Despite rest and recuperation time being essential to wellbeing, research by Westfield Health has shown that Summer can actually be a high-pressure season for UK workers, rather than one of rest and recovery.
On average, people in the UK spend 8 hours or more per day in front of a screen and 75% of us take our phones to the bathroom. Do the opportunities technology present outweigh the damage it can cause to our wellbeing?
There are pros and cons of being permanently connected by technology and I believe we need to build greater awareness of how tech can affect both our physical and mental health in order to get the balance right.
Discussions with clients about the impact of technology at the Resilience Debate Forum I created several years ago has given me some insight. In general, participants in these round table debates felt employees find it difficult to switch off during their holiday, and as we progress on our career paths things can get worse. Leaders often feel unable not take calls or respond to emails during a period of leave and this then sets the norm in workplace culture.
If we fail to disengage from work properly, we miss out on vital recovery time.
Being or feeling like we are on ‘standby’ during annual leave reduces the quality of rest and can damage our longer-term physiological and psychological health. If we spend too long in a state of heightened alert, this can begin to have a detrimental effect on our behaviours.
A stress response is a human instinct. It is triggered by external events and impacts our internal environment (our mental and physiological state). Professor Steve Peters in his book the Chimp Paradox describes instinct as:
“… a built-in response or action usually present at birth to particular stimulus or triggers. Instincts are in-place to ensure we survive. They are pre-programmed automatic behaviour that do not require us to have a say in what happens – they just need stimulus”
The stimulus we get from checking technology has been shown to be unhealthy and can put us in a state of heightened alert. The constant pinging of a phone can trigger health (physical and mental) issues. If we allow this to continue on holiday the quality of our rest time is reduced even further. We are not allowing our cognitive processes to fully recharge. We therefore return to work less rested and probably less resilient, rather than allowing our wellbeing to Bounce-Back by putting healthy boundaries in place.
How can you improve things for yourself?
Communication channels are now better than ever. Technology has created a faster, more efficient way of working, but with information overload this can place an uncontrollable amount of pressure on us.
We need to get better at stepping away from the screen, switching off our devices and ensuring we have high quality rest and recovery periods. This is a positive resilient building habit we can build into our life, not just during holidays but also in a typical week and month.
It also becomes more important with age or after a particular stressful time in life. I know from personal experience, having managed end of life care situation in our family over Christmas, which is a normal lull in workload, I therefore missed an annual chance to rest in December. I can now very much feel I am in need of a complete break this summer and I will be ensuring I give myself that time later this month, so that I can come back to work in September recharged and ready for the next quarter.
Periods of rest and recovery are an undervalued aspect of high performance. I often hear from Leaders I work with that they, “like to operate at maximum stretch”. This often leaves an assumption that high performers work well under stress and even enjoy it. Yet research shows us optimal performance at stretch is only sustainable for a certain period of time before the stress impacts us negatively. Challenging this assumption in Leaders in order to help them gain a better understanding of themselves is key to building sustainable Resilience. We can draw from the sports world of performance coaching to emphasise the benefit of recovery to our performance. I have heard professional Rugby Coach’s counsel their teams on this point:
“The bench can be a time of rest and reflection.”
As you get to the elite level of sport you can’t play without proper recovery. Stress creates heightened demands on the brain and body that can lead to mistakes, cognitive impairment and decline in performance. Accessing technology often causes stress to the body and mind. Committing to periods of recovery away from devices and emails helps boost our Resilience and empowers us to sustain health and performance.
By staying tuned into work via technology we are sending our brains into overdrive just when we need to wind down.
In Taiwan they have recognised that young people are becoming web-junkies. As a result, children under 2 are completely banned from using electronic devices and parents of under 18’s are fined if children are using the Internet excessively. In Taiwan electronic products are even listed alongside cigarettes and alcohol as potentially dangerous vices.
Regardless of age, everyone needs time out, and by creating boundaries and prioritising the quality of our rest and recovery periods during holidays you are giving yourself the opportunity to become more resilient. James Dyson argues emails stop you being creative, and Google implemented the 80/20 way of working, where employees were encouraged to spend 20% of their working week away from the everyday grind to unlock creativity and innovation. Google implemented this change to working practices after it was proved that too much exposure to constant distractions affects your creativity and IQ.
David Caper, CEO of Westfield Health, a company who conducted research into the nations wellbeing says “Many leaders will check emails in the evening or weekend, and it is to easy to let work sneak into recovery time on holiday. It took some planning, but allowing myself to disconnect from the office, take back headspace and truly relax was critical. I was expecting to come back from my holiday to a packed inbox that would undo the good work of the holiday – but this wasn’t the case.
“By making sure I’d had enough recovery time I was ready to perform at my best”
If we have NOT committed to working on strategies that might develop our cushion for Resilience, we are morelikely to underperform in stretch situations. So, whilst I am not suggesting it is possible to adopt the James Dyson way of life by only sending six emails a day – I do advocate for appropriate rest and recovery, and where possible to ensure this is uninterrupted by emails to telephone calls.
The Dyson way of managing the impact of technology on performance, innovation and health is something all Leaders can reflect on. I encourage you to look for the opportunities for improvement in your own relationship with your wellbeing.
- Are you getting sufficient periods of time out of the office…
- … and away from tech, in order to perform at your best?
- What are the consequences of me not changing?
- What are the benefits of trying this change?
- What will this change mean for you?
It is only you who can take positive action.
Westfield Health – The Perfect Summer Storm Wellbeing Index
The Chimp Paradox Mind Management by Prof Steve Peters