The tech tools that make us more efficient have chained us to our jobs

Workfront CMO Joe Staples explores how managers can avoid potentially negative effects of an "always-on" work environment.

Remember when boarding an airplane meant you could catch up on a nap or a novel for a few uninterrupted hours? These days, there’s nowhere you can’t be interrupted. As soon as the plane has reached cruising altitude, a hundred laptops open up, and everyone’s back in the office, despite being 39,000 feet in the air.

I’ve observed that the average person can no longer travel as high as the third floor of my office building without pulling out a phone to check email.

Who’s at fault for this always-on mentality – particularly egregious in the world of media and PR – that can lead to employee burnout, resentment, and turnover? It might be you.

In a recent Workfront survey, 60% of respondents listed demanding bosses as having the most negative impact on work-life balance. About 40% missed life events due to work. And 57% say the family dinner has been ruined by work texts, emails, and calls.   

While you might think this constant engagement in work is key to stay ahead, the reality is that the ramifications can be negative. If you’re a boss, there are ways to decrease the turbulence. One is to control the chaos as this fuels a panicked need for staffers to check in incessantly. If processes are organized, communication is streamlined, and emergencies are the exception, rather than the rule, employees can relax and enjoy their 4-year-old’s birthday party.

Regular mental breaks – not to mention birthday cake – will keep employees recharged and engaged long term. Also, set boundaries. Technology is not the problem; it’s how we use it. Have guidelines in place to help distinguish between urgent issues and trivial matters that can wait until the next morning. Set up clear parameters around when and why you would interrupt an employee after hours.

Finally, be a better boss. Understand the demands staffers face outside of work and respect them. Consider offering flexible work schedules (69% say this would help their work-life balance) and allow remote working (55% approve of this).

It’s ironic that the very tools designed to make us more efficient at work have chained us to our jobs 24/7. If you’re a manager, learn to respect process, boundaries, and employees’ lives outside of work, and you will see an increase in productivity and job satisfaction. 

Joe Staples is CMO at Workfront.

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