Easing stress of being constantly connected

Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, text messaging, video calling and social media, today's professionals mean it when they brag about staying connected to work 24/7

Easing stress of being constantly connected

NEW YORK: Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, text messaging, video calling and social media, today's professionals mean it when they brag about staying connected to work 24/7.

Technology allowed Ms Karen Riley-Grant, a manager at Levi Strauss in San Francisco, to take care of business with her New York publicist while she was in labour in the hospital last November.

And it enabled Mr Craig Wilson, an executive at Avaya in Toronto, to take his kids to a Linkin Park concert and be able to duck out to finish a task for a client in Australia. But all of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of unease.

There is a palpable sense 'that home has invaded work and work has invaded home and the boundary is likely never to be restored', says Mr Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Centre's Internet and American Life Project.

The phenomenon started with the rise of BlackBerrys and has snowballed with the use of more smartphones, social media and tablet computers. Employees are using their smartphones and other devices to connect with corporate e-mail, applications and data wherever they happen to be - whether at home, on the go or on vacation.

Now add the effects of the recent recession. Because jobs and promotion opportunities are scarce, many workers are worried that someone who is more connected and available could outclimb them on the corporate ladder, says Ms Peggy Klaus, an executive coach in California.

'Even if you have a career that is pretty solid,' she says, there is the feeling advancement requires being plugged in 24/7.

But at what price? Ms Riley-Grant, 35 and director of global consumer marketing for the Dockers brand, has felt the stress of trying to stay constantly connected - not because of pressure from her bosses, she says, but her own fear.

'My job is fast-paced and demanding,' she says. If I'm not paying attention during the off-hours, things could go south.'

But even before the birth of her second child last year, she recognised that she needed to power down to achieve the right work-life balance. So with the help of Ms Klaus, she made a plan to take small steps: She let her co-workers know that she would be turning off her iPhone for a few hours on weeknights and weekend days, and completely on certain Friday nights.

She tries to communicate a need for balance to employees who report to her, too.

The conversation about what is expected of workers 'after hours' is crucial to managing expectations, researchers and workplace specialists say.

Mr Wilson, 52, global director of strategic consulting for Avaya, a provider of business communications systems, says he is respectful of his colleagues who work in different countries and time zones. 'If I e-mail someone at seven at night, it's not legitimate of me to expect a response that night or at seven in the morning.'

To a large degree, how workers incorporate devices into their daily routines depends on the individual. Some people insist on keeping work and life concerns separate, while others integrate components of both and manage them together.

For example, Ms Stephanie Marchesi, a managing director and senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard in New York, has developed a system that involves carrying four mobile devices at all times: an iPhone and an iPad for family and social life, and a BlackBerry and a laptop for work. 'I can pull out one and pull out the other and check on both aspects of my life,' she says.

Too much connectivity can damage the quality of one's work, says Dr Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and a professor at Stanford. Because of devices, he says, 'nobody seems to actually pay full attention; everybody is doing a worse job because they are doing more things'.

Mobile devices and social media, he says, 'make us a little more oblivious, a little more incompetent'.

Just recall those pilots who overshot their destination two years ago because they were using computers, he adds.

'The emotionally compelling nature of the device and live information it carries - and the intermittent reinforcement it carries, plus the pressure of living in a world where for many people 'immediately' now really means immediately - causes people to be entranced by their devices and to ignore real life as it unfolds in front of them,' Dr Sutton says.

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