The secret to switching off and working smarter


LEON AYO, President of the British Chamber of Business in Southern Africa
Date: 19 June 2019

In today’s always-on world, technology not only allows you to work and transact wherever you want, but also whenever you want, seeing the traditional eight hour working day fast becoming a thing of the past.


And although advantageous in the global marketplace where organisations are able to do business from anywhere in the world and from any time zone, it’s also easy to fall into the trap of not being able to switch off and, in the process, quickly compromise a healthy work-life balance.


The recent call by Brooklyn Council member, Rafael Espinal in the US, to pass the Right to Disconnect Bill, highlights the need for employers to take a step back and reconsider whether the advantages of embracing an increasingly wired world are in fact taking a negative toll on their employees.


A job that starts off being exciting and motivating can very soon become draining, leading to low productivity and reduced employee engagement levels, despite spending more time on the job.


An article by renowned psychologist Camille Preston, author of Rewired: How to Work Smarter, Live Better, and Be Purposefully Productive in an Overwired World points out that extreme measures, such as passing legislation, are not necessarily the answer when it comes to leaders ensuring they aren’t creating a culture of resentment through encroaching on employees’ home or down time.


According to Preston, “we don’t need to enact bills, we need to take ownership” which for her comes down to developing the discipline and skills needed to disconnect in an increasingly wired world.


For her, leaders need to first and foremost step out of crisis mode. Just because people can be contacted at any time, doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be or, in fact, actually are prepared to be.


A call to ask a work-related question that could’ve waited until the morning or an email demanding an immediate response to a client’s request are common examples of leaders acting in crisis mode. Taking a step back and rethinking the necessity of an after-hour email or call is the first step towards “switching off”.


Preston also believes that by responding to everything all the time, we start making compromises. We inevitably promote a culture of responding in a rush and, in the process neglect to take time and care in choosing how to respond, which could mean rushing into a decision with a potentially negative impact on you or the organisation.


Preston emphasises that leaders “permit what you promote”, and perhaps unknowingly promote a culture of always being expected to be on call. Leaders need to understand the importance of taking responsibility and exercising discipline, always keeping things in perspective and seeing the bigger picture in mind.


Ultimately, in an age where work-related stress and burnout are increasingly common, it’s apt to go back to the old adage “a company is only as good as its people.” Leaders who keep this front of mind by instilling a culture of discipline and mutual respect when it comes to business dealings in our digital world will be the ones who reap the benefit of both personal and organisational success.


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