THE BLOG

Should Employees Be Kept on a Digital Leash?

26/04/2016 13:57

Most companies I worked for expected their employees to be accessible by email, skype or phone both during and outside of the working hours. In other words, I had to constantly check my devices to make sure I don't miss anything important. No, it was not investment banking. Moreover, me staying (dis)connected did not have any business impact, apart from my relationships with the employer, who believed that it was a proxy for my dedication to work (or the lack of it).

No wonder that even after I started my own business, I kept anxiously checking emails every fifteen minutes or so. Staying connected and responsive has become my first priority, and it has taken me a long time to unlearn this "skill" and focus on what's making an impact on my bottom line instead.

Does it sound familiar? As technology removed the boundaries between work and private life, most companies use "flexible working policy" to put their employees on a "digital leash", resulting into them working longer hours around the clock. About 47% office workers in the US say the tech increased their working hours, and one in three employees feel they are expected to be reachable via phone or email after office hours. Staying connected now defines your career progress.

Not good for business

But does it actually help business? The latest research clearly says: no, it doesn't. In fact, having your employees connected all the time costs your company money and your best people.

First, overwork can lead to all sorts of health problems and an increase in health insurance costs. For instance, UK employees who work the longest hours are also known for taking more health-related leaves than their European colleagues.

Second, when we are constantly connected, we tend to get tired faster as our brain needs to process more information simultaneously. As a result, the pre-frontal cortex stops functioning well, and we are prone to make more mistakes, become worse at managing emotional reactions, and tend to lose the focus on the bigger picture.

Third, staying constantly connected makes us less productive. An experiment conducted by Harvard Business School shows that knowledge workers who had predictable time off were more productive. Another study by Stanford University shows that our productivity falls after a 50-hour work week, and after the 55th hour putting extra hours doesn't add anything.

Productivity also gets impacted if we remain connected while working. Because humans aren't good at multitasking, for instance, when we get distracted by an incoming email, it takes our brain about a minute to go back to what we were doing before, even if we didn't open it! So if you keep your mailing program open and receive at least 60 emails per day, you lose one hour of your productive time daily just because your brain is trying to get adjusted.

What to do

The tech industry was the first one to realize that staying over-connected does not help business. No wonder that Mark Zuckerberg's sister Randi is running digital detox programs, and companies like Basecamp publicly praise on a 4-day work week.

It's time that more businesses learn the lessons from the tech companies and realize that if they want to make their people and business flourish, they need to establish a balance between tech and life. A digital leash might seem like a lucrative way to control your employees, but it is damaging your bottom line.

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