As someone who has been in the workforce for well over twenty years, I remember a time when email was only in its infancy and there were no mobile phones. You would go to the office, sit down at your desk, have a chat to your co-workers, and then get down to business. People would call you sometimes on the phone and you would answer the occasional email. But mostly, you could get on with your work, and your business was mostly done by phone or in person. Importantly, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ or ‘I’ll call you next week’ was an appropriate response for most requests, and it made for an enjoyable work environment.
But over time things have changed. I’m not sure if you have noticed, but in many work environments now you need to be instantly contactable and everything seems to be urgent. So you receive an email in the morning and you are expected to respond immediately. Otherwise the person concerned will be on the phone to you wondering why you haven’t responded. Fail to answer a text within a few hours and you might just get another one. To make matters worse, social media such as Facebook even tracks and reports on how quickly businesses respond to messages, increasing the pressure even more. This sort of thing has made for a very stressful work life.
I was reminded of this fact during a workshop I ran on distractions in the workplace, and the participants noted that while their email and phones had made it easy to respond to their work colleagues and their customers, this created a rod for their own back. An expectation had been built up within the whole organisation that staff would respond to messages almost immediately, damaging their ability to focus on their other work and creating great anxiety within the work group. Moreover, management expected staff to be instantly contactable and willing to respond immediately to their concerns, whether they were truly urgent or not. The result was an organisation in a constant state of distress, due in part to the technology at their disposal and the expectations that have come with it.
So what is the solution? Well in my view, we need to learn to use our technology more appropriately, and train others to become more relaxed and polite. While there are many techniques and ways to minimise workplace distractions and increase efficiency, a good place to start is to:
- Prioritise your real work (‘outputs’) where possible
- Check emails and phones in blocks of time to limit the amount of distraction these can provide (studies show that the average office worker is distracted every 11 minutes, harming effectiveness).*
- Politely re-train our co-workers or customers as best we can. So when someone phones you after you failed to respond to their request immediately, send them a message like ‘your job is important and I will respond as soon as possible’ (unless their problem is truly life threatening of course).
Simply dropping everything for others just reinforces their behaviour and results in increased stress, an inability to complete tasks effectively and you may have to work extra hours. Now, in a customer service business this can create its challenges. But in many cases I believe that if a customer or co-worker values your services they will react well if you are honest about the amount of time it will take to respond to their request, and follow through on your word.
By following these few suggestions several things should happen:
- You will become calmer and less stressed
- You should have a clearer mind for work
- You should get your tasks done more efficiently
- Work will become more enjoyable
If we all make these changes we can gradually affect workplace culture. Work after all, does not have to be a place where we feel constantly rushed and stressed. It can and should be a positive, calm and fulfilling environment.
All the best,
A question for you: Has technology created stress in your workplace? If so, what does your workplace do about this? I’d love to hear from you 🙂
* Tanya Benidicto Klitch, ‘Your Workday Is Interrupted Every 11 Minutes. How to Manage Those Distractions’. www.entrepreneur.com