With the ability to stay connected all the time, employees often find it difficult to unplug from work. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, some employees have a hard time leaving the office behind and are finding it increasingly impossible to disconnect from technology. A University of Derby study showed that one in eight people are addicted to their smart phones, spending an average of 3.6 hours on them daily. People even experience real separation anxiety from their mobile devices, based on evidence from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. This behavior can affect employee stress levels, productivity and even create personal problems that reduce job effectiveness.
Why Employees Cannot Unplug from Work
A combination of factors has led to the demise of the traditional nine-to-five workday. First, there are more people connected via mobile technology than ever before — some two-thirds of the American adult population own a smart phone, according to a 2015 Pew Research study. People expect to be able to find information, communicate and stay in the loop 24/7 via their mobile devices, and that includes work updates.
Secondly, the youngest generations in the workforce, Generation X and Millennials, are so used to technology as part of their day-to-day that they find it hard to separate their careers and personal lives in order to unplug from work. A CareerBuilder survey revealed that one in five people have a limited ability to unplug from the office, saying they have, "a tough time enjoying leisure activities because they are thinking about work." Around 42 percent of knowledge workers mentioned that, "work is the first thing they think about when they wake up each morning." Interestingly enough, many respondents felt they were expected to check in with work while off the clock.
Implementing Policies to Support Work-Life Balance
Fortunately, there are ways HR can encourage employees to unplug from work, finding their way to less connectivity and more work-life balance. Policy implementation that directly addresses those issues can be put into place to reduce any behaviors that contribute to productivity losses.
Clearly State Expectations
It's important to create clear boundaries when it comes to mobile technology in and out of the workplace. If the organization provides mobile devices to employees, there is a level of expectation that employees will respond to requests promptly. However, to avoid abuse, guidelines for what's expected with hourly and salaried employees should be implemented.
For example, according to an article on NBC News/Today.com, Bandwidth, an organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina, strictly enforces a no-contact policy with employees when they take time off, including no emails or mobile communications, giving employees guaranteed time to unplug from work.
Employees often find it difficult to unplug from work because they either don't manage their time well, or they have developed bad habits around technology use. To combat this, educate employees on the proper use of technology and encourage them to use their time wisely.
In a PC Mag article, Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, a strong proponent of unplugging from technology, advises his employees to "take one hour a day and turn that thing off, take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person you love. Have a conversation, a real conversation."
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of helping employees to unplug from work is to convince senior leaders to set the example. Dysfunctional behaviors stem from unspoken values that pervade an organization, and being plugged in all the time can work against the organization.
A study conducted by research firm Leadership IQ indicates that, "42 percent of organizations' low performers are actually MORE ENGAGED than high and middle performers." So, while employees may be viewed as more active participants in the organization merely because they are always "on," this doesn't mean they are actually benefiting the bottom line.
When senior leaders understand that, they can begin to develop acceptable behaviors that employees can model. In a US News and World Report article, David Mintz, Founder and CEO of Tofutti Brands, demonstrates better work-life balance by turning off his smart phone one night a week to clear his head and really separate from work.
Promoting the responsible use of technology at the highest levels of the organization will filter down and become the new cultural norm, giving your employees the power to improve work-life balance by encouraging them to unplug.
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