I spotted an item in the news the other day about Research in Motion’s new Blackberry technology to help its customers improve their work-life balance. Called “Balance”, the new software will allow Blackberry users to keep their work-related content and personal content separate from each other.
While adding to existing corporate security measures, through preventing users from copying data from one account to the other, it will presumably allow employees to use the devices for personal purposes outside of working hours without inadvertently seeing work-related content. The Blackberry’s key strength is its “push” email service whereby emails arrive on the device almost instantly. For over-worked employees, it can also be one of its main weaknesses and many users find it hard to switch off their Blackberrys or avoid immediately responding to the constant beeps and buzzes that announce each email’s arrival on their device.
Being able to use the device to check personal email, or to review a personal calendar, without seeing the latest email missive from the boss while at home could well help employees to manage the boundaries between work and home that such devices sometimes threaten. Having access to email while on the move can free an employee from a static work environment, permitting a level of flexibility in how and where work is conducted that was unthinkable before the advent of such technology.
However, being constantly contactable can be draining and can damage employees’ attempts to balance the demands of work and home.
Research has demonstrated the tendency for some users of instant email devices such as Blackberrys to feel a compulsion to check for new email, and that they experience a subtle lengthening of their working hours as they continue to read work-related information even when at home. These boundaries between work and home can become blurred, or even broken down completely, leading to dissatisfaction with work-life balance. This short piece from the Guardian illustrates the experience clearly:
When I first got my blackberry, I thought it was great; I could check my email from anywhere, set up meetings and generally stay in the loop. My role involves quite a lot of travel, so to be able to keep in touch while out of the office was hugely helpful.
But then a strange thing happened; I’d start checking my email at weekends, or late into the evening just to see whether I’d missed anything, and this became a regular habit. Of course, if I received an email from a colleague at 9.30pm, I’d have to reply that evening (probably about 10.30pm) to prove my commitment and dedication.
I know from conversations I’ve had with colleagues that my experience is fairly common, and I’m sure we’ve all seen people using blackberries in pubs, restaurants … Not for nothing are they sometimes referred to as ‘crackberries’ such is the addictive nature of email checking.
“Balance” is set to arrive in the US some time in the next couple of months. Like any tool, “always on” email can be used well – to attain additional work flexibility – or poorly, resulting in stress and feelings of overwork. Hopefully “Balance” will allow users to regain some control over their work email. Arguably, organisational culture, managerial expectations and a level of self-discipline can help too.
And now for some self-disclosure: I don’t have a Blackberry, but I do use an iPhone for work and personal email. The “push” email setting is most definitely switched to “off” – on both accounts.
I like my email on my own terms.