Opinion

Is it time to switch off for the New Year?

21 December 2016

Are you always checking emails?

Should we always be connected during our waking hours, regardless of where we are and what we're doing, asks Michael Page, joint managing director of workplace consultant, Saracen Interiors.

We’re at a stage now where it’s the norm for many of us to be attached to our gadgets at all hours of the day and night. We’ve most definitely become more reliant on the technical world in what appears to be a multi-generational phenomenon, crossing business and pleasure and making no differentiation for personality types.

In short, it’s not just teenagers, the gadget-obsessed or those with not much else to do – we’re all on some sort of screen for a large majority of the time, at home and at work.

So, has technology overtaken us all and done away with the work-life balance for good and how are companies responding if that is the case?

Holidays, waiting for hospital appointments and your turn at the dentist, a meal out with the family or during a pub quiz on a Thursday night… Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, a high percentage of us regularly check our mobile phones.

Those in demanding jobs (most of us!) are constantly checking emails and messages to see what’s just come in. Our nature is inquisitive, we’re impatient and it’s become a force of habit. Everybody does it, don’t they?

Funny that something we set rules and boundaries and chastise our kids for – the overuse of technology – has become such second nature to us. (Has anybody noticed, by the way, we don’t badger our kids to cut down on their screen time half as much as we used to).

"Those in demanding jobs (most of us!) are constantly checking emails and messages to see what's just come in. Our nature is inquisitive, we're impatient and it's become a force of habit. Everybody does it, don't they?"

Of course, there’s a blurring of the lines here when it comes to the grown-ups. Many of us are on social media sites, indulging in retail therapy, surfing the net and catching up with various forms of online entertainment during our downtime. At the same time, however, most of us are accessing our work emails and checking them too, which makes us constantly “on”, regardless of the day or hour.

Are some companies implicitly demanding this level of 24/7 service from their staff or are we all driving this trend, to some extent, in our pursuit of absolute flexibility?

There are companies for which this constant connectivity is part of the culture and the dynamic. You know if you’re a part of one of those. You’ll be getting regular emails from colleagues that have been sent after 9pm – and you’ll be opening them, responding and composing your own too…

At Saracen, we have a highly motivated team and many of our members of staff appear always to be “on”. We work to find a balance and to counter this, in the main, we make every effort not to initiate out-of-hours emails – unless it’s an emergency or driven by a customer with a specific requirement that needs to be met. But, I hold my hands up here, I will, and do, respond if a member of the team contacts me and, occasionally, I will fire out missives without a thought.

Given that, it could be that this implicit expectation, to remain connected at all times, regardless of where we are and what we are doing, is passively driven by both sides. After all, we have all been guilty of the urge to check our phones at some point or another when we are officially “off duty” – in fact, some of us can’t rest without doing so.

With employee wellbeing now recognised in most working environments, including the construction industry, as key to delivering a healthy and a happy workforce, employers and managers should take note.

If flexibility is accepted, and implicitly expected, when it comes to checking and responding to work emails outside regular hours, then it should also be reflected when members of the team request to, and are able to, work from home. It’s a two-way street.

Similarly, if it doesn’t impact on client relationships, employees who are constantly connected should be allowed the opportunity to come in later, and then stay later, on certain elected days.

A by-product of this increased element of connectivity has to be a greater level of trust and this shines through when a worker’s willingness to be flexible is rewarded by his or her company agreeing to a more flexible approach in how that work is delivered.

Again, at Saracen, we try to accommodate staff and offer flexibility, where possible, as we are mindful that there are many of those “connected” members of the team who regularly go the extra mile for us.

Flexible working aside, the trick, for all of us, is to recognise when we’re feeling a bit frazzled, and the pull of the phone has become too much, and to learn to impose some restrictions on ourselves.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own wellbeing and we all need some screen-free time. What’s important is that you decide when yours is going to be and make sure you power off accordingly.

Image: Martinmark/Dreamstime.com

Leave a comment