Americans struggle with work-life balance, with 50 percent admitting to checking work email in bed, 57 percent while on family outings and 38 percent at the dinner table, according to mobile-software firm Good Technology. But when you handle work-related business on your cell phone while at home, not only do you suffer, but it hurts your spouse too, according to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
Indeed, this behavior both creates tension in your relationship and negatively impacts your spouse’s job performance, according to the study, which surveyed 344 married couples who work full-time and have a smartphone or tablet. Spouses whose partners used their phone for work-related issues frequently at home ranked themselves both as weaker performers on the job and as less satisfied with their jobs.
So why does your cell phone use impact your partner’s job performance? For one, “what the relationship is experiencing is tension that is created by this device use,” Crawford says, which can lead to “feelings of resentment toward your spouse” and arguments. And those kinds of feelings and issues don’t just go away when you wake up to go to work the next morning.
Plus, it’s “symptomatic of other issues in the relationship — that your partner may be neglecting you, or that their work is more important than the relationship,” says career coach Roy Cohen. “If you’re feeling angry or frustrated and you’re finding that because of your interaction with your significant other, those feelings are [likely] emerging for [you] at work” and thus negatively impacting your job performance, Cohen explains.
How do you learn to put your phone away at home?
Ask for an upfront notification
“You’ve got to triage it,” recommended executive coach Marc Dorio. In other words, figure out just how serious an after-hours issue is, perhaps by asking your colleagues to call or text if an issue is important; otherwise to email and you will address that issue the following day.
“I set the 9 p.m. rule,” said etiquette expert Karen Thomas. “I tell colleagues I would prefer not to be called [after the time]… A lot of people I know, like higher-level executives, use the 7 p.m. rule, or even go with the 6 p.m. rule.” Thomas still conceded that you can’t always disappear off the grid in the case of work-related emergencies, but that having rules can help minimize work interrupting family time.
Speak to your manager
Thomas suggested that employees have a frank but polite conversation with their supervisors to block out periods when they need to be online and when they don’t — such as during their kids’ weekly sports games, for instance. “Be honest and put forth what you feel are good boundaries and see if they’re a good fit for that position,” and don’t be afraid to tell your manager that you’re happy to be flexible, but “[you] need their flexibility, as well.”
Involve your partner
Finally, Thomas concluded, sometimes you can’t get out of answering that late-night or weekend phone call, so include your family in the process of finding a solution. “You want to bring that person into the solution as well.” You might say: “I realize that my job [requires me] to be available. What do you feel would be fair to you when I have to take a call at 9 o’clock at night?”