Do You Feel Telepressure?
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I will define workplace telepressure as the urge to respond almost immediately to emails, texts, and voicemail, regardless of what time of day it is, who it is from, or even if you are currently “at work” or not. In extreme cases, workers might take their phones to bed with them or even into the shower (in a plastic bag, I presume). They quite literally don’t have any “down time.”
The kicker is that this behavior is rarely a “formal” requirement of the job (Amazon notwithstanding). The pressure comes in the form of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations. You are not considered to be a respected professional unless you are “available” and “a team player” by answering your messages 24/7. In some businesses, it’s considered the “new normal.”
What if You Truly Want to Do It?
Perhaps at this point you might protest, saying something like, “but I want to do this. It’s how I get ahead at work.” Or, you are working this hard because you truly, truly love what you are doing, and being away from it (even for a few minutes), is like holding your breath. If this is the case, then you probably won’t have much use for what I’m about to say. For the rest of you, read on.
Let me start by trying to explore the “good” in this type of workplace behavior. Well, from the employer’s point of view, the upside is gigantic. You have a workforce that is figuratively glued to their electronic devices, responding to business requests around the clock. They are seemingly engaged, driven, focused, and at the very least constantly available.
For the employee, the upside could be promotions, increased status, greater influence at work, or just hanging on to a good job. I will admit, these are not trivial benefits.
Again, starting from the employer’s point of view, sooner or later your employees are going to “hit the wall.” Tired employees are naturally going to give you tired performance. Or worse.
Also, there is the issue of quality. Okay, so “Sue” in Finance will take your call at 2 AM, and answer your question about last quarter’s earnings. Do you really trust this information to be truly accurate? What about “Larry” in Engineering? Are you going to rely on the information he gives you over the phone while he is on the sidelines at his son’s baseball game? Or what about “Carol,” who is out of town attending her Aunt’s funeral. You mean you can’t wait a day until she returns to get her “input” on your marketing proposal? Even “Jennifer,” who is halfway around the world, enjoying her Honeymoon is Germany. Are you really going to call her to ask for a status update on her projects?
Call me crazy, but even from a practical perspective, people need to sleep, eat, and attend family events. And when you interrupt these things with business inquiries, you get what you get. I can’t imagine people will be able to give you their best input under these circumstances.
From an individual employee perspective, the downside can be nothing short of catastrophic. Stress and burnout are just the tip of the iceberg. It can negatively affect your parenting (remember Larry at his son’s baseball game?), and basically all of your interpersonal relationships. And even though you may “seem” to be more productive in the short term, a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that this behavior will eventually lead to poor health and less productivity in the long run. All of this, and you rarely get the respect and appreciation that you deserve for the sacrifices that you are making. It just becomes a new expectation.
First, you will need to differentiate between questions and issues that truly need an immediate response, and those that do not. A question about last month’s sales figures can probably wait until tomorrow. A question about your availability for an early meeting the next morning may require a quick acknowledgment.
A better solution is to establish some boundaries for your email and text messages. I recommend setting up “available” and “unavailable” hours for these things. You can make yourself available from 8 AM until 8 PM if you wish (although I personally would prefer 8 AM until 5 PM), but from 8 PM to 8 AM the next morning, let everyone you work with know that you will not be checking messages, and then don’t. In case of an emergency or critically time-sensitive issue, give co-workers an alternative, such as your home phone or email. Then turn off your work, and don’t check it. Even “looking” at the message will cause some stress, because your mind will start working on a response even if you don’t send one.
Of course, if your “alternative” means of contact becomes a routine thing, then you’ll need to take stronger measures. But it’s an excellent place to start. And remember, nothing short of your health and family life are on the line.