Technology revolutionised work, now it's at home and sucking up our downtime, write Matt Wade and Ben Schneiders.
We can email, text, Facebook and tweet anywhere, any time. But have smartphones and tablets made it easier to juggle work with the rest of life?
In the decade since John Howard dubbed the work-life balance a "barbecue stopper", mobile technologies have revolutionised work for many Australians. They have eliminated the physical boundaries that once defined workplaces and allowed employees unprecedented flexibility in where and when they work.
But new technologies can be a mixed blessing for workers. The office is always in your pocket.
The Australian Work and Life Index, prepared by the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, has tracked the work-life experience of Australian workers for five years. The latest report, titled The Big Squeeze, shows little improvement in work-life outcomes in that time.
The centre's director and a co-author of the report, Professor Barbara Pocock, says at least a quarter of Australian workers are badly affected by work-life interference.
"We are not seeing a runaway train here but we are seeing a problem that is affecting a lot of people and it is very persistent," Pocock says.
However, there is one group for which things are getting worse: full-time women workers. That group's dissatisfaction with their work-life balance has climbed from 15.9 per cent to 27.5 per cent over the past five years, while the same rate for full-time men has been fairly steady. Seven out of 10 full-time women workers often or always feel ''rushed and pressed for time'' and 41 per cent of mothers with full-time jobs said they would prefer to work part-time - the largest proportion since 2007.
Professor Pocock says mobile technologies are a contributing factor, especially for those who work in the service sector and among managers and professionals.
''We've got work that's leaping the spatial boundary of the workplace and that's particularly affecting full-time women who are holding households together,'' she says. ''Mobile technologies are a fantastic resource but our data shows there's a dark side, and it's often overwhelming the flexibility new technologies give. People feel good about being able to deal with stuff on the run and when it suits them, but it's got a real shadow side.''
Liz Marchant relies heavily on mobile technologies in her role as a director of the Sydney-based marketing and public relations firm Recognition PR. Checking
emails is ''the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to sleep'', she says.
''Because I'm a working mum I typically leave the office at 5 o'clock on the dot but I always check in of an evening to make sure that I haven't left anything undone.''
Marchant always waits until her six-year-old has gone to bed before checking in on work.
''What we have now is an 'instant response' society,'' she says. ''We send an email and we do expect a response no matter what time it is, or even what day it is, and that changes the dynamics of every day.''
Full-time public health researcher Julie Leask tried to firewall her office and home but found this did not work.
''I've come to accept the way work sometimes inhabits my personal life,'' she says. ''I now recognise there's going to be a couple of nights a week where I do some work and I've come to terms with that. Now that I don't have to keep fighting that, I'm happier.''
For Leask, the trade-off for working in the evenings is having more flexibility in the day to drop off her two children at school.
''With mobile technologies I've found the tendrils of work reach into more parts of my personal life. I might be driving somewhere on holidays and I'll get an email from work and feel I have to address it. It does bother me sometimes when I can't focus on family things.''
Melissa Gregg, a Sydney University academic who has done extensive research on the impact of technology on work life, says the flexibility and convenience offered by mobile technologies get much more attention than the costs.
''The trouble is that mobile technologies are changing the locations of work,'' she says. ''We no longer have physical limits on how we access our work and I think that's something that we've avoided thinking about carefully.''
Gregg found new technologies meant many employees - especially women who work part-time - are doing large amounts of unpaid work.
''During my research women would say to me, 'it's so convenient to have my laptop open on the dining room table. I can keep an eye on my email while I'm cooking dinner and while I'm helping my child do their homework'. While that's described as convenient they are actually engaging in three different types of unpaid labour in that situation. It's hardly convenient if your work isn't being recognised.''
Gregg discovered many workers were checking emails in the morning to try to gain more control over their work days. ''It's been a bit of a ruse to think that there's such a thing as work-life balance when you have jobs designed these days to be insatiable in the amount of communication and information that's possible to be exchanged.''
Kristen Jensen, a registrar training to be an obstetrician, feels the pressure. Despite having a supportive husband, Colin, she is always short of time.
On some days Jensen works 14-hour shifts. ''I'm constantly pressed for time, I never have enough,'' she says. ''I wish I could just stop the world and hop off and have some time to myself.''
The couple have two daughters, Neena, 4, and Jesse, 20 months, and most of the housework is done by her husband, who also does some part-time paid work. When she is at home, she spends much of her time with her children, time she adores. But there is guilt. ''I certainly feel guilty if I'm not at work and I want to be doing something by myself. I feel guilty I'm not with the kids.''
Marchant says that for her it's ''part of the job'' to work at home.
''Mobile devices provide opportunities we didn't have a few years ago in that we can leave and pick up the kids from school and not feel guilty,'' she says. ''But it means you never turn off because you are always connected and there's an expectation that you will always be across things.
''Mobile devices enable me to be there with the kids but it also means you might not be paying 100 per cent attention - so it's a catch-22, right?''
Working women report much higher levels of feeling pressed for time or rushed than men, according to the Work and Life Index. Work-life strain was particularly high for sole mothers and those who care for the aged or those with a disability.
Julie Kun, who works at WIRE, a women's advice service, experiences many of these strains at once. Kun is a single mother to her seven-year-old Alesha, and also a carer for her mother, Pat, who is in an independent living unit and has arthritis.
Kun's typical day starts just after 7am and she drops her daughter off at school by 8.40am. She is on her way to work minutes later. Then there is a full day's work as a business development manager, then the pick-ups from after-school care, bath time and a meal.
Alesha is in bed by 9pm and then Kun readies a meal for the following night. Often it's not until 10pm - nearly 15 hours after her day began - that she has some down-time. That's a 75-hour week. ''You do feel constantly tired, you do feel pulled in several directions,'' she says.
Women such as Kun, so-called ''sandwich carers'', suffer the worst work-life ''interference'', the University of South Australia research shows. They look after both a child and someone with a disability or health problems.
Kun says there is pressure on women. ''People feel they've failed, there's a whole lot of pressures on mothers to be that perfect mum.''
To manage, Kun relies on a network of other women and friends to help out, as well as being ''really ordered''. ''Sometimes I make a frantic call, as I need to be somewhere, and ask can you look after Alesha.''
She reckons that social pressures explain why women, who tend to work fewer hours of paid work than men, feel so under pressure, as the bulk of unpaid work still falls on them. ''It's a systemic thing that it's still expected that it's women that will do it,'' she says.
Pocock said her team's study confirms the importance of policies that promote greater flexibility for workers. Two years ago parents with of preschool children, or children under 18 with a disability, were given the ''right to request'' work flexibility from their employer. But the University of South Australia's research showed many parents are unaware of the right to request flexibility, or unwilling to ask their employer.
''In many workplaces getting flexibility is difficult especially where standard working arrangements are dominant, the climate is hostile to flexibility, or workers' anticipate a stigma arising from a request for flexibility,'' the report says.
Since 2008 the university's research points to more people saying that work interferes with activities outside their jobs and with spending time with friends. The rates of perceived ''work intensification'' reported by Australian workers is higher than in Europe using similar measures, the report says. Nearly a third of workers feel that they have too much work for one person to do (33.2 per cent of women and 30.3 per cent of men). Almost one in three men put in more than 48 hours a week and most of them wanted to work less.
But there is a paradox.
Over the last four years those satisfied with their work life balance has risen slightly, from 68.3 per cent to 69.1 per cent. Workers are as stressed or more stressed than ever but there is a level of acceptance about it that this is the way things are.
''This is not all a negative story,'' Pocock says. ''Lots of people are managing fine.''
Architect Helena Barriga works 32.5 hours a week, has two daughters aged five and eight, and does much of the unpaid work at home such as taking the girls to gymnastics or swimming. Her schedule allows her to pursue a career she enjoys. ''I wouldn't want to reduce my hours,'' she says. ''I think it works for the girls and works for me.'' Some things have had to change since she had children. ''Lets say cleaning, which used to be spotless - it's not now, it's just clean, I won't stress about it.''
Another architect and mother of two, Kirsten Grant, says the juggle to manage work and family is part of a life she wants and a career she loves. ''Work is important to me so I'm prepared to pay for it. If you do a list of pros and cons, there'd be a significant number of negatives but I'd say the positives outweigh the negatives.''