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Come Together

17th June 2018

four fists bumping together over a tableWe seem to live in an ever more hectic world which is increasingly connected through digital devices, bringing with this connectivity many benefits to our private and work lives. Yet, it is also a world which many of us seemingly can’t switch off from. Recent evidence points to the negative effects of being unable to switch off; to the harm it may be doing for our mental health and job satisfaction.

Academic studies have found that workplace email is a significant source of stress

A group of Stanford business professors have estimated that workplace stress added between $125 and $190 billion dollars per year to America’s healthcare costs,. This amounts to between 5 and 8% of total costs. Overwork accounted for $48 billion of that”[i] Reflecting on this trend, I recall five years ago when I was investigating the range of new jobs predicted to be required in the next ten years, several of these included jobs tackled the emerging (at the time) issue of digital overload. These ranged from counsellors for digital addiction to retreats where no tech was allowed; providing a space for people to ‘unplug’. Five years on and I see what were once just predictions coming to fruition within the labour market.[ii]

Alongside these new jobs, the public debate (and actions by some governments) with regards being always connected to the work place via devices has reached a new level, with consideration of legislation to ensure that employees unplug and have downtime. In recent years both Germany[iii] and France[iv] have taken this route. There are pros and cons to these decisions, such as less flexibility to respond to chance events or trade with those in different time zones when you need to, versus potentially greater productivity from staff. Whether or not legislation can actually be enforced is another matter for debate.

Employees working over their allotted hours isn’t a new thing

Employees working over their allotted hours (rightly or wrongly) isn’t a new thing, with some areas of work seeing such efforts as culturally acceptable from teaching through to banking and finance in the city.

Perhaps it is for each organisation to decide what their intended culture is to be and then for their managers to lead by example. Is it their expectation that staff work their hours (managers included) with home life being prioritised, or is the work the overriding priority? Many organisations hold the middle ground with the expectation being you work your hours with the occasional exception, when there is a matter of urgency (with time reimbursed or additional hours paid); a culture of give and take.

Organisational culture can be a huge decision maker with regards the jobs we and our students decide to do (as well as remain at or leave) and where we do them. Some people love the work hard, play hard culture as typified by the yuppie boom in the 80s. Others, however, prioritise home over work, where working only the hours you get paid is important. Yet, what of those who prioritise the latter but are placed under pressure to deliver the former?

What of the voiceless and powerless, who feel they are without any rights?

In the emerging gig economy this includes not just those being asked to work over their hours but also those who are on zero hour contracts where the fear is that if they don’t deliver the work they are offered, they won’t be given any further work. Again, organisational culture dictates how this is handled, whether this threat is held over staff or not, like the proverbial axe waiting to fall. In the wider context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations it is worth considering how vital it is to retain our affiliation to the Charter of Fundamental Rights[v] [vi] and the ongoing protection of workers’ rights; protecting potentially our most vulnerable from discrimination. Recently the landmark case made against Pimlico Plumbers[vii] is an example of the uncertainty around the gig economy and workers’ rights, which makes such consideration important.

Such nuances of work and culture lead me to wonder two things. In a 21st Century work environment where there are so many different ways work can be managed and delivered, do organisations have a greater responsibility to deliver according to a transparent code of ethics, which protects not just their customers and clients but also their staff? Secondly, is the ability to switch off, thereby making ourselves more productive at work, an employability skill in its own right alongside more traditional skills such as teamwork and organisation? With Chris Evans’ Digital Detox on Radio 2[viii] and the wider discussions taking place, I wonder – does the inability to switch off become a dangerous trait for the 21st Century employee? I would be keen to hear your thoughts.

Where to Get Careers Advice

CXK provides confidential and impartial careers information, advice and guidance to help you make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities. If you’re a young person looking for support, or a parent looking for careers advice for your young person, visit our Careers Advice for Young People page.

The National Careers Service provides free, up to date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market in England to anyone aged 13 and upwards.

To speak to a National Careers Service adviser, call 0800 100 900 or use our webchat (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week)

[i] http://fortune.com/2017/01/01/french-right-to-disconnect-law/

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/01/digital-detox-teenagers-pioneering-camp

[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10276815/Out-of-hours-working-banned-by-German-labour-ministry.html

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/dec/31/french-workers-win-legal-right-to-avoid-checking-work-email-out-of-hours

[v] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/eu-withdrawal-bill-will-not-protect-uk-rights-open-letter

[vi] https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/jan/13/brexit-eu-human-rights-act-european-charter

[vii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44465639

[viii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/Zp1ZW0q3mgy2m2VyFWP8r3/say-goodbye-to-your-phone-essential-tips-for-a-digital-detox

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