Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become essential in the global society. The Internet, e-mail, and portable communication devices, such as cellular phones and BlackBerry®, form a technology group (referred to as the “ICT cluster”) that has blended into everyday lives of individuals. Enabled by such technologies, the generic slogan of “anytime, anywhere, and availability at the press of a button” captures the current work culture trend. The boundless connectivity and access to information at all times are expected to empower individuals by enabling them to carry out daily tasks more efficiently. However, there is also a dark side to ICT use, involving increased hours of work, stress, and loss of private time. While some employees enjoy compensation for the extended work hours and their 24/7 accessibility, for most managers and professionals who are not covered by overtime employment standards these extra hours simply increase their daily work demands. Thus, they could feel that there is an e-leash to work, enslaving them and adversely affect their work-life balance.
Studies have shown that the ICT cluster blurs the boundary between work and nonwork domains. However, there is a scarcity of research addressing the implications of ICT use on work/ nonwork interactions. Addressing this concern, this research provides evidence on the use of the ICT cluster and its impact on work-life balance of managers and professionals. Spanning across two countries, Canada and Sri Lanka, with substantial differences in social, economical, and technological infrastructure landscapes, this study also highlights country-related effects in the use and impact of the ICT cluster on work-life balance of the target population.
Anchoring on work-life border theory by Clark (2000), and work-family boundary theory by Ashforth and colleagues (2000), the main research questions addressed in this study are; 1) How do individuals perceive and use the ICT cluster? Are there usage differences within the cluster? 2) How does ICT use influence individual work/nonwork interactions? 3) How do individuals manage ICT influences on their work-life balance? Does the technology use empower or enslave individuals in managing their work-life balance? 4) Are we studying a universal phenomenon, or are there social, cultural, and demographic differences that limit the generalizability of the findings on the impact of the use of ICT cluster on individuals? Research subjects were comparable groups of managers/ professionals from Canada and Sri Lanka who used the ICT cluster in both work and nonwork tasks in their daily lives. The study triangulated data from a large scale web-based survey launched in 2008 and 36 semi-structured in-depth interviews.
The study found that ICT use is related to work/ nonwork interactions which in turn affect work-life balance of individuals. Results revealed an interesting relationship of how a person could fall into a vicious cycle of losing one’s work-life balance through excessive work-related ICT use on nonwork settings, where such use can lead to an increase in cross-domain conflict and reduction in cross-domain enrichment. Thus, the study did support the notion that ICT could create an e-leash to work domain, enslaving individuals. However, the study also found support for ICT to be an empowering tool for balancing work and nonwork domains, especially considering the individual-specificity of work-life balance equation. These findings appeared universal irrespective of the distinctions of the two countries selected, or gender differences of respondents.