Your Employees May Not Realize Their Habits Are Wasting Time. Here's How to Help Them.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Joseph Campbell is credited with impacting the lives of many people through his classic "hero's journey" model. My favorite example is how director George Lucas incorporated it into the journey of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga.
But, what sometimes gets overlooked with Campbell is his belief in the invaluable component of time. Campbell insisted on living his life by integrating periods of deep reflection. He permitted himself to think creatively and did so by allowing the space and time in which to do so. He paused before taking action. He reflected before moving ahead. He often dreamed before doing.
What's the one thing that Campbell didn't have to deal with in the 1930s and 1940s when he cooked up the hero's journey?
Technology. In particular, Campbell lived in a time devoid of the constant interruption of high-tech wizardry. Culprits such as emails, texts, mobile phones and video calls were non-existent. He did not have to deal with the barrage of social media notifications from the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or LinkedIn, either.
Advances in technology were supposed to save us time. In some cases, it is doing the exact opposite. It is becoming a burden. That encumbrance is having a harmful effect on people.
The American Psychological Association (APA), for example, indicated 53 percent of Americans work on the weekend, 52 percent work outside their designated work hours and 54 percent work when they are ill. Not surprisingly, the APA also reported that among employees who perform work while using their digital devices during time off, the overall stress level is 6 on a 10-point scale, the highest among all employee brackets.
Research from William Becker of Virginia Tech also suggested the mere expectation of being available after hours through technology increases tension for employees as well as their family members. It doesn't matter if they engage with the technology or not; rather it's the mental strain knowing that it's there lurking in the background to be accessed easily.
Some countries are taking note. In France, a law enacted in 2016 known as "right to disconnect" ensures employees are aware when they are supposed to send or answer emails. (Hint: it's not after hours.) If an email gets sent outside their normal course of work, they are prohibited from addressing it. The Philippines and Italy passed similar laws in 2017. Canada is now mulling its own version after a year-long labor practice consultation process.
The consequences extend beyond employee well-being, too. British pest control services firm Rentokil Initial was ordered to pay a former employee nearly $70,000 after failing to adhere to the "right to disconnect" law.
Leaders would be wise to not only pay attention to an employee's use of technology after work hours but how they are using their time on the whole.
In the quest to "do more with less," employees at all levels are facing difficult choices with their management of time. Compounding matters are the sheer increases in digital correspondence. With so many communication methods and social media invasions, employees are gasping for respite more than ever.
The first and easiest step companies can take is to help employees recognize the difference between being focused and distracted. For example, focused individuals know better than to let web browser notifications or email client programs vie for their attention when writing a report, designing code or carrying out other laptop-based actions. Distracted employees have no idea that it's harming their performance. Employees require distraction training because they have no idea how harmful it is to their productivity.
Apple recently added a Screen Time feature to iOS. It monitors how people use the device, including how long they have spent on specific apps and even how many times they've accessed their iPhone in a given hour. While it's a step in the right direction, we need leaders to help employees see the critical importance of staying focused. We cannot delegate this need to another technology feature.
The second tack is to analyze how time is being spent on the whole. Perhaps there are too many meetings. Possibly there are too many direct messages, emails and texts. Maybe there is simply too much to do, with the accompanying habit of saying yes when we should be saying no. Once the analysis is complete, we need to find ways in which to block out time so better thinking and focused action can occur.
Joseph Campbell would no doubt agree. Indeed, the miscalculation of time and its effect on employees is a worrisome trend. It's time to ask ourselves if we are on a hero's journey of leadership or not.