Colleagues impinge on leisure time

February 5, 2015 - 06:15

Norwegian engineers claim that bosses are not the ones at work that disturb them the most outside of working hours. More say it’s their other colleagues who expect them to answer calls and e-mails in their free time.

Some 26 percent of Norwegian engineers say their bosses expect to be able to reach them during vacations, whereas 30 percent of their colleagues expect the same. (Photo: Colourbox)

You go home but you haven’t really logged off. New e-mails or texts from your job pop up on your smart phone.

A growing number of studies look at what it does to us to be linked to our jobs 24/7. Stress and reduced health are among the negative consequences of these impingements on our private lives.

There are advantages as well. Perhaps a different setting provides a better perspective, or more energy or you might get a load of work out of the way at a time that suits you best.

But who are the ones creating expectations of your being available outside of working hours?

A study by the union NITO – the Norwegian Society of Engineers and Technologists – conducted among its members last autumn showed that colleagues are often the culprits.

“This is remarkable,” says Kirsten Rydne, a lawyer at NITO. “We have all the more reason to be alarmed when the pressure is coming from several directions.”

Lack of respect

We are more likely to hear about bosses’ expectations than pressure from workmates.

Nearly half the participants in the NITO study experienced these expectations from management.

Slightly more perceive expectations from colleagues as well. It’s anticipated that they remain available outside working hours and while on vacation. This means they expect colleagues to answer their phones and read their e-mails.

Kirsten Rydne, lawyer at NITO - the Norwegian Society of Engineers and Technologists.

A total of 45 percent confirmed that their employers expect to be able to access them with them outside normal working hours, whereas over 47 percent of their colleagues had these expectations.

Cultural problem

In other words, about half of the 1,300 participants related that their colleagues expected to be able to reach them in their leisure time.

“This means we have a culture problem at the workplace as well as a managerial problem. As employees we lack respect for a workmate’s time off. We have too low a threshold for contacting our colleagues,” asserts Rydne.

It’s not a given fact that colleagues actually expect such mutual and untimely accessibility.  Maybe this pressure is self-administered. In any case, Rydne thinks it’s a problem if such steady links to jobs raise levels of work that is off the record.

“Such efforts by the employee can be rendered invisible to the employer. This is a big problem. Employees wear themselves out. Especially young ones who are concerned about proving their merit,” she says.

Working in secret

Many engineers work on projects in the private sector struggling to meet deadlines and their salaries often hinge on results and performance.

“We need to question the way employees compete to be the most flexible,” says Rydne.

The study shows that the majority get no remuneration for being accessible in this way utside of working hours. Two out of three say they get no compensation whatsoever. Only one out four do get more pay.

Swedish research has previously shown that new technology leads to strong social norms regarding such accessibility. This leads to extra work during off-hours without salary compensation.

More relief during vacations
We need to question the way employees compete to be the most flexible.
Kirsten Rydne, lawyer at NITO

The NITO study showed that engineers do get a little more relief from this pressure during their holidays.

Some 26 percent say their bosses expect to be able to reach them during vacations, whereas 30 percent of their colleagues expect the same.

The engineers did not report such strong expectations of contact outside working hours or on vacation among customers and principals.

Not viewed as problematic

This said, most engineers don’t experience these work enquiries during leisure time to be much of a problem. Six out of ten say this is only problematic to a lesser degree or not a problem at all.

But four out of NITO members find it negative at least to some degree. Rydne thinks this is too many.

“There are quite a lot of people who consider this troubling. The biggest worry is the direction it takes. We need to learn to set limits,” says Rydne.

The bosses who took part in the study readily admitted to expecting such availability – even when it doesn’t jibe with Norway’s work environment regulations or union contracts. This means that such expectations are becoming normalised, thinks Rydne.

“Employees and management should both reconsider before they ring up a colleague or employee who is off work.  You can always do a little investigation on your own to find an answer to your question instead of sending off a text message.”

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling