Can There Be Work-Life Balance in a Plugged-In World?

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By Genevieve Douglas

July 6 — Will it take some type of regulation to restore work-life balance and get employees to stop checking their e-mail 24/7?

In France, the “right to disconnect” provision—buried within its controversial El Khomri labor law—proposes that companies with 50 or more employees create workplace policies to curtail employee access of work documents and e-mail outside of their normal working hours.

“In terms of the U.S., I can’t ever see that kind of legislation coming up at the state, local or national level,” Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer of IT trade association CompTIA, told Bloomberg BNA July 6, referring to the French measure.

There are, however, federal regulations and protections for hourly and nonexempt employees that employers should consider in terms of how and when these workers are checking their e-mail, he said. This may be leaving employers open to risk, especially in light of the recent overtime rule expanding overtime eligibility, Thibodeaux said.

Regardless of the solution, eroding work-life balance is a concern.

The line between employees' personal and work lives is now “almost non-existent,” Alvaro Hoyos, chief information security officer at security solutions provider OneLogin, told Bloomberg BNA July 5.

Technology gives employees “so many ways” to connect at work and at home, blurring the lines between work and personal time, Hoyos said. In addition, social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, also have become both professional and personal for today's workers, he said.

In fact, new research from OneLogin reveals that the U.S. is more connected than ever, with over a quarter (26 percent) of employees stating that work apps are the first thing they view on their mobile devices when they wake up, coming before social media (17 percent) and news websites (9 percent). In addition, more than half (55 percent) check their work apps while on public transportation, 46 percent while in bed, 40 percent while in the car and 34 percent on a night out.

“It’s not that people don’t have personal lives anymore, but it’s that employees do personal things at the office, and they do professional things at home,” Hoyos said.

The research, conducted by Arlington Research on behalf of OneLogin, is based on a survey of 1,022 respondents in the U.S. in May 2016.

Steady Decline in Work-Life Balance

Employees are aware of the problem of work invading their personal time, Scott Dobroski, community expert and research analyst for jobs website Glassdoor, told Bloomberg BNA July 6.

Worker satisfaction ratings on Glassdoor in regard to work-life balance have been in a slight but steady decline since 2008, Dobroski said. In 2009, overall people rated their work-life balance at 3.5 on a 5-point scale, but in 2014 and 2015, work-life balance was rated at an average of 3.2. “This is not a huge difference, but it does indicate that people are losing that balance,” he said.

The big reason this is happening is technology, Dobroski said. “Technology is a blessing and a curse when it comes to vacation and work-life balance” because it can enable flexible work arrangements but also allows employees to stay plugged-in 24 hours a day and seven days a week, he said.

“We are not supposed to be working around the clock,” he said. Employees need to take a break from work to be more energized, productive and creative, Dobroski said.

Righting the Balance Through Company Culture

A healthy work-life balance can be achieved, however, Dobroski said, and company leaders need to determine what example the company will set.

For example, if an executive won’t take vacation days, that sends a signal to the workforce at large that vacation is frowned upon, he said. If employers can show their workers that a healthy balance is valued, “you’re in really good shape,” he said.

Company leaders should also use this same approach when it comes to e-mail practices, Dobroski recommended. For the majority of U.S. employers, emergencies or after-hours work are acceptable every once in a while, but if a whole company is engaging in work after hours, that will make employees feel like they have to stay connected, he cautioned.

Dobroski added that companies that value employee feedback will be more in tune with the needs of the workforce and likely have employees with a healthy work-life balance. On the other hand, high rates of employee turnover or frequent instances in which employee exit interviews address complaints about work-life balance are red flags that employers may not be giving employees enough personal time, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at

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