In case you wondered why business management rarely objects to the bring-your-own-device phenomenon, that's why: It's really a "bring your own personal time" strategy that lets the company get more out of so-called information workers in exchange for the freedom to work anywhere at any time, perhaps even on a device of their own choosing.
This is an old phenomenon, and though some company execs exploit this behavior gleefully, most fall into the same behavior themselves. As professionals, they want the job done well, and the notion of clocking in and out has a whiff of copping out.
Before broadband at home and mobile devices were commonplace, we'd stay late as needed, take work home on paper, or even go to the office on weekends. But that required a conscious choice with clear consequences: You'd miss your favorite show, skip dinner with the family, neglect your chores at home, forgo the big game or your kid's soccer match. Now, we connect on our iPads and smartphones and laptops during most of these events, with one eye on the work screen and one on the rest of our lives.
It's our fault, of course. As salaried employees, we usually have great say over our work schedules, and we choose to work more, rather than shift the same number of total hours to more convenient patterns.
Most of the working world has not gotten a handle on this problem. And it is a problem: By working 52 hours a week instead of 45 (few salaried employees ever worked just their official 37.5 or 40 hours per week), we're helping our companies spend about 15 percent less. That means we're not hiring more people to do the extra work, as we should be. The problem with efficiency is that it kills jobs, and giving away labor kills more potential employment opportunities -- not exactly what the world needs in the ongoing depression faced by most of the industrialized world.
If you're an hourly employee or a union employee, you may be less subject to such self-exploitation. Companies fear losing your on-the-clock time to personal activities, and they fear having to pay overtime, so people who work hourly usually do so under a mandate of not using mobile devices at all. Unions are also diligent about employees being asked to do more than the contractual work rules allow, so employers tend to avoid union fights by having policies against such flexible usage of technology. Even there, I can see steady attrition; I know several local government employees (all managers and practitioners) who keep an eye out for email off-hours.
I'd hate to see a return to the 1950s approach of strict schedules and separation of work and personal. I like the fact I can take care of personal affairs during weekdays and yet keep up on my work, so I'm not taking vacation time or cramming everything into the weekend. Or if I'm on a business trip, I don't face a mountain of deferred work when I get back.
But I don't like the fact that it's solely up to me to make sure I'm not giving away too much. Companies have no real incentive to do so, at least not until some state rules such discretionary work must be paid. In the meantime, I think I'll start using that Off switch my devices provide for each email account, so my work accounts go silent when I leave the office during routine periods. If more of us did that, we'd have flexibility and better balance. Repeat after me: "Better balance"!
This article, "Stop it! You're working an extra unpaid day a week," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.