Disconnecting from mobile technology improves mental health, but that may not be enough to convince people to shut off their iPhones or stop checking e-mail off-hours.
Research from Harvard professor Leslie A. Perlow confirms the idea that setting aside time to disconnect from the workplace fosters a healthier, happier lifestyle. The New York Times reported how people who participated in Perlow’s trial initially resisted turning off their gadgets, but eventually responded favorably and actually improved their work performances when allowed one night off from accountability.
Harder Than It Seems
Despite mounting evidence about the benefits of disengaging from technology — and the downsides of constant connectivity — it is not going to get easier to convince eager workers to switch off their electronic devices, especially for people working in fast-tempo industries. Moreover, employees who make themselves constantly available set up expectations of continuous connection, making it challenging for employers to shift their attitudes away from wanting workers at their beck and call at every moment.
Workplace culture is moving towards perpetual connectivity, especially since the younger generation of workers grew up in more intensely plugged-in than baby boomers still fuzzy about Twitter. People worry they will miss out on the latest news or business development if they remove themselves from the loop, further reinforcing expectations of obsessive digital workloads.
But even though people can stay linked up 24/7, it isn’t necessary or healthy. And turbo-charged connectivity doesn’t correlate to equally juiced up work performance, as another study revealed workers addled with Internet distractions have productivity problems.
Yet even with growing evidence debunking the idea that constant connection is a hallmark of business winners, the myth persists. Two key ways to skirt this kind of lifestyle are to actively resist it, and to try to influence workplace culture away from this type of round-the-clock accountability.
Signs of a Shift
Several different groups are trying to buck the trend, introducing changes like “No E-Mail Day,” which companies like U.S. Cellular participate in as a “tech fast” to illustrate the benefits of breaks from relentless digital interaction.
Writer Susan Maushart made her tech fast into a book, publishing “The Winter of Our Disconnect” to show other families how unplugging can improve the quality of life and foster better family communication, and therapists are advocating for this type of “tech cleansing” to improve fraying relationships.
People who want to stop looking at their inbox at Little League games or refreshing their Twitter page from the beach could benefit from participating in the campaign to change workplace culture, but it won’t work in this current job climate unless employers also temper continual access expectations. Some companies are on board with limiting connectivity, like Volkswagon, which puts unionized staff on digital blackout for certain time periods to discourage incessant Internet check-ins. Across the board, however, most companies have not adopted this kind of measure.
Many of these efforts are making a dent, but just aren’t enough to give the change necessary to stop the madness. While most people can’t go on a “tech fast,” simply making small adjustments to take some time away from mobile technology may produce good results.