I’m guilty of sleeping with my iPhone. I check emails on my phone at the same time I set my alarm right as I’m heading to bed, and then I tuck it under my pillow. And I check it again as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning.
I’m gripped with terror at the thought of being disconnected for an extended period of time. I also know that if it’s urgent, I am able to get hold of one my colleagues through email. We’re all switched on at any point in the day.
According to Leslie Perlow, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping with your Smartphone, this kind of behavior is extremely common. But it has also created a cycle of responsiveness that means we’re all working overtime.
“It’s true that the client might call and it is true that a customer might need something. But because of these demands we create a culture of responsiveness,” she says in a filmed presentation for the Families and Work Institute’s Immersion Learning Experience.
There are some “legitimate external factors” that determine why we choose to respond to emails outside of set working hours: to prove that we are committed to our jobs, because it’s easier than clearing out the inbox, the level of competiveness we now operate in, and working across different time zones.
Or because we’re simply addicted.
There’s the most common excuse: “It was urgent.” But does it have to be urgent? Had you worked differently during working hours, would it have been urgent?
According to Perlow, it doesn’t really matter why we respond, the fact that we do signals that we are always available.
By responding to emails day and night, we lose control of our predictive working hours and we don’t have established internal quarantines.
This constant “on state” has derisive results for a healthy work/life balance.
The Australia Institute, which promotes the annual Go Home on Time Day, recently released a report focusing on the “polluted time” that blurs work and home life boundaries.
The report found a quarter of Australians had been given a technology device by their company which resulted in more time being worked outside of office hours.
The biggest complaint the workers had about their take-home devices was the constant intrusion of work email.
According to ACTU president Ged Kearney, “We all love our tablets and smartphones, but they are making it harder for us to switch off.”
Kearney told the National Press Club in Canberra last week that Australians worked some of the longest hours in the developed world, “including an estimated average of more than four hours of unpaid overtime every week”.
“The Australia Institute estimates that Australians work more than two billion hours of unpaid overtime a year, which equates to $72 billion worth of foregone wages. Spread that out over the workforce, and we find the average full-time Australian worker does almost six weeks’ work for free each year,” she said.
Perlow issued a challenge to her team: pick one night a week and turn off your device at 6pm. Don’t check it again until the next morning.
This challenge involved the whole team, from the most senior to the most junior. They had to rethink their productivity and plan ahead to ensure that the “urgent” work they might have done at night would be done beforehand.
The conversation brought about significant changes. It forced conversations about productivity and forced the team to rethink their work regime.
Watch Perlow’s challenge in the video above.
Could you and your team switch off after you leave the office at night? Do you think it would make a difference or help you and your team rethink your productivity during set work hours?