Feeling that we must stay connected is now impacting on our sex lives according to results from The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal). As laptops and mobile devices make their way into the bedroom their owners are enjoying less sex than a decade ago.
This is a worrying trend not only for the changes in demographics (declining birth rates) but as importantly because of the impact on our health and well being as individuals and employees. Recent surveys from the USA reveal that many business professionals now suffer with digital overload of which 60% feel email is one of the main frustrations. Additionally, using laptops and mobile devices just prior to sleep are known to stimulate our brains and disrupt our sleep patterns. For over a decade email has been seen as one of the top ten causes of stress. And we all know that stress (which causes anxiety) has a dramatic negative impact on health, productivity and behaviour. Lack of proper sleep is just another cause of stress.
Why do we feel this need to stay connected and extend our working day? In my first book Managing in the Email Office (based on previous research), I argued the case that the way you manage your email (from what you write to how often you check it) provides a picture of you in more ways than one. It mirrors your management style - those sending the most emails are often micro managers with a dictatorial leadership style. Those sending fewer often have a more relaxed empowerment style of leadership. Insecurity can also be related to how frequently we access our email. Data from a survey of the relationship to your MBTI (Myers Briggs Personality) reinforces these findings. To some extent therefore the feeling that we 'must' stay connected night and day is generated by our inner psyche.
Email addiction is now as real as many other forms of addiction. The difficulty is that unlike substance addiction there are no drugs and far fewer tried and tested ways to treat this phenomena. Some have tried going cold turkey and disconnecting from the digital world with varied levels of success.
In addition there is the challenge of our 24x7 working world and our 'always on culture'. How we respond to it is intimately linked to our personality and self-esteem combined with what we perceive our bosses, friends and colleagues expect of us. Many of us feel we are expected or needed to be available 24x7x365.
This is why so many technology devices make it into the bedroom instead of something more conducive to good sex and a good night's sleep. However, the reality, when challenged is that senior executives and boards, nearly all say they do not have such expectations of either fellow executives or their teams.
To try to change this latter perception and improve the work-life culture some organisations have taken quite dramatic steps. For example, Volkswagen cut off all feeds to people's Blackberrys after about 8.00 pm. Others have developed a policy of 'finish on time and leave work in the office' with the MD being a role model. Leadership from the top is key. If we are to move away from the 24x7x356 culture and perception that we must always be on-line needs to be driven by the top management team. One executive I worked with who was an early riser used to draft all her emails at about 5.00 am but she scheduled them only to be sent later in the morning. This created space for her team to focus initially on the work in hand before they were disrupted by her requests, because we all know that emails from the boss are the ones which generally get our attention. Her rationale was that few were that critical and if something was urgent she found alternative channels to communicate eg talking.
What can we as individuals do to help ourselves and start to manage other people's expectations? Here are my three top tips.
- Switch off all electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed and leave such devices well away from the bedroom.
- Send fewer emails as the more you send the more you receive and never after 10.00 pm.
- Check your level of email addiction and seek some help if it is above average.
If you are a senior executive clearly you are in a position of leadership to influence and change the business culture. Do it for your own health and that of your colleagues.
For all of us the mantra for 2014 should be 'Less is More' ....Less email = More sex and More sleep.