The Mail recently reported on a study by Harvard Business School which suggested that employees were happier in the workplace if they managed to ignore their smartphones or other work-related devices for just one night a week. Those who embraced the notion of what Harvard called ‘predictable time off’ (PTO), in research which was conducted over a three year period, reported that their performance also improved.
Professor Leslie Perlow was apparently inspired to carry out the study after she discovered that 26 per cent of employees out of a sample of 1,600 managers and professionals slept with smartphones by their bedsides. She suggests that far from making them an employer’s dream, this tendency had a negative effect: “By being constantly connected to work, they seemed to be reinforcing – and worse, amplifying – the very pressures that caused them to need to be available.” Breaking the cycle for just one night a week led to 78 per cent of those who practised PTO reporting that they felt satisfied with their jobs, in contrast to 49 per cent who rejected PTO.
Sleeping with the Blackberry
There will be many in the professions who will say ‘yes’ if asked whether they sleep with their smartphones by their bedsides. Now, more than ever before, those who make their living by providing professional services must be constantly available but on top of that new media makes them theoretically ubiquitous. The senior partner of a law firm, the managing director of an architects’ practice, the CEO of a communications company: all can check e-mails anytime, anywhere. Doing so is not solely the curse of the workaholic. One merely needs to be conscientious to log in, check one’s inbox and send a reply.
The brilliance of new media is to be celebrated, but the way in which it facilitates the ingress of work into every facet of our lives takes careful management. This is especially the case for those running businesses or working at senior level. On the one hand, clients expect responsiveness and the provision, if needs be, of a 24/7 service. In the communications sector – where crises can erupt at a moment’s notice – it is vital that clients know that their advisors can be on hand as soon as they are required. But this has to be balanced against keeping one’s staff happy and motivated. Employees need to feel that there is more to life than work, and, as the Harvard Business School study shows, they are more effective if they do.
It’s all about balance
The concept of PTO may, then, be a good one (in theory, at least), but we should remember the old saying: one man’s poison is another man’s cure. There are plenty of people who live to work. For them, being constantly connected to the office, wherever they are, is what makes them tick. Their productivity and happiness would decline if they were told to ignore their smartphones.
As with everything in life, assessing the efficacy of PTO is all about balance. The one-man band may not relish new media’s ability to ensure that work intrudes in all aspects of his life, but he may also accept that it is an inevitable consequence of the path he has chosen. He will also, if he is sensible, know that good downtime creates a resourceful state, a sense of renewal and wellbeing. For the mid-sized business, then, it is important to instil the principles of sound personal time management and active, purposeful and dedicated leisure time. This, allied with the careful rostering of staff, may even mean that the smartphone doesn’t have to be turned off after all.
Image courtesy of Jagelado.