Thursday, 25 August 2011

Using work technology at home hinders our ability to detach from work

We know that psychologically detaching from work is important, leading to less fatigue, more positive working-week experiences, and higher overall life satisfaction. How you fill your leisure time has a big impact on psychological detachment - for instance, we've reported on the beneficial effects of volunteering on detachment. A recent study confirms what many suspect – it's harder to switch off when technology keeps you plugged in.

In their study, YoungAh Park, Charlotte Fritz and Steve Jex looked at work-home segmentation: how much we partition our domains of leisure and work. Some of this is preference – for example, you might choose not to take a job likely to intrude into your home life. And some is about surrounding norms: if it's typical to take work home, or to call a colleague on a work issue in an evening, it's difficult not to be drawn into these activities.

But the authors suspected that a major factor was technology use at home, and investigated this through a survey completed by 431 university alumni now in full-time employment. As well as measures of detachment from work, segmentation preference eg “I prefer to keep work life at work”; and perceived segmentation norm, they also looked at frequency of use of different technologies (email, internet, phone, pda) for workplace purposes when at home.

As expected, both a preference for and a culture of less segmentation led to less psychological detachment. People who used technologies for work purposes while at home struggled to detach from work, and the analysis showed that this was a major route through which weak segmentation had its effect on detachment. In part, weak segmentation manifests as work-technology behaviours at home.

It's important to note that technology did not explain all of the variance, which means that setting strict rules about technology use is not the only way to help psychological detachment, nor necessarily sufficient; you may want to develop habits that deal with ruminations, develop end-of-day rituals, or establish clearer boundaries with colleagues. But technology certainly plays a part, and so it's worth considering the practices of your own workplace: for instance,are the trends towards shedding work desktops for laptops, and “bring your own computer” programs, helping or hurting us?

ResearchBlogging.orgPark, Y., Fritz, C., & Jex, S. (2011). Relationships between work-home segmentation and psychological detachment from work: The role of communication technology use at home. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0023594


  1. I can see technology being a factor, but I wonder how it stacks up to being able to work in an environment that allows for personalization of your desk (home), the ability to get up from your desk and go for a walk and not have to account for your whereabouts, and freedom from cameras and swipe cards which track your every movement?

    The pressure to work more exists outside of technology. I worked at a private banking firm that set up a gym, a coffee house, and numerous other amenities to keep people from leaving the office. And it worked -- people stayed until 8, 9, 10, 11 at night - setting up even more social pressure to stay and be a team player.

    If you don't do the work at home you may have to work more at the office.

  2. Hi Leigh

    I'm nodding in agreement here - it's clearly not as simple as Less Home Working = Always Better. What is clear is that you will struggle to psychologically detach from work if you do use work technology in your down time, and psychological detachment is a recovery mechanism that is important especially if the day to day is beginning to grind you down.

    This tendency for modern workplaces to ape aspects of the "Third Place" - - is an interesting one. Many people, especially entreprenuerial workers, are dissolving these distinctions voluntarily, but when an organisation provides them there can be some tacit self-interest and employee pressure sitting underneath this, as you point out.

    You might be interested in a post I wrote about this earlier this year:


  3. Unfortunately, most of us work in such conditions that the pressure keeps haunting us even after the hours staying in the actual offices. Using technology at home to finish our chores isn't a negative thing and should be treated with positive thinking.

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