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Can Technology Help Millennials—and the Rest of Us—Achieve Work-Life Balance?

By Litera Microsystems on March 22, 2018
Litera Microsystems

The equation seems straightforward: millennials make up the majority of the workforce. Hiring and retaining the best millennial talent, then, is critical to any business’s ongoing success. Not only are businesses competing with other businesses for the best young employees, but they are also competing with the temptation of self-employment in today’s gig economy.

Generally speaking, millennials value intangibles like work-life balance over money or status, so businesses that can offer an improved quality of life gain a competitive advantage. Technology—with its myriad ways to enable and enhance work-life balance—seems like a clear path to recruiting more millennials, right?

Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. Technology helps us stay connected, but that’s not always to our advantage, especially when seeking work-life balance.

Redefining Work-Life Balance

According to a recent survey by World Services Group, the top workplace priority for millennials is a satisfying work-life balance. In practice, this means young people are seeking jobs that offer flexible hours, in flexible locations, with engaging and challenging work that affords them the time and energy to pursue personal interests and passions.

But is “balance” really the best descriptor for this happy circumstance? Before mobile technology, work and life occupied separate boxes with little, if any, overlap. Work was what you did at work; life was whatever you could fit in during off hours. Balancing the two might have been difficult to manage, but at least it made sense to try.

Integrating Work and Life

Today, by contrast, work and life blend together. Thanks to technology, much of our work can be done anytime, anywhere. Employees can respond to business-related text messages and emails within minutes, even when they’re on vacation. At the same time, personal errands, shopping, and communications can, and often do, occur throughout the business day. Most companies offer flexible time off for appointments and other personal matters, and more employees telecommute than ever before, further blurring the distinction between work and personal life.

Instead of attempting to balance two separate and distinct functions, workers now integrate their ever-present work with the rest of their lives. That’s where technology has created a problem: when you can respond immediately at any time of the day or night, many employees (and employers) have gotten the idea that you should.

That “always on” mentality contributes to burnout and job-hopping, as millennials (and other employees) are constantly looking for a job that doesn’t intrude so persistently into their personal lives. As one millennial worker explained to Forbes, “There is this expectation that we should all be reachable at any time of day or night, and on any day of the week. If your boss or co-workers want to text or email you about work during off hours or on the weekend, they can, and the worst part is, you’re expected to respond. This 24/7 culture makes it next to impossible to disconnect.”

Using Technology to Improve Quality of Life

So, how can your business offer meaningful work-life integration, maximizing productivity and flexibility without smothering employees?

One possible approach is the results-only work environment, or ROWE, in which employee success is based solely on results obtained. Employees can work when, where, and how they like, so long as they meet their performance goals. This model isn’t feasible in all situations: customer support demands that employees work preset hours, new or inexperienced employees may need to work when their supervisors are available to provide guidance, and unpredictable schedules can impede collaboration. However, using tools like Trello for project management, Slack for location-independent collaboration, and Zoom for web conferencing can help teams work together no matter where they are.

With all of this potential connectivity, consider developing clear policies governing responsiveness. You might have a policy limiting after-hours responses or differentiating response times during set business hours versus weekends and evenings. You could also allow employees—within reason—to set their own work hours to coincide with their energy and productivity levels, tailoring their notification settings to protect their time off or using IFTTT automation to respond to messages during away hours, thereby preserving the sanctity of their personal time.

Technology can allow or impede an improved quality of life for your employees, millennial and otherwise—if you use it wisely.

Topics: Millennials, Technology

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