Seven ways in which flexible working is making our lives more rigid

One of the main reasons why books such as Catch 22 and 1984 make such mediocre films, is because celluloid struggles to capture the books’ preoccupation with the ways in which language can be used to subvert meaning and rationality. We don’t always have to lean on the bookcase to see how this works. It’s been evident recently in the coverage of the massive growth of zero hours working worldwide, although they have now been banned in New Zealand. There are now up to 1.5 million people on zero hours contracts in the UK and the adjective most commonly associated with the practice in the media coverage has been ‘flexible’, despite the fact that from the perspective of the majority of the people working on such contracts they are anything but. It’s yet another example of the subversion in our use of the term flexible working. It’s Doublespeak; an expression which means something completely different to, or indeed the opposite of, the thing it is describing.

We are now at the point at which the meaning of the word ‘flexible’ in this context is often inverted. A number of recent surveys of the ways in which we work have highlighted the implications of flexible working and the integration of workplace technology into our lives. While we should take most surveys from businesses with a pinch of salt, when they all point in the same general direction, we can assume that their results are broadly correct. So here are just seven of the ways in which flexible working may have actually made our lives more rigid.

BYODThere is no difference between the devices we use for work and those we use for the rest of our lives

A survey carried out by VMWare of 1,500 IT decision makers and 3,000 employees found that in the UK, over two-thirds (70 percent) of IT managers claimed they had already implemented or planned to implement a BYOD strategy. However this is clearly an issue driven as much by individuals as it is by firms. The survey claims that as many as 39 percent of ‘mobile rebels’ would walk if they weren’t allowed to use their mobile devices at work. The survey agrees with an earlier report from Cint that BYOD is now inextricably linked with flexible working. It was technology that first eroded the distinctions that existed between the workplace and other places as well as those between working time and personal time. Now it’s the turn of the technology itself.

David Cameron signs Christmas cards on a trainWe work on the way to work

A growing number of people work while commuting according to a survey of over 2,000 British workers by recruiter Randstad. The number of employees who work while they commute rose from 4.8 percent in 2008 to 7.5 percent in 2013. There’s also been a big rise in the number of “extreme commuters” – those travelling more than 90 minutes each way – which has increased by 50  percent, from just over one in twenty (6  percent), to almost one in ten (9  percent) of British workers. However, while 18 percent feel that the development of smartphones and tablets has made it easier for them to work while they travel, – one in ten (9.2 percent) say that new technology has increased the pressure on them to get work done on their journey to and from work.

Work pressures mean over half of managers plan to work on holidayWe work on holiday

According to the study from recruitment company Adecco, a third of UK office workers are failing to take the holiday leave to which they are entitled, with a further 15 percent of people only taking their full holiday entitlement because they are forced to by their employer. The research also found that a fifth of people (22 percent) have lied to their employer about what they are taking holiday for and a half (48 percent) would cancel holiday for work commitments.

The survey backs the findings of similar research from other organisations. According to a survey by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), 80 percent of managers check their Blackberries or smartphone on holiday, a third checking in every day, and 54 percent feel compelled to work while on leave. The report suggests the issue isn’t the increasing use of mobile technology tools but how employers can be better prepared to ensure those on leave enjoy a proper break without a resultant loss of productivity. The poll also claims that 71 percent of managers feel extra stress in the run up to a holiday, with the majority (63 percent) having to work late to clear their desks before heading on leave. In total, 17 percent return from holiday more stressed than when they left, with one in eight (13 percent) even questioning whether taking holiday is ‘worth it’.

sick-in-bed-with-laptopWe work when we’re ill

The problem of people working when they should be in bed or a GP’s queue is worsening according to a report from insurance company Canada Life. The survey claims that as many as 93 percent of UK employees have worked when they really shouldn’t, threatening their own health and the wellbeing of those around them. Three quarters (76 percent) carried on working because they didn’t think they were ill enough to warrant a sick day, nearly a third (31 percent) were worried about their workload, a fifth (20 percent) were concerned about financial implications, a similar number were worried about how it would look to their colleagues and 13 percent were concerned it might harm their career by making them more susceptible to redundancy.

Working-from-HomeWe work during our personal time

A survey of 4,000 workers in the US and UK carried out by Jive Software claims that almost 90 percent of British employees work during non-business hours, with 18 percent saying they work more than 10 hours per week in their personal time. A third (34 percent) of British workers also report logging on while on holiday, and 14 percent said they don’t bother taking a holiday.

By contrast, more than a third (37 percent) of American employees work more than 10 hours per week during their off time, and 50 percent of US workers say they devote time to do work on holiday.

Phone sexWe use our technology while doing other things, including sex

According to a survey of 3,700 people in the UK published last year by Ofcom, most now multi-task while watching the telly. And by multi-task, we mean using technology.  More than half of those surveyed said they used their devices to do other things, including work.

Meanwhile, a report from Halifax Insurance claims that three quarters of British people claim they would struggle to get through a day without their technology.  The full pervasiveness of smartphone, tablet, laptop and MP3 technology in modern British lives is apparent in some of the more jaw-dropping findings from the survey of 2,500 people. It suggests that around a third of Brits (22 million) admit to communicating with friends and family even though they are in the same house and nearly a quarter (22 percent) claim they are happier communicating by phone or social media than face to face. A similar proportion (23 percent) of people are anxious about switching off their phones with 19 percent concerned they might be ‘missing out’ on something.

A clear quarter of people (25 percent) take their phone to bed to use and 10  percent to the bathroom. Almost one in ten use their phone during meals. Three quarters check their contacts before they start work each day.

Our willingness to take ourselves out of the moment is also evident in a survey that shows that nearly 1 in 10 Americans have confessed to using their smartphones while having sex. While that may be extreme, the manifestation of this addiction is now routine with nearly three in four smartphone users surveyed by Harris Interactive for the Jumio 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits survey admitting that they are rarely more than five feet away from their devices.

More than a third said they use their device at the cinema and 12 percent while in the shower.  The report concedes that 12 percent of respondents believe their phones hamper their relationships with other people. The problem is particularly acute in the 18 to 34 year old age group where as many as a fifth of people claim to use their smartphone while having sex. Other places where people use their smartphones include during a dinner date (33 percent), during a school function (32 percent), at a church or place of worship (19 percent), and alarmingly while driving (55 percent).

Stress-300x193We do it all even though we know it’s bad for us and our families

A survey of more than 1,000 working parents throughout the UK, commissioned by health cash plan provider Medicash, found that 83 percent of working parents feel guilty about the amount of time they spend working, with 50  percent saying it has a negative impact on relationships with their children, and almost half (46 percent), saying it caused problems in their relationship with their partner and caused them to neglect friends (25 percent).

When asked how they thought it affected family life, over 50 percent of respondents admitted to missing their child’s sports day, school play or parents’ evenings due to work commitments, 43 percent said they had worked through family holidays, and 59 percent admitted their children had complained about the amount of time they spent working. The study also revealed that over 60 percent of respondents saying they found it difficult to switch off from work when at home.