Managers know that technology has given us more flexibility in how we work than ever before, and for that, our mental well-being has definitely improved. They know that the human brain can only tolerate so much stimulation before reaching overload. Managers try to combat this by changing the work environment to avoid burning out, giving teams a fresh atmosphere in which to thrive. This helps them stay in the “flow,” that state of mind where employees not only do their best work, but enjoy it the most. The good news is that technology has untethered us from the static workstation. However, there’s a dark side to that bright screen when it comes to team member’s well-being.
The Downside To The Modern Office
What managers need to realize is that technology is designed to keep us focused on it. As managers we need to realize that when it comes to the workplace, there are two seemingly finite resources: time and attention. When we are always connected to the office via email, or smartphones, our remote access can create a blurred line between work and life for team members. Sure, the team member 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. Research suggests that there’s a law of diminishing returns for the always-on team member. That team member’s value is eroded by increased cognitive load and reduced performance and mental happiness. There is a noticeable tipping point before the team member begins to feel frazzled, overworked, and stretched too thin to perform their job effectively.
The good news is that we may be free of our desks; however, we’re not free of the work, and by extension, of the burden that comes with it. These days no one is immune from information overload. 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. However, it’s mentally unhealthy for all of us.
How To Fix The Technology Overload Problem
What managers need to realize is that many of the programs and apps that members of their team use are designed to stimulate the reward centers of our brains so that we physically can’t simply “put the phone down,” as some skeptics of tech addiction advise. The problem that members of your team are facing is that these rewards mimic the positive chemical reactions we get which are designed to tell us we’ve found a rich food source or we’ve achieved a high level of accomplishment. All of this can be as powerful as a physical drug addiction.
If we want to address this problem, we need to know that cognitive and behavioral sciences are finding that tweaks in our environments can help fight technology overload. We can use the combination of better workplace design–multiple environments that encourage specific types or work, such as quiet rooms for focus, collaboration areas for team building and multi-person projects, and natural elements such as good lighting or a garden space for better access to the outdoors–and conscientious technology choices that include well-being of employees in their design. We like to call these techniques behavioral “nudges,” such as when healthy foods are more prominently arranged than unhealthy ones. We need to understand that the choices are all still there, but the behavior is influenced by what is better for the individual.
The always-on mentality has abounded because team members feel they’re expected to be available all the time. For this to change, managers need to adopt a more employee-centric perspective, and nudge their team members into less harmful behaviors. Adopt the policies that discourage emails sent outside of business hours. Reduce default meeting lengths by at least 5 minutes to encourage employee breaks. Offer a well-being pledge to your employees that they can sign to indicate they’re going to revamp the way they use technology, so they know it’s okay not to be constantly available, and there are choices they can make to take care of themselves that will not harm their standing with their company. Managers need to realize that there’s no productivity in a burned-out employee.
What All Of This Means For You
As a manager, our job is to find ways to deliver the maximum value for our company. The challenge that we face is that we need to find ways to leverage technology to allow our teams to deliver at their peak levels. However, we are starting to realize that all of the technology in the world may not be enough to get the most out of our teams.
The great thing about the technology that we use in the workplace is that it has been designed to get more out of the members of your team. This means that they’ll work harder during the day and they may even end up being able to work from home at night. However, after a while of doing this, they may grow to resent their job. Information overload can be a real problem. When we are using apps that have been designed to get us to work harder, it can be very hard to put them down. Managers need to realize that they can make changes to their team’s workplaces in order to make things better. We can influence the decisions that the members of our team are making. We can take steps to drive healthier behavior by the members of our team.
Managers need to understand that getting the maximum work value out of the members of their team today is not going to be worth it if you end up losing those team members tomorrow through burn-out. We need to start to take steps today that will allow us to find ways to limit how much work the members of our team are taking on. If we can find a way to accomplish this, then we will be able to control just exactly how much work the individual members of our team are doing and with a little luck, we can prevent burn-out.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™
Question For You: When introducing new technology into the workplace, do you think managers need to evaluate what the impact on their team will be?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
One of the biggest challenges that we face as managers is trying to determine just exactly how hand-on we should be with the members of our team. The problem is that there is no one solution to this problem. A great example of this dilemma comes when it’s time for an employee to set goals. As their manager, should you be using your manager skills to do this and if you do, will it result in them not trusting you?