This story originally appeared here in the June issue of Business Review Australia magazine.

Written by Allie Schratz, Editor of Business Review Australia

In 1856, Australia became the first country to sustain the eight hour work day, setting an example for the rest of the working world.

Today, advances in technology are threatening to demolish that accomplishment.

Our smartphones may help boost our connectivity to the world outside the office through social media, interactive games and news apps, but this connection also applies when we leave the office: mobile email, business-related phone calls and various business-on-the-go apps have a way of keeping us connected to our desks – and the work we seemingly left behind.

What are the figures?

A 2011 study conducted by IDC found that 40 per cent of devices used to access business applications are personally owned – a figure we discussed in the May issue and a percentage that will likely rise as the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend expands to more offices worldwide. Another study commissioned after the global financial crisis determined that 83 per cent of Australians wanted to improve their work-life balance in 2011.

According to specialist recruitment and HR services company NorthgateArinso, Australians are starting to do just that.

In the company’s 2012 “Work-Life Balance” study to find out how attached we are to the workplace after hours, 504 Australians were surveyed about their post-work habits: answering work calls, checking their office emails, etc. In comparison to last year’s study figures, it appears that we’re making an effort to draw a clearer line between work and home life:

  • In 2011, 36% of Australians made work calls from home; in 2012, this figure dropped to 24%
  • In 2011, 46% of Australians checked their work emails at home; in 2012, this figure dropped to 38%
  • In 2011, 73% of Australians said that technology allowed them to clearly define work and home-related activities; in 2012, this figure dropped to 63%.

 “The ongoing blurring of home and work life, driven by communications technology, has been tacitly condoned for some time,” said the company’s ANZ managing director David Page in a statement after the survey. “Its downsides for workers’ health and wellbeing are emerging as significant concerns. [However], there [is] a small but increasing number of bosses who recognise the online fatigue from being always available as a growing human resources [HR] issue.”

What is the ‘proper balance?’

Proper balance between the office and home may be different for each individual, as Natalie Skinner, a senior researcher for the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work and Life, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“A good work/life balance is when a person has the capacity and opportunity to meet their aims and goals in work and non-work life domains,” she said. "What this looks like is different for different people. For some people, work will be a much more prominent part of their life priorities."

A simple way to achieve the ideal balance? Purchase two smartphones; use one for business and designate the second for personal use. A series of interviews conducted in 2011 by Dr Kristine Dery of the University of Sydney and Judith MacCormick of the Australian Graduate School of Management revealed that executives who carried two mobiles for these distinctly different purposes helped them draw a clear line between work and home activities.

“This means that the inconvenience of having to hold two smartphones is, in many instances, offset by the ability to create some degree of separation between work and home life,” said Dr Dery in a statement following the release of the results.

Since technology will continue to advance and corporations will become increasingly more dependent on digital platforms as their operations are globalised, it is becoming more important than ever to leave work physically and mentally at the end of the day. If Facebook COO Sheryl Sandbergcan leave the office by 5:30 p.m. and sit down with her kids – not her iPhone – for dinner every evening, there may be hope for us all yet.

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