How to Get Your Tech Company Comfortable with Unplugging

August 10, 2013

10:00 am

For many people, the weekend no longer signals the end of the workweek. While innovative companies try everything from napping pods to yoga classes to onsite laundry services to make employees feel more at home, employees’ time off is beginning to look more like work.

With more and more employees bringing home devices they use for work (especially given the popularity of BYOD policies), our jobs continue to encroach upon our time away from the office. Getting comfortable unplugging when we’re away from work can improve our quality of life and actually make us more productive during regular work hours.

Why Unplugging Is Important

Today’s employees often feel the pressure to work around the clock and stay glued to their smartphones to appear more productive, when in fact the opposite is true. A constant stream of information from our devices is mentally taxing and wreaks havoc on our concentration.

Your brain isn’t just an organ; it’s a supercomputer. It’s important to rest so your brain can reboot. I often find that if I’m stuck on a problem at the end of the day, I’m much better off putting it aside and coming back to it with a fresh perspective and clear mind after a night of good rest.

Without rest, we can underperform and create stress in our bodies. When we become fatigued, we also lower our immune function, increasing the risk of disease or illness. And while we believe we’re helping ourselves, the opposite is true: neuroscientists noticed that they slept better and felt a decreased sense of urgency when they unplugged.

Unplugging isn’t just about our physical health; it’s also about our emotional well-being. Taking time away from work to engage in activities and interests reminds you why you’re working so hard in the first place. Exploring outside interests provides fuel for you to keep working hard so you can continue your pursuit of them.

Tech Workers’ Device Addiction and Burnout

Tech gadgets allow people to remain plugged in all the time, but the cost is that we now burn out very quickly in our jobs. For tech workers, remaining plugged in to electronic devices is creating a gateway to unhealthy addictions. Aside from turning into workaholics, we’ve only just begun understanding the negative, long-term health effects of being constantly tethered to our devices.

Perhaps the most immediate consequence of being addicted to technology is how it’s affecting us socially. Constantly checking your messages from work can impact your relationships — nobody appreciates it when you interrupt a conversation to reply to a text or an email.

I’ve learned it’s best to put away the phone or ignore the vibration for the sake of improving your face-to-face relationships with real people. Whatever and whoever is right in front of you is much more important than what’s happening online. During your off-hours, the online stuff can wait.

Unplugging Means Greater Productivity

Unplugging leads to fresh ideas, more energy, and a better understanding of your true purpose in what you’re doing — all of which lead to better productivity. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that people learned significantly better after a walk through nature than after a walk through a dense urban environment, suggesting a constant stream of information can lead to fatigue.

My staff is much more productive in an eight- or nine-hour workday after they’ve had rest than in a marathon work session. Constant brain stimulation is exhausting, and everyone benefits from an opportunity to recharge mentally.

Ways for Employers to Encourage Unplugging on the Weekend

If unplugging outside of work leads to increased productivity while at work, why is it so hard to do? More importantly, what can you do to encourage more time offline?

The first thing employers can do to encourage their team members to unplug over the weekend is to set up systems that allow them to do so. These systems can include everything from using technology to putting things on “autopilot” over the weekend (like installing automatic alerts to notify key people if something critical happens to a server) to instilling a company culture that allows for unplugging.

Have conversations with employees you suspect are having a difficult time unplugging. Convince them to trust the system in place so they can have their weekends to themselves, and remind them it’s OK to unplug. Let them know taking time away won’t make them look like slackers; it will allow them to work harder come Monday.

Some companies have taken unplugging to the extreme. Last year, Volkswagen pledged to deactivate emails on employees’ BlackBerry devices after working hours. While your company doesn’t necessarily have to resort to such extreme measures, there are ways you can encourage employees to take downtime. The best way is to lead by example.

1. Accept a challenge. Announce that you’re going to learn a new skill (such as speaking a new language or cooking a favorite dish), or set out to accomplish a difficult feat unrelated to work, such as running a marathon, writing a novel, or publishing your photographs.

2. Take control! Make a weekend habit of doing at least one thing you want to do that has nothing to do with work.

3. Relax. Grab a book, pop in a movie, watch the game, fire up the grill, call up some friends. Whatever you do, be sure to put your devices away while you’re doing it.

Even if your employees don’t see you doing any of those things on the weekend, they’ll see the results of your productively unplugged time off during the workweek. If you realize you have an office full of workaholics, examine your own habits first. Your employees will take a cue from how you spend your weekends. Help them determine that it’s better to unplug.

Guest author Joe Barton is the founder of Barton Publishing and other websites that promote natural health through teaching people how to cure themselves using alternative home remedies (using simple grocery store items, herbs, vitamins, exercises, and more) instead of expensive and harmful prescription drugs. 

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