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Constant Connectivity Is Killing Your Employees, But You Can Stop It

An always-on work culture is hurting your company's odds of success. So, during this 'National Stress Month,' teach your team to power down.

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Your most dedicated employees may secretly be your worst management mistakes. An April 2018 report from Deloitte on the relationship between technology and work culture found that higher productivity doesn't always translate to long-term success. "Always-on" employees may do more than their colleagues do, individually, but over time, that increased stress leads to reduced performance. Eventually, employees crack under the pressure or burn out completely.

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And that's something to think about this month, in particular -- because April is National Stress Awareness Month.

A big factor in stress is digital tools. They may help you do more with less, but they also demand more from your employees. Imagine a souped-up engine or an overclocked computer: You may get impressive results at first, but if you don't manage that power, the strain eventually takes down the whole system.

After all, employees are not engines. They need downtime to refuel their brains, and it's up to you to make sure they get enough of it.

The double-edged tech sword

Maybe you're reading this on your computer at work. Maybe you're on a smartphone or a tablet. Regardless of how you consume media, you have a variety of options at every hour of the day.

Your employees have the same constant access to the internet, but having that access doesn't mean they owe you more of their time. Work technology and personal technology -- though often the same tools -- create distinct impressions on their users. You might love Skyping with your daughter who's studying abroad, but when you finally visit her, your phone will quickly become the enemy if it blows up with work emails.

Related: Always Working? How to Pull Back Before It Hurts You.

Why leave your lights on all night just because ... you can? Why let your new car idle in the parking lot throughout the day because ... you own it? The same goes for your relationship with your employees. You may be their boss, but if you don't give them time to power down, they won't remain your employees for long.

And if they do stay and tolerate the harassment, they won't be as happy or productive as they would be otherwise. The reality: Even the brightest bulbs burn out eventually. So, conserve your team's intellectual and emotional energy by making the following practical adjustments to your management style:

1. Realistically assess the job responsibilities.

What are the responsibilities of each role? A salesperson might keep more flexible hours than a marketer, but that doesn't mean every salesperson should keep the ringer on, on loud, throughout the night. Your expectations determine to what degree your employees feel comfortable unplugging.

Last year, Family Living Today put together a sobering infographic about work-life balance in America. In the study, 66 percent of respondents said they didn't believe they had a healthy work-life balance, and a third of employed respondents said that on average, they worked on weekends and holidays. Even if you like to work on the weekends, don't expect your employees to do the same. Discern how much work each role should include, then account for that in employee schedules. If the work and the schedule don't fit, reduce the workload or hire more help.

Related: Why You Should Leave Work On Time

2. Recognize the differences among "emergencies. "

According to the same Family Living Today infographic, nearly 60 percent of employees surveyed believed that technology has spoiled the modern family dinner because, they agreed, their employers expected them to respond to messages within the hour; another 40 percent said it was okay to answer an urgent work email at the dinner table.

As a counterpoint, tell your team members they don't have to solve client problems as soon as they arise. Unless the client has a legitimate emergency, direct employees to send a simple email that says: "Thanks, I got your email and will send an update soon."

Life will go on, regardless of whether your team members stay glued to their phones waiting for any opportunity to provide excellent service. At our office, we don't even let our employees take their laptops home. That's not because I don't trust them -- I'm just worried they'll never really leave work.

Customers like companies that treat their employees like people. At Sonus Benefits, we let our employees leave early on Fridays because realistically not much happens two hours before the weekend anyway. Our skeleton crew can put out any last-minute fires, while everyone else can go home and recharge.

Related: 6 Signs You Work Too Much and Need to Get a Life

3. Encourage vacation time and plan accordingly.

Make employees use their vacation days. While you're at it, you should use your own. Ensure that employees see you taking care of your own mental health so they know they're allowed to do the same.

Set up processes and schedule meetings to address any potential problems ahead of time. That way, your team can handle whatever comes up while you're gone without bothering you on the beach. Our operational manager schedules a meeting with anyone about to leave on vacation to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

You should do the same and make sure employees hear the underlying message -- because so many don't. The research organization Project Time Off, for instance, found that 52 percent of American workers surveyed didn't use their vacation days. Many of those employees stayed at work, in fact, out of fear of reprimand.

This is evidenced by the need for policies like France's 2017 "Right to Disconnect" resolution, which outlawed punishment for employees unwilling to answer their phones after hours.

So, teach your employees to plan for vacation to ensure the company can run no matter who is out of the office.

In the end, you probably won't convince your employees to turn off their phones, but you can show them that you value their time by limiting work communications off the clock. Help workers set appropriate boundaries. Help them stay fresh. Help them be ready to give their all when your company needs them most.

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