The Downside Of Being Connected To Work 24/7

By Steve Schumacher

Keep An Eye On How Electronics Impact Employees In The Workplace, As Well As How They May Be Affecting Their Personal Lives.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans have at least one cellphone and more than half of those people use their phones to go onto the internet. Cellphone and smartphone usage is pervasive in every aspect of American life.

We text, email, shop, take pictures, get directions, play games, and of course, make telephone calls on them occasionally. Where would we be without our cellphones in this era of being connected 24/7?

In my consulting business, I facilitate all kinds of meetings and workshops all around the country. When I fly, I see how people have to be prodded by flight attendants to turn off their phones prior to takeoff.

I also see how quickly people pull them out and turn them on, the very instant the plane’s wheels touch the ground. I walk through terminals dodging people with their heads down, their eyes and fingers glued to their cellphones.

The constant communication with friends and colleagues is fantastic, as is the ability to surf the web while on the move.

We all know that productivity in business has never been higher, in large part due to gains in electronic capabilities. My question is: What is this constant contact with work doing to our people?

Training and Meetings Lose Effectiveness
Situation – Participants in training and meetings are not engaged or learning as much because they either using their phone or thinking about it the whole time.

Background – We are not only enamored with what our phones can do, we have become obsessed with having it available and in constant use. We use our ability to multi-task as a badge of honor.

Studies show that, when we think we are multi-tasking, we are actually losing effectiveness and productivity. Jumping from task to task, from listening in a workshop to texting a colleague, actually undermines the quality of each of the things we are trying to do.

Thus, the learning we get in workshops is diminished and our engagement and involvement in meetings is lessened also.

How you can influence it – Understand that people will not give up their phones. Even if they did, they will resent it and feel stressed about what they are missing.

If you send someone to a training seminar, meet with them afterwards to discuss and clarify what they learned compared to the objectives of the workshop. Be clear on the agenda and expectations of each meeting you have.

Have everyone take an action item from the meeting and report back next time. Those things will help engagement.

Poor Communication and Misunderstandings
Situation – More and more of us rely on texting and email for our communication needs. We rarely communicate face-to-face. This is causing a lot of wasted time and effort due to different interpretations of what the words on a screen actually mean.

Background – We all know that over 90 percent of communication happens through body language and vocal tone. Those two components of communication do not exist when using email and texts. All people see are the words you have chosen, which have multiple meanings.

What you mean to say as a manager through an email may be totally misconstrued by the person receiving the mail. Studies show that over half of our emails go to people within 50 yards of us. When people do not reply right away, we peek around the corner and say “Did you get the email I just sent you?”

How you can influence it – Take a look at how you primarily communicate with people at work. If you discover that it is mostly through email and text, you are setting yourself up for a lot of communication problems.

Try to gauge the importance of the message and that the receiver understand what you are saying. If they both are high, try to at least get on the phone. Better yet, talk to them in person.

Stress and Anxiety
Situation – People are actually working 24/7 when they are connected with their boss, colleagues and customers by cellphone and email. This constant working is causing increases in stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Background – When cellphones first became email compatible, it was a novelty to be able to send messages from home or when on vacation. Now organizations expect employees to be available around the clock.

This is wreaking havoc with personal stress levels, along with creating problems with family and friends. Employees feel obligated to be in constant communication, for fear of looking bad to the boss or getting passed up for a promotion by someone else who is always in touch.

How you can influence it – Model work/life balance for your employees. Tell people not to contact you during off-hours unless there is an absolute emergency.
Expect the same from your employees. Give public recognition to employees that are able to manage their personal lives well, along with being productive for the company. One company president has instructed his IT department to shut off the company email servers on weekends.

Companies are reaping huge benefits, in terms of productivity, by having employees tethered to their work constantly. An astute manager knows that this comes at a cost. Take the time to analyze the situation you and your employees face with cellphone usage.

Keep an eye on the quality of work that may be affected by electronics in the workplace, as well as how they may be affecting your employees’ personal lives. 

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at  [email protected]