We’re Misusing Technology in the Workplace – and It’s Stressing Us Out

Productivity: Smartphone induced stress

17 May We’re Misusing Technology in the Workplace – and It’s Stressing Us Out

Email, web chat, social media, smartphones. The modern workplace can’t do without these things. Just imagine a working environment where all of them were suddenly banned. Employees would be shocked. Some might even take to Twitter to complain about their backward looking employer. 

But it might actually be better for our productivity. Many workplace practitioners are expressing doubts on the unrestricted nature of technology in the workplace – and the myriad of distractions that it brings. 

Unrestricted Email

Let’s take email as an example. Information workers are, on average in 2018, receiving well over 100 emails a day and sending 40.  Assuming that it takes two minutes to compose and send an email, then the average information worker is already spending at least 20% of their working life simply tending to email.

Two minutes is of course a very conservative estimate. Very few people would spend so little time on a message if it was going up their chain. Additionally, it takes fairly strong discipline to tend to email in blocks of time – most people respond throughout the day. 

Now, to get into a high state of productivity (often referred to as deep work or flow) a person needs about twenty minutes to focus. But if you spread the forty distractions of email responses throughout the day, then a state of flow is very unlikely to be achieved. 

What a bizarre state of affairs! Why does everyone in a company need an email address? Why do they need to send and receive messages at such a pace that simply no one can keep up? For the most part, they don’t. Email responses are all too often a waste of time. Hours can be spent fuming over a misread line and stewing up a response, which could have easily been resolved with a simple chat. 

Living out of your work inbox provides the same sort of intermittent variable reward that we see with social media, and even slot machines. You check it, just to see what’s come in. If the incoming email is good, we may well respond and be satisfied. If it isn’t, it’s likely to lead to more stress. Of course, many people don’t turn their notifications off either, so these will flash up onscreen or rumble in our pocket, demanding to be attended to.  This, ultimately, can change our working habits into becoming hooked on email.

Then there’s the seeming necessity of people to take their mobile phones into meetings. Largely done to either continue to receive and reply to email, or just surf the web during the meeting if the employee simply gets bored. Well, unsurprisingly, this is devastating for employee attention and engagement. 

Rising Stress in the Workplace

In a high paced, high tech work environment, everyone wants a response RIGHT NOW. But it is impossible for everything to move at that speed, particularly when so many requests are unnecessary in the first place. It’s having quite the toll on employee productivity, and, worse still, their stress levels and their mental health.

What’s the consequence of all this pushing around of shallow information? Psychologists have warned that email notifications are a toxic source of stress – with people in jobs such as marketing and media finding themselves under the most pressure. Unwritten organisational etiquette, such as rapid and out of hours responses are contributing to the problem.

Meanwhile, it has been found that simply having a smartphone nearby can reduce cognitive ability. It’s informational lure is clearly having an effect on our ability to think clearly in the moment.

These are not good trends. It’s time employers took proper heed of the onslaught; a rethinking of the barrage of unrestricted email, and a reduction of smartphone usage when employee attention should be focused on the task at hand.

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