When technology and personal life are not necessarily compatible!

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Scientific interpretation

In modern societies, the way of working is constantly evolving. Some of this change is facilitated by communication technologies which allow connectivity, immediacy and, in the process, permeability of the boundaries that once separated work from private life. It would be wrong, however, to blame technology by itself for these developments: electronic devices can be disabled, emails can be filtered and incoming (telephone) calls can be directed to voice mail. Nevertheless, hyperconnectivity makes individuals more accessible and implicitly requires them to be available online at all times. What is the impact on employees?

To answer this question, we analyzed the study by Derks and his colleagues, 2015, who looked at the effect of smartphones on work-life conflict in order to better understand the role that social norms and employees’ commitment to work influence the dynamics of this conflict.

Expert adviser

Guylaine LANDRY, Professor of Human Resources Management, ESG UQAM


Étienne FOUQUET, Doctoral researcher, Université de Sherbrooke

PATRICE DANEAU, Research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke

JOSÉE CHARBONNEAU, Research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.


Work-life conflict

Work-life conflict refers to the interactive process between work and personal or private life that often results in harmful or unwelcome consequences for both individuals and organizations. More specifically, it is a form of inter-role conflict or pressure in which the role related to the field of work is incompatible with the role related to family or personal life. In other words, the role expected of an individual in a professional context is in conflict with the role performed by the same individual in his or her home environment.

Social norms

Social norms refer to rules of social conduct in a community or group, such as an organization. They prescribe what an individual can or cannot do. They reflect the dominant values and ideals of society or the group[1]. In the article studied, social norms refer to the demands and expectations of an individual’s immediate superior and work colleagues with regard to the individual’s use of his or her smartphone and of his or her availability outside regular or normal working hours.

Commitment to work

Commitment to work is defined as a positive, well-balanced state of mind at work. It is a pleasant experience for many workers; one that goes hand in hand with feelings of energy (vigour) and dedication, as well as focus in their work.

Complete reference

Derks, D., Duin, D., Tims, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2015). Smartphone use and work–home interference: The moderating role of social norms and employee work engagement. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88(1), 155-177.


 Participants were recruited through ads placed on social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Potential participants were invited to send an email to one of our researchers confirming their interest in collaborating in a study about “conditions at work”.


The primary selection criterion was that every participant had a smartphone provided and paid for by the employer.


Survey data were collected by online questionnaire and in response to email questions sent daily for four consecutive working days.


In their analysis, the study’s authors accounted for respondents’ different workload levels. Workloads can affect the intermittent or ad hoc use of smartphones at home, and the authors were careful to ensure this variable did not represent a bias that skewed findings.


  • A total of 100 participants
  • Average age of participants was 40.81 years
  • 75% men; 25% women
  • 85% living as married or common law couples
  • 67% of participants had children at home
  • 12% were single and without children
  • Participants worked in a variety of fields or economic sectors
    Some of these stats don’t add up


Because studies must always be interpreted with caution

 The study’s authors did not consider the type of organizational culture, which can influence how the boundary between work life and private or personal life is managed or defined. Nor did the authors take the use of smartphones for personal reasons into account.



The use of smartphones outside of regular working hours results in work-life conflict. The intrusion of smartphone use into personal or non-working life increases when an individual’s availability outside of normal working hours becomes a social norm established by his or her immediate superior and co-workers or colleagues. Employees who have a strong commitment to work, however, are less susceptible to the harmful effects of continuous connectivity.

Principal results


1) Social norms – Immediate superior

Employees who use smartphones outside of regular working hours experience more work-life conflict if they perceive that their superior expects this (smartphone use) of them.

  • Supervisors have great authority over and can be a role model for their employees. A supervisor can exert direct or indirect pressure to ensure his or her employees remain connected, are accessible and react to incoming messages at all times.
  • Some employees stay connected because they value their relationship with their superior; some believe they will have more opportunities for promotion if they stay connected.
  • Expected behaviours at work may be incompatible with expected behaviours at home.

2) Social norms – Co-workers and colleagues

Employees who use their smartphones outside of work hours experience more work-life conflict if they believe such behaviour is expected of them by their co-workers and colleagues.


The impact or perceived expectations of co-workers and colleagues is lower than that of the immediate superior.

  • When it is considered normal for employees who are members of the same team to contact each other freely outside normal working hours in order to resolve work-related problems, they are likely to comply with this social norm.




  • When working for an organization with a culture that values continuous connection, employees experience higher levels of work-life conflict than those who work for organizations that do not value continuous connection.

3) Commitment to work

Employees who are most committed to work are those who experience the lowest levels of work-life conflict. Even when using the smartphone outside of regular working hours.

  • Committed employees perceive work as a positive experience; they ensure that work does not overly interfere with their private or family life, even when they use a smartphone outside of work.


  • Work commitment is linked to higher rates of task completion during regular working hours and this can result in reduced “spillover” outside of regular working hours.


A variety of simple and practical actions can be implemented to reduce work-life conflict.

Action steps


Manage expectations with regard to the use of technology outside of work

  • Be explicit; clearly state what expectations from employees in terms of continuous connectivity.
  • Educate employees about the impact and potential pitfalls of smartphone use on work-life balance.
  • Promote awareness among employees of the importance of taking a break or time off from work.

Be aware that expectations and social norms can create pressure to stay connected

  • Pay attention to employees’ behaviours outside work.
  • Although it can be harmful for some to interact with work in their spare time, for others, it can be useful. Everyone’s needs are different. Employers should focus on flexibility and autonomy so employees can work when it is right for them. Doing so can contribute to their commitment to work.

Raise awareness among immediate superiors

  • Remind managers the emails they send after work have recipients.
  • Recipients may think it is normal to respond to work-related messages during leisure time. Over time, this can result in a collective social norm to remain connected everywhere, all the time!
  • The behaviour of superiors may have a greater impact on employees than established policies.
  • Develop policies relating to the use of smartphones and other technologies provided to employees.

Focus on commitment to work

  • Engage your employees! The study shows that employees’ commitment to work is linked to better management of the boundaries between work and private life balance.
  • Commitment to work acts as a shield that protects workers from work-life conflict. How, then, can employers improve their employees’ commitment to work? For starters, they can offer them resources to meet their work-related commitments. Managers can give workers tools to become more independent and self-reliant. They can also provide feedback and social support. These resources have a positive motivational effect linked to increased levels of commitment to work.
  • Organization can help their employees develop personal resources, such as a sense of efficiency and healthy habits. This can foster a stronger commitment to work among employees.


Work-life conflict is associated with several negative work and health-related consequences. These include increased levels of stress, reduced performance, declining health and decreased satisfaction with life, in general, and family life, in particular. Work-life conflict has negative consequences for both organizations and employees. Organizations have every interest in influencing behaviour (eg, smartphone use outside regular working hours) and standards of conduct, such as supervisor’s influence on and behaviour to employees, that increase work-life conflict.

This study focuses on and demonstrates the effect of new technologies on employees’ work-life conflict. Attention must be paid to the behaviour and expectations of immediate superiors with regard to the use of smartphones outside the workplace. It is critical that supervisors understand that the use of technology outside of regular working hours can have as negative an effect on them as it does on their employees. If a manager sends emails outside of normal working hours, he or she is also in a vulnerable position and susceptible to work-life conflict.



Landry, G., Fouquet, E., Daneau, P., Charbonneau, J. (2018). When technology and personal life are not necessarily compatible! Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com


Derks, D., Duin, D., Tims, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2015). Smartphone use and work–home interference: The moderating role of social norms and employee work engagement. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88(1), 155-177.


[1]Demeulenaere, P. (2003). Les normes sociales: Entre accords et désaccords. Doi:10.3917/puf.demeu.2003.02.

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton