Sunday, January 18, 2015

Roger Agustin

Musings of a Sarariman
“Workplace Telepressure”:
Where are you connected to? 

Jan - Feb 2015

Since this is the first issue for 2015, I wish you all a happy, prosperous, and peaceful year ahead of us.

Just before the end of the year, I found a new topic that is very timely and likely to become another social phenomenon in the modern-day office. 

Psychology researchers in the US cited a new work related stress health peril: "workplace telepressure," is when you just can’t stay away from the urge of constantly checking and quickly responding to your work related e-mails, text messages or even voicemails and missed calls, no matter what you’re doing, who you’re with, and so on. The pressure comes from the fear that not responding immediately to work related messages will hurt your career.

The light-speed advances in information technology made organizations rely heavily on e-mails and text messages for continuous connectivity. It used to be that work e-mail access was limited only within the company’s network (intranet). But now, e-mails can be accessed via the internet to allow flexibility for employees to connect any time even when they’re not at work. This flexibility created unintended negative impact on the work-life balance of the employees. Because of the continuous connection, employees start to feel they should also be available and responsive to work requests at all times. The misused and overused ‘URGENT’ and ‘ASAP’ words in the mail messages could also be one of the major causes of this phenomenon. Even the concept of work time has started to disappear in the global business workplace where employees work with their counterparts who are in different time zones.    

I guess I am as guilty as anybody else when it comes to giving in to the urge of checking work related e-mails during weekends at home and when I am on vacation or even on a sick leave. I know I am not alone. Whether in the car or train, at the dining table, or even in bed, this burning need and urge to check and reply to e-mails does not go away. I’d bet you do the same, too. It doesn’t really matter whether it is work related or not, I’d bet that everybody checks at least a few SNS sites and mailboxes before finally putting their body and mind to rest. This is one problem with the advanced smartphones that offers you unlimited internet access and countless apps that can even synch with your company’s server. 

While we see the benefits of being continuously connected, the urge to connect at all times becomes a habit and a part of life so that the division between work and private life becomes more obscure than ever. Since everybody else is doing it, it creates a false sense of security and being constantly informed and in synch with the rest of the world. But the additional pressure may not be felt, which creates stress. 

The report said that “Workers who indicate they feel high levels of telepressure are more likely to report burnout, a feeling of being unfocused, health related absenteeism and diminished sleep quality.” Telepressure seems to be a form of an unconscious overtime or overwork and in effect it doesn’t really result to additional improved performance simply because it deprives the person of sufficient time to recover.

While the researchers suggest that organizations may help by explicitly encouraging employees about unplug times and developing clear policies about response times, it also requires personal awareness from the person himself. Stress is a lack of awareness of a pressure and it continues to build up, it results to burnout. 

I believe, the only solution is to be in control and not to be controlled by the turbulent flow of information. We live in a fast paced information society where we get heavily overloaded with information clutter, way too much for our brain to handle or digest. I think our brains are evolving backwards. We used to live based on limited information, making decisions with some amount of uncertainties. Now, the more information seems to be the better. But do we ever take the time to check if the information we see in front of us is right?

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2015 would be to learn to ‘unplug’ more. I found that it doesn’t really hurt if you unplug yourself once in a while from work so you can focus on the real people who are physically around or in front of you. Don’t worry, if colleagues or friends really need something from you urgently (and vice versa), they will for sure find a way to connect to you even if you are not connected to their network. 

Again, my best wishes for a Happy New Year to all!

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