Technology has become an essential part of people’s lifestyles at home and work. In the workplace, there are numerous technologies used mainly to improve the efficiency of operations, effectiveness of business processes or the productivity of the organisation and employees. According to Bowes (2001), some of these technologies facilitate identification and retention of customers. By making work more efficient, tasks can now be delivered faster and more effectively than in the past. That is, employees can now work for shorter hours to deliver similar or better outcomes compared to the past when these tasks were delivered (MacDonald 2002). As a result, technology has made it possible for employees to create time to indulge in other personal and family activities (Clark 2000, Geek 2012). In this regard, technology is playing a significant role in enhancing work-life balance. This paper explores various ways in which technology at the workplace can enhance work-life balance. In this essay, I argue that technology enhances work-life balance of employees.
The rest of the paper is organised into three sections of literature review, research methods and conclusion. In the literature review, the researcher examines various types of technologies which are used in the workplace and how they impact on the work-life balance of employees. Research methods sections section evaluates research approaches used to conduct these studies. In other words, the section assesses how qualitative, quantitative and mixed research approaches have been used in the studies that evaluate the relationship between technology and work-life balance. Lastly, the conclusion section summarizes the research findings and present suggestions for future studies on the topic of work-life balance.
Employees want their jobs to enhance their happiness and give them control of their personal lives. However, since various jobs require a lot of time, employees across various sectors of the economy and industries struggle to have a good work and life balance (Reynolds 2005). Basically, work-life balance can be defined as the ability of employees to prioritize lifestyle choices. That is, the work-life balance concept ensures the development of careers, good performance at work or work commitment and the ability to derive pleasure from leisure activities (Kossek and Lautsch 2012). Furthermore, work-life balance also implies the ability of the employees to maintain a good balance between work and mental and physical health. In this regard, employees should be able to have a total control over work responsibilities as well as his/her responsibilities to family, friends, and self.
Work stress is one of the main consequences of poor balance between work and personal life. Stressed employees can result in huge organisational losses in terms of increased absenteeism rates and high rate of employee turnover (Shanafelt et al. 2012, p. 1377). Technological applications such as e-mails have been blamed for the increasing levels of work-related stress as some businesses take advantage of technological applications to increase targets of employees. As a result employees are required to read and respond to several e-mails. However, the e-mail technology has also increased flexibility at work and if used appropriately can lead to a better work-life balance (Stephens et al. 2007). For instance, the ability of the employees to communicate in real time makes it possible to them to attend work at their own times without the pressure of having to enter and leave workplace at certain prescribed time. In this case, employees can attend to personal matters such as medical check-up or physical exercises in the morning and go to work later on thus enhancing the quality of their lives and health (Ong and Jeyaraj 2014).
Technological advancements can either hinder or improve work-life balance among employees. There are technologies that support tasks performed by employees thus helping in the creation of a healthy work environment (Bowes 2001). However, technology has also raised expectations on employees. For example, business owners have taken advantage of greater efficiency as a result of technology to design new goals, objectives and unreasonable deadlines for employees. As such, employees’ health has been negatively affected leading to higher absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates. Nevertheless, it has not been established on the most effective ways of realizing an optimal work-life balance, the impact of technology on improving the work-life balance is assumed to be greater than its negative impacts (Herbig and Kramer 1994). Recent studies have recognized that technology have the ability to enhance control of a person over such responsibilities. For example, technological devices such as mobile phones, tablets and mobile phones have become increasingly affordable and available to employees thus making it easier to perform business and personal tasks at any time anywhere (Kreiner, Hollensbe and Sheep 2009, p. 707). This way, technological devices are changing the entire work place environment by making it possible to telecommute, work from virtual offices and communicate with businesses and individuals across the globe.
Technology has impacted countries differently including improving the relationships between businesses and their customers. Information and communication technologies make it possible for businesses to set up satellite offices where employees are not required to report to physical offices (Sylvain 2011). The availability of internet has made it possible for employees to effectively balance work and personal activities. For example, tasks like preparation and presentation of reports can be done from home through the internet. Apart from the internet, other communication technology applications such as teleconferencing and video conferencing has significantly reduced the need for executives to travel for meetings thus saving them more time which can now be used for leisure activities (Sylvain 2011). Technology has therefore changed business strategies to involve less work with greater outcomes. The pervasive nature of technology therefore allow employees to perform their tasks from anywhere at any time. Despite argument from other scholars that technology has turned homes into a work place; recent studies show that technological applications have enhanced flexibility of work allowing employees greater control of their personal lives (Hair, Renaud and Ramsay 2007).
Flexibility at workplace positively impacts on the work-life balance. Flexibility at workplace refers to less restrictive policies regarding job descriptions, employees’ requirements and deadlines and time for work. Flexibility at work also implies that employees can work at the most convenient time to them thus allowing them time to attend to other personal matters and activities (Sylvain 2011). Technology has facilitated the creation of flexible work schedules as employees can now accomplish several tasks while at home. For example, using mobile phone communications or social media, sales people can be able to identify potential customers, establish contacts with the customers and initiate sales process without having to go to the physical business location (Mayhew 2017). Furthermore, remote reporting technologies make it possible for salespeople to cover larger geographical areas and realise their targets faster thus creating time for leisure and other personal activities.
Additionally, improved flexibility enhances employees’ ability to plan for their time adequately. Technology also enhances the ability of the employee to realise work objectives. For instance, technology raises personal expectations at workplace making it possible to realise their goals at work thus providing a platform for faster career development and realisation of work ambitions (Hill et al. 2002). Elsewhere, technology improves communication thus enhancing teamwork. Through communication technologies, employees can effectively work together to realise specific tasks. In this regard, technology creates an opportunity for employees to realise other personal or social objectives such as the development of leadership skills and creation of friendship networks.
Technology makes it possible for employees to manage their time effectively thus enhancing the quality of work-life balance. Time management is another important component of work-life balance. According to Fuller (2006) time management refers to the ability to complete work and personal tasks at the right time. For example, effective time management encompasses creating adequate time for work and life-enhancing activities such as family meetings, attending children school activities and physical exercises among others. In addition, technology enhances optimization of time management thus making daily tasks lighter. In this regard, employees can realise greater happiness while at the same time enhancing their productivity at work. For instance, information technology allows employees to communicate and consult across the department and outside the organisation thus improving their creativity hence impacting positively on their career development (Greenhaus, Collins and Shaw 2003).
Meanwhile, technology has made it possible for employees to keep contact with the workplace regardless of where they are. Modern technologies make it possible for employees to continue working even when at home. According to Fenner and Renn (2004, p. 194), some companies have increased emphasis on work flexibility where employees are only required to report to work twice or three times a week. As a result, these companies have recorded increased motivation and commitment from the employees. Furthermore, these companies have recorded low employee turnover as more employees are not willing to lose the benefits of having to work from home (Dukes 2014). This new virtual work environment is facilitated with technologies and devices such as emails, computers, and cell phones which enable employees to finish their various tasks outside the boundaries of a physical office. According to Bailey and Kurland (2002, p. 391) employees consider their roles at work as an important component of their personal identities and are therefore happy to continue with their work even when in their non-work domain.
Efficiency at workplace enhances work-life balance by creating time to attend to other personal activities and family issues. Efficiency refers to the ability to complete a particular task using the least amount of resources (Currie and Eveline 2011). In this context, efficiency at the workplace can be defined as the ability of the employee to complete tasks at work using the least time possible without compromising on the quality of work. Recent surveys indicate that technology has had an immense impact on the productivity and efficiency of employees and business processes (Lievens and Harris 2003). The Internet and e-mail technologies were found to be the most used by employees. On the other hand, businesses have adopted decision support systems such as materials planning systems for their purchasing decision needs and customer relationships management systems in order to improve their communication with the potential and existing customers (Lievens and Harris 2003). The survey also showed that 51% of the employees had used the internet at work to communicate with people outside the company or work. Moreover, 39% of online workers indicated that the internet has allowed them greater control of their work schedules while 35% of the online workers argue that technology allows them to increase or reduce their work hours upon demand (Purcell and Rainie 2014).
Despite several pieces of past studies indicating that technology improves work-life balance, some theorists have argued that caution should be taken when studying the relationship between work and life balance and technology. According to these theorists, technology blurs the boundary between work and life thus technology does not only take control of work but also personal lives (Boswell and Olson-Buchanan 2007). In this regard, people or employees fully lose the control to their lives and work to technology. For example, technologies such as e-mails and smartphones encourage employees to remain connected to their work even when at home (Chesley 2005, Kreiner, Hollensbe and Sheep 2009). As a result, technological control serves as a replacement to a more direct and authoritarian control of the managers at the office. Therefore, technology has made the workplace more complex and removed the boundaries of workday or workplace leading to even greater work-life conflict (Alterman et al. 2012).
The studies reviewed in this paper adopted different approaches to research depending on the objectives that they intended to realise and the type of data required or available. For instance, these studies used quantitative approaches, qualitative approaches, and mixed research approaches. Quantitative approaches use scientific tools to determine and confirm facts. Here, statistical variables and numerical values are used to analyze findings and make generalizations (Zikmund 2003). On the other hand, a qualitative approach is aimed at explaining a phenomenon. The focus of the papers that used qualitative approaches was to establish personal views of employees in regard to technology and work-life balance (Zikmund 2003). Mixed research approach adopts both quantitative and qualitative methods to identify, describe and explain a phenomenon. In mixed research strategy, findings of the qualitative analysis are supported by the quantitative analysis in order to enhance their reliability and validity. On the other hand, Creswell and Plano Clark (2007) indicated that quantitative analysis can be used to confirm or reject the earlier assumptions or perceptions developed as a result of narrative analysis.
Surveys are the most common method of collecting data for use in quantitative studies. There are several forms of surveys. For instance, surveys can involve individual administration of questionnaires or mailed questionnaires. Purcell and Rainie (2014) adopted a quantitative research strategy based on a survey of internet users to determine the impact of technology on employees. Furthermore, the survey evaluated the role of digital technology in the work and lives of employees. According to this study, 94% were found to use the internet at work. Shanafelt et al. (2012) also used surveys in the study of burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance among US physicians relative to the general US population. From the study, the researchers found that physicians were more likely to suffer from burnout compared to the rest of the population. Based on the two studies, quantitative research is more effective when describing an event or research problem and establishing a relationship between various variables such as technology and work-life balance.
Interviews are another method of data collection. Data collected by interview method can be used in qualitative and quantitative research. However, qualitative researchers usually prefer interviews since it provides more details and different perspectives concerning a given phenomenon. Sylvain (2011) used a qualitative research approach to explore the impact of technology on work-life balance. In her study, face-to-face and telephone interviews were used to collect data from the sample. Before the interviews, participants were asked to review and sign a written consent form. The interviewees narrated how technology has impacted on their lives and work. From the interviews, a large volume of narratives on the influence of technology was collected and analysed using content analysis method. From Sylvain (2011), the researcher concluded that qualitative research approaches are more effective when the researcher aims at explaining a given phenomenon or problem. However, this method can lead to wrong conclusions and generalizations as it is usually subjective in nature and relies on personal opinions which are in most cases not supported by facts.
Some studies have also used a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods in order to limit the limitations and constraints of the two methods. For example, the subjective nature of qualitative approach makes it highly susceptible to wrong conclusions or research bias. On the other hand, quantitative values rely heavily on the numerical values (Creswell and Plano Clark 2007). In this regard, the approach fails to explain why things happen the way they do. For instance, the quantitative approach cannot explain how technology has influenced work-life balance. In view of the limitations of the two approaches, Hill et al. (2002) used a mixed research approach to study the influence of virtual office on work and work/life balance. The researchers used questionnaires method to collect data from 157 IBM virtual office teleworkers and 89 traditional office workers. The researchers used qualitative analysis method to determine the perception of the respondents regarding productivity, morale, and flexibility. On the other hand, a quantitative multivariate analysis was used to support the qualitative findings on issues of productivity, flexibility and work/life balance (Zikmund 2003). Nonetheless, multivariate analysis failed to evaluate and support qualitative findings on morale, teamwork and work hours.
The goal of this paper was to determine the influence of technology on work-life balance. Work-life balance was described as the optimization of both work and life outcomes. Work outcomes can include commitment, productivity, efficiency and motivation while life outcome encompasses happiness, good physical and mental health. In order to realise a good work-life balance, employees should be able to realise a high level of motivation and commitment at work while at the same time ensuring health improvement and participation in leisure activities. The studies reviewed indicated that technology can have both negative and positive impact on work-life balance. For instance, the flexibility that is provided by technology allows employees to manage their time better and engage in personal activities as well. Furthermore, technology allows employs to be more efficient and productive thus availing more time for leisure activities while at the same time positively impacting on career development. Conversely, technology affects work-life balance by blurring the boundary between workplace and workday thus indirectly increasing the time spent on work. However, given the numerous benefits of technology on work-life balance, the researcher maintains the argument that technology will enhance work-life balance in overall.
The research methods used by many studies reviewed highlighted several limitations that can impact on the conclusions in the current study. First, the quantitative method could not explain various phenomena while qualitative approaches are based on personal opinions. Secondly, some findings of quantitative research could not be supported by qualitative data as expected in mixed research approaches. In this regard, the researcher proposes the uses of multi-method or mixed research strategies in further studies concerning work-life balance. Some of the areas that can be studied in future include how decision support systems like CRM and ERP enhances work-life balance, how improved employee motivation impact on work-life balance and how employees’ productivity influences work-life balance. Furthermore, quantitative studies should be conducted to determine the extent in which variables such as productivity and efficiency impact on the work-life balance. Lastly, qualitative studies can be conducted to establish the conditions within the workplace that can enhance work-life balance.
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