Information technology is a tool that enables us to share and request information but sometimes IT shackles us and holds us hostage. Were you able to take a break from your organization this summer, or did IT interrupt your holiday?
When I informed colleagues and customers that I would be unavailable for a couple of weeks as I was going on holiday, the common responses was:
“But you will still be replying to emails though won’t you?”
There are a number of problems here.
- Expectation. There is an expectation that as IT can be used to share and request information at all times, individuals will be available to receive and respond to the information at all times.
- Practice. On previous occasions individuals were contacted while they were on holiday and responded to emails, it is therefore becoming common practice for holidays to be interrupted using IT.
- Fear. Staff may fear that their jobs may be put at risk or that they may be overlooked for promotion if they are not perceived to be committed to their job or not working as hard as others.
- Worry. Staff may worry that they may miss something whilst they are away. This may include problems that will not be handled correctly, job promotions offered or misinformation circulated.
- Habit. As IT becomes embedded in all aspects of our lives, checking our phones, checking our emails, and checking social media become subconscious habits.
- Triggered Response. Technology alerts us to incoming telephone calls; the arrival of emails, SMS, instant messages, updates to social media and news feeds. We automatically react to the alert that demands our attention without thinking.
Does this matter? Yes, holidays are an important time to re-energize, de-stress and connect with family and friends.
What can we do about this?
- Switch off devices. Use the off-button. If the device is used for home and work activities, switch off work-related applications and disable work-related alerts.
- Have a separate mobile phone. Use separate mobile phones for home and work, and keep the activities on the phones separate. Consider getting a ‘pay-as-you-go’ or short contract SIM for use during the holiday period.
- Inform colleagues that you will be unavailable and leave guidance on what they should do in your absence. Empower staff to decide what can wait, what they can action themselves and who they can refer to for guidance in your absence.
- Define processes that take into account the fact that staff will be unavailable at times, through holidays and illness.
- Manage information and knowledge in the organization effectively so that the daily operation of the organization is not affected by the temporary absence of an individual member of staff.
- Establish a culture where it is not acceptable to contact staff when they are on approved leave. Break down expectations.
IT provides access to information but it crosses the boundary between work-life and home-life. It is therefore important that we take responsibility for managing our relationship with IT. A model of the impact of mobile technologies on work-life balance is presented in Cox (2009). We need to manage how information can be accessed without relying on 24×7 access to individuals. If we do not take control of IT, IT will take control of us and we will become slaves to IT.
Further Reading: the effect of IT on work-life balance is discussed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7.
Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:
Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Did IT Interrupt Your Holiday?’, 5 September 2014, http://www.managinginformation.org/did-IT-interrupt-your-holiday/, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]