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UK firms need to develop policies to deal with an “always-on” culture which leaves workers connected to work communications at all hours, according to new research.
More than half of employees who took part in the study said their place of work has no formal policy about the work-life balance of staff, encouraging them to limit their activity and switch-off from electronic gadgets.
More than a quarter (27%) reported negative effects on their well-being and one-fifth (21%) said that constant connections were damaging their relationships at work.
The survey of 370 workers, undertaken by Dr Almuth McDowall from Birkbeck, and Gail Kinman, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, found that 54% said their employers had no formal policy about work-life balance and turning off digital devices.
Almost three-fifths of those who took part (58.8%) said their employer had given no guidance on managing communications, with more than one in eight (13.4%) saying they were unaware about any such guidance. Just over a quarter (26.2%) said their organisation did offer relevant advice.
Some respondents acknowledged positive effects of being connected all the time, with 24% saying it improved communication and 24% saying they thought it improved productivity.
Dr McDowall said: “Our data shows clearly that organisations are unprepared for how the world of work is changing to a more digital landscape. The qualitative data highlighted the effects on individuals who feel under great pressure not to ‘switch-off’, leading to intense pressure, poor performance and worry about what the immediate future holds. It’s time for all organisations to take a more proactive approach. We all need downtime. It’s easy to underestimate the volume and intensity of digital work. Staff have to be mindful of their connectivity and should schedule in regular ‘digital detoxes.'”
Professor Kinman added: “Organisations must not skirt the issue and should develop formal but fluid policies. These should be developed in consultation with the workforce to ensure everyone’s needs are addressed. Otherwise, the impact on individual well-being could be stark.”
A recent report by Emma Russell from Kingston Business School for Acas tackled the always on culture and made recommendations for individuals and employers. For individuals it recommended that processing and clearing email whenever it is checked can avoid inbox clutter that can make people feel overloaded; switching off alerts but logging on regularly can help to stay on top of email; using the ‘delay send’ function so that the recipient isn’t disturbed, when sending email outside of the recipient’s contact hours; and reviewing personal email strategies.
For organisations her recommendations included developing ‘email etiquette’ guidance to facilitate a culture of trust; removing response time recommendations for replying/dealing with work email messages; putting contingencies in place to deal with high work email volumes – e.g. team inboxes and out-of-office expectation setting; providing extra time-allocation in workloads for those with proportionately higher volumes (e.g. managers and part-time workers); providing email training – in systems and strategies – and ensuring that managers model best practice; and considering alternative systems available to help workers navigate modern work communication.