The use of technology has become an unavoidable part of everyday life. We have become reliant on it for much of our day-to-day functioning, with a reliance that continues to grow alongside the rapid developments which we are still experiencing to this day.
Technology can fundamentally be seen as an enabler. It enables ease of communication on a global scale which would be been unprecedented many years ago. It facilitates flexible working as well as greater capacity to have autonomy in one’s role.
Whilst there are these incredible benefits, on the flip side we must also consider the detrimental costs that increased technology can have.
“We’re connected but we’re not necessarily connecting” – Simon Sinek
Research has demonstrated that increased use of technology has led to ‘digital burnout’, with greater levels of presenteeism and leaveism.
Leaveism refers to people being unable to disengage from their work due to technology. Increased levels of this are said to lead to overworking and thus there is a negative impact on the morale, with increased burnout within organisations.
The difficulty which arises with technology is that it doesn’t stop – you may be able to switch off your work phone, but its incredibly easy to put it back on. This continual engagement can lead to mental exhaustion and therefore increased absence rates in organisations. Increased use of technology has also resulted in a rise in loneliness, particularly with remote workers and dispersed teams.
On balance however, those who remain ‘switched on’, are said to be more engaged, and, for many, technology integrates well into their daily lives both in and outside of work. Workplace policies and interventions often fail in tackling the related issues because they do not allow for individuals perspectives and preferences to be heard. Giving voice to your people is key to addressing the impact of ‘always on’ culture in the workplace.
Impact on Teams
Whilst research has demonstrated numerous negative impacts (stress, burnout, turnover rates etc.), it is important to focus on the impact at a human level as well as understand how we can maximise the benefits whilst minimising the negatives. This ‘sweet spot’ of technology use is the route through which we can maximise performance from our people.
“We need to recalibrate our relationship with the technology, to ensure that we realise it’s benefits without it being at the expense of our health and wellbeing”
Bringing it back to a human level, we can then focus on the key groups that are most affected by ‘always-on’ culture.
Managers: A study found that 61% of managers felt that technology made it difficult to switch off from work. They are a group who are experiencing some of the highest levels of pressue and expectation, yet often receive less support. Can we build accountability across an organisation rather than leave it up to the managers?
Teams: The benefits of flexible working and dispersed teams are often caveated by the decrease in human connection of a face-to-face level. Do we make continual effort to build high quality relationships with members of the team? Do we respect one another’s work-life boundaries and empower each other to set those boundaries in the first place?
Young People: Identified as the most vulnerable demographic of, not only, always being ‘switched on’, but also experiencing burnout as well as increased risk of mental health issues. Do we support and empower young people enough in our team?
With such a multi-faceted workplace issue, it is hard to pinpoint a one-size-fits-all approach that will find the sweet spot of technology use. So, how can we start to support teams better?
We can start to…
1. Build higher quality connections – A key element of this is the simple art of human connection, and it relates back to Simon Sinek, as well as the core pillars underpinning positive wellbeing known as PERMA. Positive relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing and having conversations to build higher quality connections in our teams – dispersed or not – is crucial. Through this, we can communicate preferences and set boundaries more easily.
Micro-Action: Think of a random act of kindness you can commit to doing over the next couple of days to show your appreciation for your team
2. Create clarity of expectations – embedding a culture within teams and the wider organisation which sets clear guidance for its people. Clarity is one of the core foundations for positive performance identified by Gallup and Corporate Leadership Council. Having clarity in our role helps us understand expectations and reduce pressure to always be switched on. We should be proactive in having these conversations to create cohesion and help each other perform at our best.
Micro-Action: Have a conversation with a member of your team on how you both switch off from work that will boost clarity for you both
3. Take personal accountability – building personal accountability of self for our own actions in a team. Too often, we can be reliant on policy or HR to drive and guide change. Establish how we all think of ourselves as a leader in our team. Think about whether we, as leaders, are proactively being a role model for those around us. Do we praise each other when we accomplish things? Do we reflect on how technology can help us grow and achieve when used sensibly?
Micro-Action: Reflect on 3 necessary skills to be a good role model and write down one way you want to develop those.