In recent testimony to the U.S. Congress, Janet Yellen (the Fed chairwoman) confided that slow productivity growth is a major economic headwind that could endure. On many occasions, we’ve expanded on the possible economic reasons behind declining productivity, but haven’t yet mentioned a contributing psychological factor. Evidence from research shows that our tech addiction and social media dependency increase our stress at work and negatively affect our productivity. To put it simply, our “always-on” culture is distracting and counter-productive. Measures to address the problem range from wider strategies, such as including wellbeing policies in the workplace, to more simple measures like checking emails only a few times during the day.
As we've argued on many occasions and stated above, this trend is highly supportive for wellness. A recent report on the quality of working life – based on a survey conducted among 1,574 UK managers – states that “always-on managers” are now working 29 extra days a year, and as a result, are suffering rising levels of stress. Long hours are indeed a major factor in stress and health problems, further exacerbated by a tech/social media environment that creates a new form of “digital presenteeism.”
An obvious solution is to give employees the option to switch off by allowing and encouraging them to turn off mobile phones/devices off after a specific time. Some companies are now specifying their expectations in terms of working hours and out-of-office hours, with firms like JP Morgan and Barclays introducing “protected weekend” policies to discourage logging in and working outside the working week. Daimler also recently installed software that automatically deletes emails sent to staff whilst they are on holiday.
Another solution is to reduce emails and increase phone calls, or even better, face-to-face interactions. In a radical move, Atos, the French IT services company, has banned internal emails as part of a ‘Zero email’ policy, reducing employee email overload by 60 percent.