In today’s workplace, it’s no longer enough to just show up. While that might well be true, there is a vast difference between showing up and being actively engaged. So, before unpacking this myth of 24/7 availability, let’s take a quick look at some figures on engagement.
According to the worldwide study Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, spanning 180 million employees in more than 142 countries, only 13% of employees are “actively engaged” at work. This leaves a staggering 63% who are “not engaged” (lacking motivation) and therefore less likely to drive company goals and outcomes, and 24% “actively disengaged” – that is, unhappy, ineffective or possibly even breeding negativity like wildfire throughout your organisation. If you prefer to look at it differently, there were approximately 900 million workers “not engaged” and 340 million “actively disengaged” around the world between 2011 and 2012 (when the study was curated).
You are, in all likelihood – as currently shrinking department sizes cause an escalated workload –busier than ever before. With South African unemployment levels staggeringly high (around 25% in June this year), changing technology and a whole new generation entering the workplace, it’s fair to say that what you were doing five years ago to get by (read: not engaged) isn’t enough today. And there you were, thinking you were adding value…
This picture could well be the reason many people fall prey to believing that they always need to be available. But being available at any time isn’t the answer to being more engaged. It’s like showing up without an outcome, and that’s worth diddly-squat to your efficiency and your company’s financial wellbeing. Fortunately, there are alternatives that you can easily apply to be more amazing. Here’s how.
What productivity lies are you telling yourself? To be a great employee, you always need to be available. Wrong. The “always on” mentality breeds a “seldom on” performance level. Counterintuitive as it may sound, taking a break is the most valuable thing you can do. It’s similar to working on a slow computer.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for conscious thinking, reasoning and processing. Without breaking your day, this part of the brain slows down, just like the computer. It becomes difficult to remember detail, creativity is stifled and actions become sluggish.
If you are merely showing up at work like the vast majority, as the Gallup study suggests, you might want to reconsider your belief system right now and make a shift or three:
SET BOUNDARIES AND COMMUNICATE THEM
Start by deciding what will work well for you, while bearing in mind that you coexist as part of a team working towards the good of your company. You’ll need to take your employment contract into consideration when setting these defined availability parameters. Now have a benefits-driven conversation with your boss. Especially if working after business hours is a standard part of your job, they need to understand that taking time out from work daily is key to delivering your best work, so you can make a contribution to the company or team.
Lastly, communicate with your colleagues. If your new work habits change, you can expect resentment. Be mindful of sharing the benefits of implementing this change with the team, and get them on board to try it out. Better still, if they are feeling edgy about always having to be available or assisting with the admin while you appear to be collecting the rewards, find a collective voice on what system can work best for your department and how to achieve that. Determine your team’s roles and agree on acceptable communication platforms and times outside of standard work times.
CREATE A ROUTINE AND PROTOCOL
Now it’s time for implementation. Think of it as putting together a contract or protocol to which your team can adhere. While you’re at it, list expectations to help everyone stay engaged without having to be available 24/7. If someone has to be available in the case of emergency (define what an emergency is), create a roster and rotate shifts. Let everyone know who is on duty when, and resist taking a call when it’s not your turn.
APPOINT AN ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY
Change can be challenging without self-discipline and, if you feel you might falter, enlist the help of a buddy (a colleague or your personal partner) to help you stay on track. Periodic check-ins via text message or email might be what helps you implement (and maintain) your new routine, provided you’re not checking for updates 24/7. Removing the expectation of being constantly on call (and the guilt and resentment it builds) will bring a sense of self-liberation and boost your engagement.
P.S. In case you’re wondering how South Africa fared in the Gallup study’s results: engaged: 9%; not engaged: 46%; actively disengaged: 45%. Ouch!
Tracey Foulkes is cofounder and CEO of multinational company This is Productivity. She uses her understanding of how people function optimally to inspire teams to redefine their work. This is done through a twist on traditional time management and team productivity, so they can reclaim at least 28% of their working day.
- This is Productivity: thisisproductivity.com
Words: Tracey Foulkes