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When Technology Makes It Too Easy to Stay Connected

Fnord12 recently linked to a Mother Jones post about French unions banning work emails after 6pm.

A study done in the States has shown that this constant tether to work via our smartphones a) lowers an employees job satisfaction and b) is unnecessary for productivity.

Perlow suggested they carve out periods of "predictable time off"--evening and weekend periods where team members would be out of bounds. Nobody was allowed to ping them. The rule would be strictly enforced, to ensure they could actually be free of that floating "What if someone's contacting me?" feeling.

The results were immediate and powerful. The employees exhibited significantly lower stress levels. Time off actually rejuvenated them: More than half said they were excited to get to work in the morning, nearly double the number who said so before the policy change. And the proportion of consultants who said they were satisfied with their jobs leaped from 49 percent to 72 percent. Most remarkably, their weekly work hours actually shrank by 11 percent--without any loss in productivity. "What happens when you constrain time?" Lovich asks. "The low-value stuff goes away," but the crucial work still gets done.


For even starker proof of the value of cutting back on email, consider an experiment run in 2012 by Gloria Mark, a pioneering expert on workplace focus. Mark, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, had long studied the disruptive nature of messaging, and found that office workers are multitasked to death: They can only focus on a given task for three minutes before being interrupted.


Mark's and Perlow's studies were small. But they each highlight the dirty little secret of corporate email: The majority of it may be pretty useless. Genuinely important emails can propel productive work, no doubt, but a lot of messages aren't like that--they're incessant check-ins asking noncrucial questions, or bulk-CCing of everybody on a team.


Only a handful of enlightened firms have tackled this problem companywide. At Bandwidth, a tech company with 300-plus employees, CEO David Morken grew tired of feeling only half-present when he was at home with his six children, so he started encouraging his staff to unplug during their leisure time and actually prohibited his vacationing employees from checking email at all--anything vital had to be referred to colleagues. Morken has had to sternly warn people who break the vacation rule; he asks his employees to narc on anyone who sends work messages to someone who's off--as well as those who sneak a peek at their email when they are supposed to be kicking back on a beach. "You have to make it a firm, strict policy," he says. "I had to impose it because the methlike addiction of connection is so strong."

Employers definitely need to stop thinking it's ok to encroach on their employees' personal time. Just because you don't have a life doesn't mean you get to take mine.

By min | April 29, 2014, 9:23 PM | Liberal Outrage