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Flexible working can lead to burnout culture #FutureofEmployment

John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at the business psychology organisation The Myers-Briggs Company

Organisations must take a stand against the ‘always-on’ culture or risk the rise of a disengaged and dissatisfied workforce, says John Hackston:

According to the Buffer State of Remote Work 2019 survey, employees who work flexibly or remotely are struggling with unplugging from their jobs, loneliness and communication. This is due to the popularity of flexible working which is perpetuating an ‘always-on’ working culture. , says employees’ lack of ability to disconnect is of legitimate concern to the wellbeing and productivity of the workforce.

Today, digitised communication permeates every aspect of peoples’ day to day lives, as smartphones and laptops become a routine form of communication between teams. When our smartphones are always on, we struggle to switch off. This is the ‘always-on’ culture.

The Company’s Global Trends Report reveals that an enforced overlap between work and home life is linked to negative outcomes, including increased stress, decreased performance, low satisfaction with family life, poorer health, reduced life satisfaction and decline in sleep quality.

In a survey of over 350 employees which examined personality type and the use of work email, The Myers-Briggs Company found that two-thirds of people (65%) believe they shouldn’t have to check their emails outside of regular work hours. However, 31% also said that their employer or clients expected them to check their emails in the evenings or at weekends, and less than 8% never checked their work emails in the evening.

Remote working and modern technology is a great addition to the workplace as it gives employees the power to work how and where they like. However, if not kept in check, the tendency to be ‘always-on’ can have negative repercussions on both the efficiency of organisations and the wellbeing of employees.

Since employers can now contact workers from anywhere and at any time, the boundary between home and work life has blurred at a rapid rate. And with the increased popularity of remote working, the physical separation between offices and home is also disappearing. In a 2018 Financial Times article, a chart shows a correlation between a steep plunge in world productivity with a huge increase in global shipments of smartphones.1 This is no coincidence.

Collaboration and connectivity are two key facets of the modern workplace, and as such, it is up to workplaces to combat this issue as a collective.

Self-control has little influence in changing the ‘always-on’ working culture – instead, it requires leaders to lead by personal example. In our research, we found that workers in organisations that did not allow employees to switch off were more stressed and had lower levels if job satisfaction.

The always-on culture affects people with different personality preferences in different ways. For example, people with a Feeling preference – those who are more likely to consider personal values when making decisions – are more likely to make use of flexible hours. On the other hand, Intuitive types – those who take in information by seeing the big picture – are less likely to see the blurring of work and home life as a disadvantage.

Some employees thrive off the buzz of working into the night but others don’t. For these workers it is extremely stressful. It is crucial that leaders recognise their own styles of working as to not impose their preferred work patterns onto employees. In turn, if employees understand how they work to the best of their ability, they are better equipped to cope with the always-on culture by understanding what strategies work for them; how they can best switch off, avoid information overload, set boundaries and find a form of work-life balance that suits them.

As productivity continues to stagnate in the UK, it is vital that organisations examine their own working cultures in order to combat the ‘always-on’ working culture, which can be a slippery slope to a burnt out, tired, and stressed workforce.

John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at the business psychology organisation The Myers-Briggs Company

1 Computers are making generalists of us all. Tim Harford. Financial Times. 6 January 2018.

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