Whatsapp hurting work-life balance

SINGAPORE - Whatsapp group chats created specially for work are becoming more common in offices here, facilitating fuss-free communication and quick responses among up to 50 people at a go.

While convenient, the instant-messaging application has also inadvertently increased the pressure on employees to reply even on weekends, blurring the line between their work and private lives.

"I am always at the boss' beck and call, even on weekends," said marketing executive Y. Z. Liu. "Plus, with (Whatsapp's) last-seen function...you will feel pressured to respond to requests quickly."

The last-seen time stamp indicates when a user last accessed Whatsapp, and is often used to gauge whether a user has read a message that was sent out.

The 23-year-old said she has multiple Whatsapp work-group chats, and the constant buzzing of her phone due to work-related discussions can become "quite irritating" outside of office hours.

Others, like branding executive Marcus, 26, who wanted to be known only by his first name, acknowledged that such group chats allowed him to touch base with colleagues easily, and help in eliciting quick responses.

Still, he admitted: "Sometimes, you just don't want to mix work (with private life) on weekends."

But it is getting more difficult to draw a distinct line between the two, said human-resource and technology experts.

The mixing of work and private life became more obvious a few years back, when employees started using their personal devices for work purposes, said Ms Serene Chan, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan's Asia-Pacific information and communications technology practice.

And Whatsapp is just the latest way, besides e-mail and text messages, through which bosses are communicating with employees outside of office hours.

One issue with these methods of communication, which are facilitated by mobile phones, is that an immediate response is expected. This is because a person's mobile phone is often within easy reach, unlike a computer, experts noted.

Said Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute: "The important thing is to restrict the use of work Whatsapp group chats outside of office hours and have a balance."

He added that bosses have to respect employees' private lives and have realistic expectations of them.

"They must not expect an instant reply, and if it's not an urgent matter, they should e-mail instead," he said.

Ms Chan said that, while it is debatable whether Whatsapp group chats are a healthy practice as they might create avenues for abuse, they offer flexibility and benefit employers who want to have work-from-home policies.

"Ideally, the boundaries should be set by office policies, rather than people's choice of devices or messaging applications that they want to use," she said.

But experts warned that Whatsapp group chats may not always be appropriate for work matters.

"The Whatsapp platform is very often used for casual communication. Using it for work-related matters could affect the level of professionalism among employees," said Ms Gwen Lim, a manager in Robert Walters Singapore's human-resource division.

Ms Chan added: "Group chats may not be suitable (for) matters like negotiations, (which) may have to be done verbally or in person."

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