Is Being “Always On” Good For Productivity?

What impact does technology and the “always on” culture have on productivity?

Technology allows us to work when and where we want to.  But is the “always on” culture good or bad news for productivity in UK business?

A recent article in HR News discusses a recent survey by Aviva. The findings are that 72% of UK workers are checking their emails outside of work hours. On average we spend up to two and a half hours per week working outside our usual hours.  This equates to an extra 16 days at work per year.

Employers may feel this is good for productivity.  Additionally, in these days of flexible working, we like to be able to work at times to suit our lifestyles.  Technology allows us to do this, so where is the problem?

Is it bad to be able to work outside normal hours?

Many people like the freedom to catch up with some work in the evenings or at weekends.  If we work flexibly, it gives us the chance to take time out of work during normal hours.  Then we can make up the time missed when it suits us to do so.

But the downside is that we never really leave work behind for the day.  It is too easy to keep in touch remotely, which means managers can (and do) send emails outside working hours.  That is fine and they probably don’t expect an answer there and then.  But many of us see an email from the boss and think we need to be working because our manager is working.  It doesn’t matter how much a manager says “do as I say, not as I do”, it is human nature to want to please.  Particularly, we want to please the boss. So if we see them working we automatically feel guilty if we aren’t working too.

There is emerging evidence that this is having a detrimental effect on mental and physical well-being. We want to please the boss, but we also want to spend quality time with family and friends.  And we need to have a break from work.  Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2019 found that 87% of organisations reported the inability to switch off after hours as the biggest negative effect on employee well-being.

What can employers do?

Have you thought of banning email at weekends or after certain hours? American healthcare company, Vynamic, have banned people from sending emails between 10pm and 6am and any time at the weekend.

You may think that this policy is a backward step for flexible working.  But the ban is only on hitting “send”.  Managers and employees are free to work whenever they please and to draft emails, but they are not able to send the emails.  If the matter is urgent, they can text or telephone the other party.  Vynamic have found that this ban is really effective.  Because there is no danger of getting emails, employees don’t feel the need to check for any and so they are free to enjoy their downtime.  And the sender of an email has to stop and think if the matter is so urgent that they need to send a text or pick up the phone.  Mostly it is not that urgent.

The CEO of Vynamic says it is the best benefit they have ever introduced – and at no cost.  Employee well-being has improved hugely.  What is more, the retention rate has increased as well as people want to continue to work for a company where they are valued and truly get a break at the end of the working day or week.

Do you want your employees to be well and happy?

Of course you do.  We all want that for our employees. It makes great business sense.  Well and happy employees are loyal and want to continue to work for you.  They are your advocates and tell your clients and the world that they work for a great company.

Then there is the financial aspect.  The cost of implementing this rule is fairly negligible, yet it has a huge impact.  The other financial benefits include reduced absence and a lesser need for recruitment.  How would you like to be the CEO of a company where everyone wants to work for you?

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