The Side Effects of 24/7 Workplace Connectivity

In a time of 24/7 connectivity, do we ever really leave work?

It’s a question that has been discussed more and more frequently. In the age of smartphones, iPads, text messaging, laptops, SYNC and webinars, many feel that they never really shut down. According to Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek (Hewett and Luce, 2006), published by the Harvard Business Review, 44% of high earning professionals felt the current pace of their job was “extreme”. In the six years since that study has been conducted, the percentage is likely on the rise.

An associate who works what once was a standard workweek is often seen as lazy. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, set off a media frenzy when she announced she worked a 9 to 5 schedule. If an e-mail isn’t responded to within a few minutes, it is followed by a text, an IM and a phone call. Employees sleep with their smartphones next to their beds, fearful of missing an important work call – some even skimp on sleep and take naps at work.

In an increasingly global economy, conference calls with Japan take place at 9PM in America. We often find that if we do take a vacation, we may not be in the office physically – but mentally, we are plugged in and working away; otherwise, we feel guilty or are afraid of what others will think. The first US rehab center for Internet Addiction Disorder opened its doors in 2009. Being constantly available is no longer something that makes you stand out – it is now the expectation.

With an increasingly lean workforce, many employees are feeling overworked and burnt out to the point of physical consequences.  Side effects of prolonged stress include weight gain (due to an increase in the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream), headaches, ulcers, lack of sleep, depression and at the very worst, nervous breakdowns.  Healthcare expenditures increase by 50% for those who report high levels of stress (according to the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine).

The constant connectivity opens up a liability for managers: If non-exempt employees are working from home during off hours, by law, they need to be paid for this work – but are they entering hours? If not, employers expose themselves to lawsuits by violating FLSA Standards.

Furthermore, while always being available may make customers and managers happy, it’s arguable that it may not be beneficial in the long run. Frederick Taylor, the originator of the scientific management theory, saw increases in productivity when the workweek was limited to 40 hours.  Overtime is only beneficial for a short window of time – “after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along”.  Prolonged overtime has been shown to decrease overall productivity.

How do you cope with the demands of 24/7 workplace connectivity? Where do we draw the line between hard work and unrealistic demands?

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