In some recent coaching conversations, I have been involved in more discussions with senior people admitting to not being able to switch off. They say that it’s not just work matters that occupy them, with emails being answered or generated through their evening, but also feeling that they have to check their social media streams, connect to friends and other social media-media platforms as part of their evening’s activities. By the time they go to bed, their minds are still buzzing and they can’t sleep.
This often leads to general background feelings of anxiety, dispersion and worry that disables them from functioning effectively. At work, their colleagues may only see them grasping their phones intermittently throughout the day, reading them for perhaps longer than might be considered reasonable and seeming to be more distracted than normal. Their efficiency and ability to apply clear thinking to their work and social interactions are significantly impaired.
Being connected – whether through the phone, laptops or computer – is creating a cost that people were not aware they were going to have to pay. The benefits are well advertised – the cost not so much. The cost is peace of mind, relaxation, ease and comfort and attention to the people they are with. For their employers, the cost is productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
I’m aware that I’m seeing the development of a trend that has yet to play out longer term in individual lives and in businesses. Employee assistance programmes are hearing more and more from employees suffering stress and anxiety, some which they put down to home working but there are more complex factors at play here as well. I’m sure that they will have more cases to deal with as time moves on and HR Directors will want to take note when such issues are brought to their attention.
When coaching these senior people, they admit to feelings which are close to addiction ie they say that they can’t help themselves, they can’t turn off their phones, they can’t not check in with Twitter, Reddit or other social media platforms and spend more time on them than they want. When challenged to not be victims of these external tools, they find it extremely hard to adopt new patterns of behaviour in order to lessen their hold on them.
Some speak of their phone as something that they have to have by them – even at bed-time – and checking their social streams before they go to sleep and as they awake! Relying on their phone alarm to wake them up adds to their reliance.
What can you do?
If you or one of your colleagues is experiencing any of the above, here are some things to do, to begin breaking the hold these behaviours and tools have on you:
- Set a switch-off time. Determine that at specific time – say 9.00 pm or 9.30 pm you will turn off your phone or laptop and put it on charge in your office or living room. Give yourself some clear time to wind down, relax and get ready for sleep.
- Do not allow phones or lap-tops (or even TV’s for that matter) in your bedroom.
- Agree with your spouse, partner and other family members that technology devices will not be allowed at the dinner table and use that space and time to talk instead.
- Pick up your phone/laptop in the morning to take it with you to work, but open it only when you’re at the office, unless you have a train journey where you can check emails, texts etc.
- If you’re not going to the office, but travelling elsewhere, you can check emails to ensure that your plans for the day have not been changed overnight. And you can identify anything urgent that you may need to deal with on the train whilst you’re travelling.
- Stop using your phone to review messages or other communications when you’re at your desk and transfer your attention to your computer. Texts are rarely business matters, so don’t socialise when you’re at work.
- Use your phone only to make calls during the day. If you must review your social connections messages, use only part of your lunch hour. Spend your tea breaks and some of your lunch hour connecting with the real people that you work with.
Changing your behaviour to adopt some, if not all, of the above suggestions will bring huge benefits in terms of personal balance, peace of mind and engagement with people who you can see and be with in the real world. Relationships will improve dramatically and your sense of being in the world with greater control and well-being will surface naturally.
If you’re not able to institute any of the above suggestions, and continue to feel stressed, dispersed, worried and unable to switch off, see a mental health professional. You need professional help!
10 September 2019