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Is our addiction to technology ruining our work-life balance?

07/07/2016

How many times a day do you check your phone? Really think about it. I bet you couldn’t even begin to start counting.

There is no denying, we are the distracted generation.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper of Manchester Business School says, “Something like 40% of people wake up, and the first thing they do is check their email. For another 40%, it’s the last thing they do at night.”

This “always on” culture we have adopted, completely exacerbated by the smartphone, is making us less productive and more stressed, according to some reports. The Quality of Working Life 2016 report from the Chartered Management Institute found that our obsession with checking emails outside of working hours is making it incredibly difficult for us to switch off once we leave the office, further increasing our stress levels.
Firms have been heading towards a smarter working future in a bid to get employees to disengage from “work mode” once their day is over. Volkswagen has begun shutting off employees’ emails when they are off shift. Daimler has instructed that all emails which are received while an employee is on holiday, be automatically deleted. (Imagine coming back from a week in the sun and not being greeted with nearly 1,000 emails!) France’s new labour law is encouraging all companies to follow suit.

Some people believe that wearable technology offers us a way to manage our stress. Professor Michael Segalla has offered an iHealth activity and cardiac tracker to every MBA student at the HEC Paris management school. This device gathers data such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels and sleeping patterns every 10 minutes, which can then be viewed on a dashboard. Along with this biometric data, the students are being asked questions relating to “mindfulness” such as, how happy or stressed they are feeling. So, does this work as a low tech way to deal with high stress? The general idea is to see how wellbeing and biotracking affects academic performance in the students.
A similar idea has been suggested by Irish start-up, Galvanic who have introduced a gadget called Pip to the market. Pip is a small white device which measures skin perspiration levels – a strong indicator of stress levels according to many researchers – and can be connected to your smartphone. Pip works by passing a very tiny electrical current along the skin, which varies depending on the perspiration level. So if Pip detects increased sweaty palms for example, you can wirelessly connect to your phone to play a short game. To win this game you have to relax. The whole idea of this concept is that by learning and training your mind and body to relax through these short games, you will be able to relax much more easily on your own and unaided. Ian Robertson, chair of Pip’s scientific advisory board says, biodata such as this gives people “a window into their physical response to stress, helping them learn to control it.”

The first step in reducing stress levels and regaining control of our work-life balance is to monitor our computer behaviour. Robby Macdonald from Nashville, Tennessee, founded tech start-up RescueTime. He was fed up of being so easily distracted. On the topic of phone alerts he says, “These alerts are very well designed to capture your attention and stimulate the parts of your brain that say, ‘I have to react right now’.” The program he has developed is made to monitor how much time we spend on each app and it gives users the ability to block certain apps for certain periods of time – like self-parental control for adults! If you didn’t want to download yet another app, you could always turn off notifications so you aren’t distracted by pop-ups, and at night put your phone on sleep mode.

Ironically, the tech causing us all of this “always on” grief can be used to deliver courses in mediation, mindfulness and breathing. Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm.com (a meditation course provider) hopes we will use our smartphones for these purposes and for practising concentration techniques when on public transport or in queues, or in your own personal down time, instead of going straight on to social media or checking emails. While we can all appreciate that life can be hectic and sometimes you just can’t escape work, but in order to restore our work-life balance, we should definitely be focusing on using our phones for more than just Twitter and Facebook.

Or – and this might shock you – we could just turn them off altogether!

 

 

 

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