By Cindy Krischer Goodman
In a world where the lines between professional and personal are becoming more blurred every day, December may prove to be our most challenging month.
Experts forecast this holiday season we will do more online shopping than ever before and almost half will be done during the workday. Along with shopping at work, we will do some of our online giving as well (a third of charities’ online donations are made in December).
And when we do get time off to enjoy holidays with friends and family, we will stay connected to our workplaces, checking our inboxes from our smartphones.
Google predicts this will be our most connected holiday season ever, a trend that worries South Florida management consultant Tim Bryce, who sees tech addiction as an increasing threat to work-life balance.
“We have gone from computers to smartphones to watches and eye sets and are getting to the point where people are connected at all hours.”
As new devices flood the retail marketplace for the holidays and apps make it easier to comparison-shop, there is no doubt that mobile technologies are becoming an even bigger part of our lives.
Maria Espinosa, a Miami sales professional, admits she has a 24/7 technology habit, and fears the next few weeks will be tough. Already, Espinosa sleeps with her smartphone on her nightstand to check work email before she goes to bed and within minutes after she wakes up.
Now, she plans to check her personal email throughout the day at work, eager to jump on holiday offers from some of her favorite retailers. “I don’t want to miss anything,” she says.
Bryce says managers will need to make difficult decisions about how much to step in to help their tech-addicted employees. Some employers don’t seem to mind the role of cyber-policeman.
A 2015 CareerBuilder survey found about a third of employers monitor which websites their employees are visiting and care what their employees are doing online, even if it isn’t necessarily affecting their performance. Not surprisingly, 56 percent said they have blocked certain websites from access at work, up 3 percent from last year.
But as one tech expert notes: “Everyone essentially has a computer with the Internet in their pockets and if an employer thinks they are not going to use it … that’s crazy because they are.”
Forty-two percent of employees plan to use their own smartphones or tablets to shop at work, up from 27 percent last year. And even more told CareerBuilder they will use their smartphones during the workday to research products, look up store hours and check product availability.
Oddly enough, senior managers will struggle most with blurred boundaries. About 53 percent of senior-level employees admitted to CareerBuilder they’ll use company time to go cyber-shopping. Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, says it is not surprising that more people are bringing personal activities to the workplace when they are bringing more workplace activities home.
Of course, holiday situations pose tech challenges outside the office, too. Family can easily become offended when one member is staring at mobile screen while in church or gathered for a holiday meal.
The same is true at holiday parties. While you may think you are being responsive to work demands, your fellow party guest may find your texting inappropriate. In fact, a 2009 Intel Holiday Mobile Etiquette study revealed most people would be offended if they were at a holiday party and someone attempted to use their smartphone or mobile device. However, the survey also found most of us believe business requires that we always be connected, even if it means picking up our cellphone during a meal or at a party.
David Greenfield, director of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in Connecticut, says creating boundaries can be particularly challenging when our tech use takes up more time and energy than we realize. For example, if you think you are spending 15 minutes online, you likely will spend 10 times that or as much as 150 minutes, he says. “We need more conscious self-awareness of our technology use.”
Greenfield believes there is a growing awareness that we are too wired, too connected and that it’s not healthy. He suggests we reclaim balance in our lives through tech breaks coupled with more conscious face-to-face interaction, an effort that often requires pushing through the initial discomfort when we power-down. “If you can tolerate the discomfort, the next time it gets easier.”
Nova Southeastern University management professor Robert Preziosi says we should also consider asking our managers for help deciphering what really needs a quick response. “Our addiction to respond to everything as soon as we get it is unnecessary. If you have a sense of priorities, that can go a long way to helping you enjoy your holidays.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life.