Belfast Telegraph

Nial Borthistle: The culture of 'always on' can have a harmful effect on our places of work

Employees are under pressure in today’s ‘24/7’ workplace environment
Employees are under pressure in today’s ‘24/7’ workplace environment

By Nial Borthistle, Glandore

In a world of 24/7 connectivity, switching off is easier said than done. Modern technology has made our jobs easier, and in some ways made us more productive by ensuring we are available at the tap of a button.

But as a result of this, employees are now under more pressure than ever to be accessible to their boss and clients any time of the day.

This culture is becoming the norm but is it healthy for employees to always be contactable? The beauty of working in the flexible/serviced office industry is that we get a bird's-eye view of how companies navigate this culture and how so many more business owners are thinking outside the box in terms of addressing employee wellness and overworking.

A recent survey by Microsoft showed that almost a third of British employees are regularly sacrificing personal time for work. More than half of people surveyed (56%) admitted to answering work-related calls away from the office. The survey revealed that under-35s appear to be putting themselves under extra pressure, with 43% saying they need to prioritise work over their personal lives in order to be promoted.

Employers tend to sell the always on culture as a positive to potential clients, but the majority of professionals actually believe that it is having a negative effect on today's workforce. Some of the issues raised included poor quality of sleep, increased stress, exhaustion and not having a good work/life balance.

Some employees said that even though they didn't have to physically check their phone, the expectation they will always be switched on created a sense of anxiety.

There is no universal solution to the problem. Apple introduced a 'Screen Time' feature last year for their iPhone devices in order for people to see how long they spent on emails, apps and phone calls. Some praised it as a positive step, but it doesn't work for everyone. For example, a business that has customers around the world needs to be flexible and might rightly expect certain team members to be responsive to colleagues and customers in different time zones - within reason.

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However, a growing number of countries and companies are endorsing "right to disconnect" laws which seek to recreate a boundary between work and home.

In the past few years, Germany, France and Italy have all introduced laws to help employees switch off. Volkswagen was first in implementing a company-wide freeze on emails back in 2012. The company sets internal servers to not direct emails to individual accounts between 6.15pm and 7am.

A change in this type of culture has to be universal and start from the top down. Good leaders trust employees and give them autonomy and flexibility to get work done the way that works best for them.

But research has shown that even in this digital age, too many employers still judge their people based on face time, which encourages employees to spend as much time as possible at the office. This type of "presenteeism" culture can actually be harmful to productivity, reduce creativity and encourage people to feel less secure in their jobs.

At Glandore, our flexible working environment encourages members to create a better work life balance. Wellbeing programmes, that include yoga classes and massages, mean members can take time out of their day to have some 'me time'. This is also something we encourage for our own staff as well as those of our member businesses. For us, it is hugely important that we practice what we preach, and we sell flexibility so in turn, have to operate that way ourselves.

It is proven that employers who create an environment where people feel respected and valued, where the demands of the job are reasonable and where personal development is supported, see high, sustained engagement levels and increased productivity.

In the long run, employers must always put the health of their employees first and for some that means forcing them to switch off. It's a bold step for any leader to take but if it is what people need then creating a culture that allows people to switch off is likely to be a big plus when it comes to both recruitment and retention in future.

Nial Borthistle is business development manager at serviced offices provider Glandore

Belfast Telegraph

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