What are the pitfalls of using work technology at home?

This post first appeared on the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest Blog.

We know that psychologically detaching from work is important, leading to less fatigue, more positive working-week experiences, and higher overall life satisfaction. How you fill your leisure time has a big impact on psychological detachment – for instance, we’ve reported on the beneficial effects of volunteering on detachment. A recent study confirms what many suspect – it’s harder to switch off when technology keeps you plugged in.

In their study, YoungAh Park, Charlotte Fritz and Steve Jex looked at work-home segmentation: how much we partition our domains of leisure and work. Some of this is preference – for example, you might choose not to take a job likely to intrude into your home life. And some is about surrounding norms: if it’s typical to take work home, or to call a colleague on a work issue in an evening, it’s difficult not to be drawn into these activities.

But the authors suspected that a major factor was technology use at home, and investigated this through a survey completed by 431 university alumni now in full-time employment. As well as measures of detachment from work, segmentation preference eg “I prefer to keep work life at work”; and perceived segmentation norm, they also looked at frequency of use of different technologies (email, internet, phone, pda) for workplace purposes when at home.

As expected, both a preference for and a culture of less segmentation led to less psychological detachment. People who used technologies for work purposes while at home struggled to detach from work, and the analysis showed that this was a major route through which weak segmentation had its effect on detachment. In part, weak segmentation manifests as work-technology behaviours at home.

It’s important to note that technology did not explain all of the variance, which means that setting strict rules about technology use is not the only way to help psychological detachment, nor necessarily sufficient; you may want to develop habits that deal with ruminations, develop end-of-day rituals, or establish clearer boundaries with colleagues. But technology certainly plays a part, and so it’s worth considering the practices of your own workplace: for instance,are the trends towards shedding work desktops for laptops, and “bring your own computer” programs, helping or hurting us?

Author: Alex Fradera is a Chartered Psychologist and Contributing Writer at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

Image: A woman uses her smartphone while waiting to cross 5th Avenue in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.

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