Stressed out from being 'always on'

Posted by Nigel Wilson on 26 September 2014 | Comments

I’m increasingly coming across people who are over-tired and stressed from being ‘always on’, ie permanently contactable through email

Over the past five years, it’s almost the norm for employees to remain contactable through email during evenings, weekends and holidays. In certain situations, especially matters of urgency or importance, there could be a valid argument. However, long-term, to many people, surely it must be harmful

It’s too easy, via smartphones and tablets, for people to send and receive out-of-hours email. And often, once it starts, the cycle continues, with emails relentlessly flitting back and forth.

I’m as guilty as the next person, because it simply is so easy. Many of us are addicted to our ubiquitous smartphones, and time seems to have no boundaries

But when we look at the holiday angle, I’ve heard of some people who’ve had pretty miserable holidays. They’ve not been able to disconnect, and so are dragged into issues and problems which frankly they’re on holiday to escape from. Factor in the pressure that’s inflicted on their families, and it’s a sad state of affairs.

On the other hand, a lot of people dread going back to the mountain of email, which takes over their first few working days upon return. To offset that, they check email each day, to keep in touch, and reduce the pile of email awaiting their return.

Running my own business, I actually find it more stressful to switch off completely during my holidays. So I check email first thing for an hour or so (and occasionally again at the end of the day). It works for me. I’m ‘in touch’ and that helps me to relax!

It’s maybe not so funny for employees who have to remain in regular contact. The ones who go back to the hotel / apartment / tent etc to find the Blackberry flashing like a beacon, and the dread of the unexpected and being sucked in.

We hear of bullying bosses (thankfully I don’t know any) who choose to wind up their staff by sending early morning or late-at-night email, knowing that the recipient has to almost instantaneously respond. That’s when it becomes too much. Something has to give - or change.

I’ve heard it’s already illegal in Germany for employees to contact staff during their holidays. Some companies such as BMW and Volkswagen have implemented their own restrictions on contacting employees out of hours. Daimler has recently installed software on its systems which automatically deletes email sent to staff out of hours. In France, there are moves to make it illegal for any form of out of hours contact.

Should it really take the law to prevent such activities? Surely responsible employers (such as those mentioned above) can create their own policies and structures to at least enable their employees to go on holiday and relax with their families, without the distraction and pressure of work.

Otherwise, the long-term effect of work-related stress will inevitably take its toll, resulting in absenteeism, high staff turnover, and most importantly on health. Maybe it’s time British employers took the lead, to prevent a bad situation becoming far worse.