As we saw on NBC news on Tuesday, some organizations have initiatives to give people time away from work by telling them to turn off their cell phones. Organizations are doing this because many of their employees spend their lives connected to work, and leaders are worried that their employees will become burned out or too stressed to make good decisions and be effective.

We’ve heard from many people at every level that it is a real concern. In a follow-on survey we have been conducting (World Leadership Survey), 87% of respondents said that they read work emails on their smartphone.

Those who use smartphones for work are dedicated employees who work substantially more than 40 hours a week and say they are committed to their organization. In fact, 34% of those who read work emails on a smartphone pay for the privilege to do so, since their organization doesn’t pay for their smartphone.

At the same time, only 63% of those who carry smartphones say that they are satisfied with their jobs, 55% say they have to change their personal plans because of work, and 33% say that their job is so stressful it affects their personal life.

But is the smartphone the culprit, or just a convenient target?

In our work on this in 2013 (Always On, Never Done), we found that people were annoyed and angry that they had to be in constant contact with their workplaces, and that the smartphone facilitated this contact.  But they weren’t angry about the smartphones.  In fact, they appreciated the flexibility the smartphones afforded them, while at the same time being stressed by the unceasing contact with work.

What stressed people out wasn’t the smartphone, it was what necessitated using the smartphone: their organizations expecting the work to be done in a timely manner despite wasting their time through unnecessary meetings, inefficient decision making processes, unnecessary emails, and inadequate infrastructure.

The people in our sample are highly committed employees who want to do a good job.  They take pride in their work and care about the people they work with, and don’t want to let anyone down. So when they don’t get everything done at work that they think they have to, they use the smartphone and their time at home to catch up on everything they were prevented from doing during their work day.

The fundamental cause of the stress for good employees is wasted time that has to be made up somewhere so the work gets done. That isn’t a technological problem, and I don’t believe it can be fixed with a technological solution.  The problem is a leadership problem, and needs a leadership solution – such as implementing effective smartphone connectivity policies.

As a leader, what is your solution to this problem?  How are you implementing it in your organization?

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