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Digitisation and Social is great, but ‘Burn Out’ is a real risk to employees. We need to switch off!

Connected 24/7, Is it sustainable?

Technology, which has given us the ability to stay connected 24/7 on smartphones, tablets, laptops, now watches and soon to be glasses after work hours and while on-the-go, is I think a boon as well as a curse.  With texting, instant messenger, email, WhatsApp and Social media usage on the rise, most of us are connected round the clock, whether we like it or not.  Some statistics that confirm the changes that technological advances have made to work life in the recent years are:

  • 91% of all smartphone users have their phone within arm’s reach 24/7. – Morgan Stanley
  • 90 percent of text messages get read within 3 minutes of delivery –
  • More than a third of full-time workers say they frequently check their email after working hours

In addition, we are also seeing the advancement of Apps and Software that will support the ability to engage with, have information accessed by and actions undertaken by employees in their own time and in a location convenient to them, which overall is great.  While I am at home talking to my wife or out for a walk and we are discussing our plans for a trip, why shouldn’t I be able to log a leave request immediately from my mobile?  If I have to undertake a performance review or want to plan for one, I shouldn’t be restricted to having to do that at a prescribed time from my desk, but I should be able to keep a track of actions and outcomes how and when I need to do so to feedback to my manager.  

But overall I think we have a responsibility both to ourselves and as employers to manage the implied or required activities or interactions during hours not defined as work allocated.

Why are we so connected, even during down time?

A study on time management and impact on organizations by consulting firm Bain and Co, , in May 2014, revealed that:

  • Executives today on average receive 30,000 external communications per year, up from 1,000 in the 1970s.
  • 15 per cent of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings, a number that has increased steadily since 2008.

With so much going on at work, it is inevitable that not all tasks can be completed during work hours, hence the spill over to down time. Obviously people in certain roles work outside of normal working hours to finish a task or a communication, so that it doesn’t carry over to the next day but is that because it is expected of them?  What about those of us who have flexible working arrangements, travel a lot, are in different timezones and have meetings, calls and outcomes due across regional and global times?

It’s an interesting debate I think.   Many companies increasingly feel that employees should be available on an as needed basis, when deals need to be closed, when updates need to be requested for forecasts completed.  We live in a 24/7 world and MNC’s operate in a 24/7 environment in most cases.   But by the same respect, many companies also talk about work / life balance, EVP centered around health and wellness, fitness and disconnection.  I know from my personal experience that my mobile is constantly within reach, consistently being reviewed and at many times during supposed downtimes, at the gym, watching tv, walking or running if the vibration goes off I’ll automatically review the notification and most likely take action.

Disadvantages of being connected 24/7

Of course, one of the shortcomings of being connected 24/7 is the blurring of lines between work and down time. If you are one of those people (like me) who see no harm in staying connected to your job almost constantly, I think we’ll have to realise that at some point, there will need to be a disconnection.  It is impossible to think that with the rapid pace we associate with work and life overall that your body and mind won’t reach the point of exhaustion where you will be forced to take some time off. 

It is impossible to think that we’ll maintain this level of connectivity always and ongoing.  Being continuously connected to your job will no doubt upset your work-life balance, which will negatively impact personal relationships, physical and mental health and overall enjoyment of life. 

Clearly there’s a need to step back from the current 24/7 work cycle

So let’s tacitly agree that being connected 24/7 is not good for anyone long term.  You need to have down time, you need to stop and move away from work and dare I say it let not forget being “connected to life”, and the always ever present need to be socially engaged.  I’d positively say that I think in the medium term we’ll see more companies enforcing an ‘off the grid’ policy when you’re not at the office.  Particularly when on leave, some companies have this in place already. For example, German companies such as Volkswagen, BMW and Puma, restrict after hours email. Volkswagen even stops forwarding emails to staff shortly after the work day has ended. Arianna Huffington, who suffered facial injuries when she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, has established a policy of disconnecting from the office at the Huffington Post, where employees are not expected to answer email after hours or over the weekend.

Benefits of disconnecting from work while on a vacation

Research shows that a work-free vacation can boost physical and mental well-being while enhancing productivity and focus. A vacation provides a much needed break from work-related stress and allows you to refresh your body and mind. You need to detach from work while on holiday by not responding to e-mails and voicemails, and not checking in constantly with your team.  

I think personally it also needs to be part of the everyday mantra of how we live our lives, we need to disconnect, we need to have time to take a pause… So the next time you reach for your smartphone on a weekend or during a vacation to check up on work-related emails, stop yourself, and go for a walk or jog instead. Or better yet, spend some quality time with your family and friends.

Work can and most likely (in just about every circumstance) should wait for when you get to office next…

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