Always On, Always Available: Working parents’ use of business and personal technology during private hours, and the impact of e-communication overload on stress and anxiety, and perceived burnout.
Quantitative Research: MSc (Research) CyberPsychology
19th August 2021
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use experienced a turning-point during the second quarter of 2020. Overnight, remote working moved from a ‘profession-and-rank privilege’ to a normalised version of business operations for most knowledge workers and professionals within the UK. For those who had children still living in the household, the sudden disruption caused by closures of both office and education facilities on 23 March 2020 (Lockdown 1.0) resulted in the juggling of multiple roles and responsibilities for working parents. Using a combination of work-based and personal technology to manage home and work life created a blurring of personal and work boundaries with little regard for the maintenance of any previously established segmentation strategies. Previous studies have suggested that middle-aged workers are more likely to experience higher levels of stress than other knowledge workers, with the antecedents of this stress suspected to be the juggling of multiple life-roles and concerns around career progression. This study aimed to: (i) understand the extent to which work and home-related ICT use during private time impeded the ability of UK parents to manage work and home tasks and maintain a positive work-life balance; (ii) ascertain if there was a correlation between use of home and work ICT in private hours and stress and anxiety, as well as burnout; (iii) understand if family life stage impacted on parents’ ability to manage their work-life balance; and (iv) investigate the extent to which autonomy, computer self-efficacy and psychological detachment strategies influenced parents’ ability to manage their work-life balance. A quantitative study using a cross-sectional online survey design was conducted to measure ICT use in private time, levels of computer self-efficacy, job control, work-life balance, boundary blurring, segmentation strategies, self-efficacy, stress and anxiety, and burnout. Recruitment of participants via social media resulted in 97 useable responses (56.7% female; age range: 30 – 59 years-old; 79.4% with children under 12 years of age and 59.1% in middle or senior management roles).
The overall results showed that (i) higher boundary blurring, lower job control and being male predicted work spill-over into private time, and (ii) lower job control and being male was more likely to lead to burnout. Additionally, (iii) lower job control, presence of younger children, higher professional ICT use in private time and lower managerial level were predictors of stress and anxiety, and (iv) parents with young children were more likely to be stressed than those with older children. The study also showed that (v) the layering of personal and professional ICT use during private time was not correlated with stress and anxiety, although the use of professional ICT did indicate some connection to stress and anxiety. Moreover (vi) those in higher managerial levels were more likely to engage in role blurring and more likely to feel work negatively affecting work-life balance. Another key finding from the study was (vii) higher levels of job control and autonomy were linked to lower levels of stress and anxiety, and total burnout. Finally, (viii) males were more likely to use personal ICT during private time and have higher computer self-efficacy, while females were more likely to engage in boundary blurring behaviour along with (ix) traditional segmentation strategies seemingly being abandoned by both males and females during Lockdown 1.0, and (x) a third of participants feeling that their computer self-efficacy had improved due to forced remote working.
The findings in this study are novel and present important new insights which hold implications for future research around ICT use within the workplace. This study proposes a Tri-Factor (+ Covid-19) Remote Working Model that incorporates the antecedents that may, to varying degrees, impact remote worker stress and anxiety, and burnout. The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted several of the antecedent workplace norms, narratives, working arrangements and expectations previously researched amongst businesses and knowledge workers. Research around the impact of ICT practices within the workplace needs a greater level of attention going forward. With hybrid and remote working becoming more normative, organisations and workers need greater levels of insight to help inform effective management of ICT within hybrid and remote working practices.