Technology has given us more flexibility in how we work than ever before, and for that, our mental well-being has definitely improved. We know that the human brain can only tolerate so much stimulation before reaching overload. To combat this, we change our environment to avoid burning out, giving ourselves a fresh atmosphere in which to thrive. This helps us stay in the “flow,” that state of mind where employees not only do their best work, but enjoy it the most. Technology has untethered us from the static workstation.
However, there’s a dark side to that bright screen when it comes to employee well-being.
Always Available Means Never a Break
Technology is designed to keep us focused on it. When it comes to the workplace, there are two seemingly finite resources: time and attention. Always being connected to the office via email, or smartphones, or remote access leaves a blurred line between work and life for employees. Sure, the employee may get more done in a given day because they spend their evenings answering late-day emails, but they are more likely to resent the expectation that they have no time off to relax, recharge their batteries, and reconnect with their families. Deloitte research recently suggested there’s a law of diminishing returns for the always-on employee. That employee’s value is eroded by increased cognitive load and reduced employee performance and mental happiness. There is a noticeable tipping point before the employee begins to feel frazzled, overworked, and stretched too thin to perform their job effectively.
We may be free of our desks, but we’re not free of the work, and by extension, of the burden that comes with it. This applies to the freshly-employed recent grads all the way up the ladder to the CEO. No one is immune from information overload. It used to be those who worked from morning to night were working class, and the upper class were those who had leisure time because they could afford it. Now, cultural norms have turned those employees who are always on, always working, always accessible into the important people, the ones without whom the business will fail. It’s a sign of higher social status, and it’s mentally unhealthy for all of us.
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