June 25, 2020
By John Hackston
Even before Covid-19 brought many people’s work into their homes, we were in the middle of a revolution. Technology has radically changed how we manage our work and lives. Services and information are available 24/7, and we can easily connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world.
All that convenience, however, comes at a price. When our smartphones are always on and within reach, we can find it difficult to “switch off.” We may have inadvertently become part of an “always-on culture,” with largely negative effects on our health and well-being. Research has demonstrated, for example, that being always on increases conflict and interference between our work lives and our home lives, that sending and receiving emails outside of conventional working hours contributes significantly to stress, and that compulsive internet use is linked to workaholism.
And now that so many of us are working from home, communicating with our colleagues exclusively via electronic media, the boundaries between home and work can become increasingly blurred, making it even more difficult to switch off.
How can we take advantage of the conveniences of modern technology while minimizing the disadvantages of an always-on culture? My organization, the Myers-Briggs Company, carried out a research study to find some answers. In 2018 and 2019 we surveyed more than 1,000 people, asking about their personality type, behavior, and views about the always-on culture. We also examined their levels of job satisfaction and work/home conflict along with many other factors.
The results were revealing.
Not all aspects of the always-on culture were viewed in a negative light; more than 10% of respondents said that being always on helped them stay in the loop and get quick responses, and it provided flexibility as to where and when they worked. And those able to access work emails or calls outside of the office reported greater engagement with their work and greater job satisfaction.
But overall, the advantages were outweighed by the disadvantages. Nearly a third of respondents said they could not switch off, more than a quarter said that the always-on culture interfered with their personal or family life, and a fifth indicated that it could lead to mental exhaustion. Some expressed highly negative views; for example, one respondent said, “You burn out, no private life, no time for children, regrets at the end of your life, many tense situations, losing friends or close relationships.” Being part of the always-on culture often led to higher stress levels, greater work/home conflict, more distractions at work and at home, and increased difficulty focusing.
We also looked at how people coped with the stress of being always on. Most drew on four overarching strategies — but different personality types reacted to them differently, so we’ll look at them through that lens. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator model assesses four aspects of personality according to whether individuals prefer to:
- Focus their attention on the outside world of people and things (extraversion) or on their inner world of thoughts and feelings (introversion)
- Trust and use information on the basis of experience and the evidence of their five senses (sensing) or consider the future and how things connect to form a big picture (intuition)
- Make decisions on the basis of objective logic (thinking) or on the basis of their values and how the decision will affect people (feeling)
- Live in a more structured, organized way (judging) or in a more flexible, spontaneous way (perceiving)
Looking at the four strategies in light of personality type can help you identify how to use them most effectively to reduce the negative effects of being always on.
Create time and space to switch off.
If you have extraversion preferences, recharge by doing something active, perhaps with others (even if that happens virtually while you’re social distancing). If working from home, make sure to take breaks. Go for a walk or a run if you can, or do something new and different. Some extraverts find it helpful to leave their devices in another room when they’re de-stressing. Keep in contact with others, and use video, not just voice.
If you have introversion preferences, recharge by doing something that allows you time to reflect or that you can become absorbed in. Establish a quiet area of your home where you can work and/or retreat to. Try to limit online meetings, but ensure that you have some contact with other people.
Beware of information overload.
If you have sensing preferences, stop and take a step back. Focus on the big picture; what’s important? To avoid getting lost in the details, keep in touch with other people and ask for their take on the situation. Don’t obsess with getting every little thing right or having a perfect home working environment.
If you have intuition preferences, stop going through all the possibilities. Ground yourself in the moment. Try one thing at a time, and stick to it; if you are working at home, it can be easy to skip from one idea to another.
If you have thinking preferences, consider your impact on others. For example, read through messages before you send them. The written communications of “thinking” individuals can be very direct and task-focused and may appear terse and impersonal to others. Without the benefit of face-to-face contact, they may be misunderstood.
If you have feeling preferences, find a balance between supporting others and looking after your own needs. That can be difficult when you are worrying about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on others, especially if your close friends and family are not around to help. Identify the supports you need and take conscious actions to attain them.
Find a work/life balance that suits you.
If you have judging preferences, set boundaries with yourself and others regarding when you will and won’t use technology at home — but be flexible when things are urgent. Turning off your devices when you are not working will most likely lower your stress levels, so make it clear to others when you will and won’t be available. If the Covid-19 crisis meant that you suddenly had to change your routines, establish new ones. If you are working at home, keep “work” and “home” separate by having a designated work area and staying away from it outside of working hours.
If you have perceiving preferences, you might be enjoying some aspects of working from home, such as the freedom to be flexible with your hours. But don’t expect others to necessarily feel the same. Avoid sending emails or requesting chats outside of normal working hours. And allow some time for other activities so that your workdays don’t become overly routine. Timeboxing, or converting your to-do list into blocks of time on your calendar, might help.
Technology can empower people, but it can also make them feel enslaved. By thinking carefully about how and when to use it, you can find your own sweet spot. Amid the current crisis, that’s more important than ever.
See original article in Harvard Business Review.