Out of Touch and Happy
The volatility of business seems to require connectively all the time. But are some people exaggerating their importance?
I was at dinner and saw a number of people meeting. As they sat down, each placed their mobile phone on the table ready for the call. This was on Sunday afternoon. On another occasion, my late Sunday night flight was delayed. The passenger next to me immediately started calling people at 10 PM. Did he really need to call or was he just bored? His conversations did not have real substance and from listening to the calls, the conversation content did not warrant this late Sunday night intrusion. Were the contacts really that important that they needed to be instantly in touch then, or could the calls have waited until Monday?
I started to consider just how much we should be available for contact, not from the employer's viewpoint but the employee. Would the employee benefit from some time out of reach? Could this help the mental state of the employee and actually benefit the employer?
The New York Times article "The Workplace Benefits of Being Out of Touch" makes a case for this point of view. The article points out that tuning out may not be possible or desirable for some. People stay available to constantly check for e-mails and texts. They may also feel that if everyone else is available 24 hours a day and they are not, they are working at a disadvantage.
The volatility of business seems to require connectively all the time. But are some people exaggerating their importance? Do they feel if they don't call or await contact, they are less important? I think subconsciously some over-value their importance. Is being online all the time and switching around looking for some contact the same as those who cannot leave the TV remote alone?
Professor Dalton Conley, the Dean for Social Services at New York University, has determined that companies are realizing that their employees need some time when they are not to be contacted. He believes that a timeout from communicating can actually deliver productivity improvement, not lower productivity.
Professor Leslie Perlow at Harvard Business School noted that it is hard for people to turn off their lines of communications temporarily. Professor Perlow conducted a study of 1,600 managers and professionals. She found only 2% turned off their communication devices. This included vacation time.
One of her experiments was to schedule professionals so that they had one quiet night a week. Initially few turned off their devices. Some even wondered what they would do with the free time. Finally when everyone was participating, Perlow discovered that the results were better than expected. People were "more engaged, were prioritizing and talking more". Employees had to rethink how they worked now that they had one quiet night a week. It turns out that there were very few emergencies that required contacting the employee who was off for the night.
Another New York Times article, "A Time to Tune Out," discussed Volkswagen's approach to their problem of staying in touch all the time. Roger Cohen, the article author, stated "The German automaker has responded to demands from its works council by agreeing to stop the e-mail server to its BlackBerry-using employees a half-hour after their shift ends, only restoring it 30 minutes before work begins the next day."
"The agreement for now only affects about 1,150 of Volkswagen's more than 190,000 workers in Germany, but it's a start in encouraging employees to switch off, curb the twitchy reflex to check e-mail every couple of minutes, and take a look out at things...without the distraction of a blinking red light," Cohen continued. "Device-related marital rows must now be running close to back-seat driving and how to raise the kids as the leading cause of domestic discord.... A Volkswagen spokesman in Wolfsburg told Bloomberg News the company had to balance the benefits of round-the-clock access to staff with protecting their private lives."
A quote from the first NY Times article says it all: "Is your Twitter or Facebook nourishing or crushing your soul?" Turn off periodically and see if you can get used to it and be a bit happier.