old School
Ironically, it may simply come down to re-establishing the boundaries that used to be there in our parents' era. What used to work then still works now. The only difference is that we now have to work a little harder to build and maintain those boundaries as well as accept a risk that actually might not be as significant as what we think it is.
Here are four old school ways to set those boundaries. Will these kill your career? Here also are some perspectives from some leaders I work with whose careers are doing great.
1. Make time for the family dinner
I spoke with a high-level leader in one of the hardest driving clients I have. She said that no one remembers or cares at performance review time if you went home on Wednesday and Thursday at 5:00 p.m. to have dinner with your family. What they remember is what you got done and how you got it done.
Realistically, you might have to jump back on e-mail a bit later after dinner, but you can at least carve out important time with the family with no career reprisals.
2. Do a family breakfast
If dinner is too difficult for whatever reason, making time in the morning is also very do-able. A few leaders I coach don't set up meetings with anyone until after 9:00 a.m. because they have prioritized being at home in the morning with their kids.
On almost all occasions, no one makes a big deal out of it. Similar to the dinner option, there are implications. Many of those same leaders have to find creative ways to make up for their choice to prioritize the morning with their kids.
3. Truly check out when on vacation
Many of the leaders I coach in my work talk about the same challenge: they fear checking out on vacation because they have accountability for a lot of things. And they simply can't let those things go un-managed while they are out on vacation.
To that end, another high-level leader I spoke with said this:
"The work will be right there waiting for you when you get back."
The reality is that most of the time disconnecting won't result in any major calamity. Nine times out of ten, if something does happen when we're out on vacation, we have good people who can work that problem or we can mitigate it when we return with minimal damage to our careers.
4. Carve out time to coach your kid's sports team
I work with a very successful and hard driving leader in one of the biggest entertainment companies out there right now. He also coaches his sons' basketball team every Friday night. Everyone knows he does it and that he simply won't miss it.
Ironically, not only has his career not been damaged (he just got promoted from SVP to EVP) but his peers and others with whom he works regularly respect that he drew the line for family.