I want you to picture the scene. It’s a sunny, weekday afternoon and it’s about 4pm. You’re in a park and you are surrounded by parents who are minding schoolchildren of various ages.
Look closely, though, and I guarantee you’ll see that something very unhealthy is going on. Many of those parents will be doing a lacklustre job of looking after their kids.
The rise of technology addiction
Instead, many will have their faces buried in mobile phones, writing emails and responding to WhatsApp messages. You may even notice a tiny number of mums and dads using their phone for what it was originally intended: Speaking to someone as they confirm some detail or other back at the office.
While technology has done wonders for freeing us up and enabling us to work more flexibly, it is also encroaching on family life. I’m sure none of us needed telling this, but the recent 2020 Modern Families Index from the charity Working Families has spelled out exactly how bad this problem has become.
The Index, based on interviews with 3,000 parents, found almost 60% report having to do additional, unpaid hours at home. A total of 44% of parents said they feel ‘compelled’ to check emails and do other work in the evenings while many of those questioned said being ‘always on’ was having a detrimental impact on family life.
Aligning with wider research
The report goes on to highlight some good news. It confirms the findings of the DaddiLife Millennial Dad at Work report that millennials are much more confident in asking for flexible working. Working Families also found that traditional gender roles regarding childcare and the family home are becoming increasingly de-gendered.
The worrying thing is that all the good work done to make the workplace more flexible is in danger of being undone. The culture of presenteeism, the pressure to be seen at work, may be on its way out. But additional hours are being done at home in the evenings, when travelling, or when we’re at the park and supposed to be looking after the kids.
In other words, we need to be in control of our tech, the tech should not be in control of us. Employees and workers need to make clear to managers they are not available to work 24/7, 365. Managers, for their part, need to set a good example by making clear to staff they will not take business calls or emails at night and weekends.
Instilling ‘good’ screen time
As a father, I find this a fascinating subject because I am doing all I can to instil good screen time habits in my children. I hope the efforts I make now will go with them into adulthood. Hopefully they’ll appreciate that it’s important to put their phones away, and not get dragged into an ‘always on’ lifestyle when older.
It’s all well and good looking to the future, but there’s a definite responsibility on the present generation of workers to take charge of the situation. My message is that everyone who works needs to switch off. We mustn’t make ourselves available all day, every day.
When you get home in the evening, put your phone away and don’t look at it again until the morning. Don’t sleep with it in your bedroom. If you are in the park with the kids, watch them, not your phone. Think about how much time you spend online working and don’t let it encroach on family life.
I am not going to claim to be perfect, but I will not sleep with my mobile phone in my room. When at the park, I usually leave my phone in the car or don’t take it with me at all. In our household, mobile devices are simply banned from the dining table. We also have a draw where all phones and devices are kept when not in use. We do all these things to try and make sure we do switch off. If you don’t follow similar rules, I’d recommend you give it a try.
I know it can be easier said than done. The way things stand, we’ve gained freedom and flexible working but we’re on the precipice of being ‘always on’ and ‘always available.’
We need to change things now so this doesn’t become the accepted norm.