Technology has allowed us to have more flexibility than ever before, changing the way we work and improving our overall mental well-being. A change of environment prevents burnout and helps us stay in the “flow” a state of mind where we do our best work and are at our most productive. It has essentially untethered us from the 9-5 and the static workstation.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to these benefits.
Gone are the days of “I’m not in the office.” Constantly being connected via email, smartphones or remote office blurs the lines between work and home life. Being able to attend late-day emails in the evening may help you clear the slate for the next workday but leaves you with the feeling that there is never time to relax, recharge and spend time with your family. An employee’s value can be eroded by an increased cognitive workload leading to reduced mental happiness and overall performance. At some point, employees begin to feel worn out, overwhelmed and too stretched to perform their job effectively.
While we may be free of our desks, we are not free of our work, and the stress and pressure that comes with it. No one is immune to information overload. In the past, those that worked from morning tonight were considered lower class, while the upper class had more leisure time. Nowadays, the people who are always working and always accessible are seen as important people, those the business can’t do without. It’s a sign of higher social status and it is mentally unhealthy for us all.
The habits we have formed to constantly check our phones and emails are wearing us down. These behaviors are becoming second nature and can border on addiction. It’s important to take measures to use moderation so this behavior doesn’t become problematic.
The University of California conducted a study on the impact of interruptions on workers and concluded that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from an interruption. Throughout the day, something as small as a notification or chime that needs to be looked after can impact an employee’s output and productivity. It increases pressure and the effort it takes to get a task done.
With a finite amount of time and attention available in a given day, employees have to spread their attention over too much information and too many choices. This leads to less cognitive processing unless there are clear choices to help make a decision.
Videoconferencing and virtual meetings are a great example. Often, meetings are accepted even when the subject at hand doesn’t directly affect the employee in question. A fear of missing out, coupled with a desire to be a team player and help out, leads employees to schedule more and more meetings resulting in less and less time to do their work, which diminishes their attention to the meeting and their work.
Technology has made it so easy to schedule invite and accept meetings, people have become less productive as a result.
We know the bright screens at night inhibit our ability to fall asleep, but that’s not the only way technology steals our sleep. The always-on mentality has people checking their phones just before bed and first thing in the morning to make sure there isn’t a crisis. There is a little time to recharge, and it erodes the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep needed to maintain good health.
Technology also makes us lonelier, interfering with our face-to-face interactions causing our friends and family to feel neglected and adversely affecting our social structure.
Cognitive and behavioral sciences are helping to find ways to fight back. Better workplace design, including quiet areas, good lighting and garden space showing promising results. These are known as behavioral “nudges, ” similar to hen healthy foods are displayed more prominently than unhealthy ones. There are still choices, but the behavior is influenced by what is better for the person.
Employees are starting to feel they’re expected to be available 24/7. To change this, employers need to adopt a more employee-centric attitude, encouraging their employees to choose less harmful behaviors. Some helpful strategies include: adopting policies that discourage emails outside of business hours and reducing the length of meetings. Let your employees know it’s ok to not be constantly available. Choosing to take care of themselves will not affect their standing in the company. After all, a burned-out employee is not a productive employee.