Setting Boundaries in the Age of Technology

Once again the calendar has moved forward a year, prompting us to do an internal review, taking stock of our lives and evaluating how we’ve spent the last 12 months. Did we make good on our resolutions and achieve the goals we set for ourselves a mere 12 months ago? Did we use our time and our talents wisely?

Of the many goals I set for myself last year, the one I’ve tried hardest to accomplish, is to have a better work-life balance. We all know that allowing the workday to spill over into our family time can be disruptive to our personal lives and sends the wrong message to our children and loved ones. Yet once we’re attached to our mobile phones, many of us, myself included, tend to have a hard time disconnecting from our jobs. While we may be physically present with family and friends, mentally we are otherwise engaged. Making it even worse is that when we are absorbed in our technology, we send the message to those we love that they aren’t as important to us as our work. Of course, we all recognize the value of giving undivided attention, yet work can keep us from being present enough to fully focus on those about whom we care the most.

My son recently signed a contract for a new job beginning in the new year. I glanced at his contract, noting the 40-hour workweek, and wondered if that really exists anymore. With the advent of the smartphone and other technologies, does anyone still work from 9 to 5? While most salaried employees expect to work eight hours a day, that seems increasingly to be fiction rather than fact. With the constant barrage of emails and texts, when does the workday ever really end?

When I held the position of school principal, I too was guilty of answering emails way past normal business hours. My phone constantly alerted me to incoming messages, which quickly took priority over whatever else I had been doing. Technology allowed me to be tethered to my work, and setting boundaries became quite challenging. Clearly, with the advent of new technologies there must be new rules of engagement, along with setting appropriate work and leisure-time boundaries.

In chapter 3, Kohelet teaches us “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” To this I would add “A time to work and a time to refrain from work when the workday ends; a time to be connected and a time to disconnect.”

Here, it seems, we can learn from the French. Prompted by concerns over the intrusion of work emails into private life, they created “the right to disconnect law,” giving employees the right to ignore business emails that arrive after hours. This law requires companies in France that have more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. French legislator Benoit Hamon described this law as relief for employees who “leave the office, but do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog.”

While this law went into effect a year ago in France, on January 1, 2017, here in the U.S. we need to initiate our own healthy tech boundaries to ensure that work does not encroach on our personal and family time. Just as we try to be clear and consistent with our children in setting boundaries and establishing reasonable expectations, we need to be equally clear and consistent with colleagues, co-workers, and clients.

Helpful guidelines for setting tech-boundaries to create a work-life balance:

  1. Establish a routine. If you have a demanding job that requires checking and responding to emails after work hours, establish a set time in the evening for emails and other work. If you have kids, preferably it should be after their bedtime.
  2. Let your clients know the exact hours that you will available, via email, in the evening. Set up an auto response informing clients when you will be back on line in the morning to respond to further issues.
  3. Be a good role model. If you are glued to your phone, you are teaching your children to do the same. Don’t check your phone while your children are trying to talk to you. Don’t email people during family time. Be present and attentive.
  4. No technology — phones, tablets, anything — during mealtimes.
  5. Create tech-free zones in your home — bedrooms, dining room, kitchen table.
  6. Keep all chargers outside the bedrooms. Set a time in the evening when all phones, tablets, and laptops must be plugged into the hub. This prevents late-night correspondence.

It’s essential to create a work-life balance to feel fulfilled and happy, both professionally and personally. Maintaining healthy tech boundaries will foster a more productive work life in the age of technology. Respect for these boundaries will lay the foundation for doing an excellent job at work, and establishing thriving relationships at home.

Good luck to all of us in achieving a healthy work-life balance in the coming year!

Dr. Tani Foger, Founder and Director of “Let’s Talk” – Guidance Workshops, for Moving Forward and Conquering the Challenges in our Lives.