Taking the time to ‘switch off’ is critical to work performance and in being better humans for ourselves and those around us, writes Roxanne Calder.
We are always on.
In today’s digital world, is there ever a time we are not reachable? In the morning, is the phone the recipient of your first physical contact and engagement? My bet, for most of us, the answer is yes.
It continue, with incremental, gradual creeping insertions; while making a coffee, listening to the morning news and even as we speak to our family.
The litmus test is the sacred, private, hygienic time – the toilet. A NordVPN study showed 65 per cent of respondents use their phone in the bathroom. Another survey found 93 per cent of young people do the same.
It appears we can’t help ourselves. If responding to an email for work, I am sure your boss is most grateful, although likely and thankfully unaware.
Legislation to switch off
In 2017, France introduced legislation on the right to disconnect from technology after working hours. Italy obliged the same year, and in 2018, Spain and Belgium followed suit.
Soon after came the pandemic. What we thought we wanted did an about-face.
Instead, we demanded the freedom to switch on and choose how, when and where we worked, believing it to be the magic antidote to achieving the ultimate wellbeing. And our working hours increased thanks to the rise of ‘teleworking’ and the use of information and communications technology (ICT) such as desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, has surged.
If you thought hybrid working was the mixture of office and home, think again. Hybrid is the combination of telework, whether at a cafe, on the bus, toilet, and working from the office.
Switching on and off seems a luxury of the past, with the freedom we so ardently sought embalming us more closely to work than ever before.
History says ‘take a break’
History shows our constant battle with balance.
In 1817 the eight-hour day was first proposed, with the idea being eight hours for labour, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of sleep.
The two main arguments were to allow for development, education and adequate leisure time to be better family members and citizens. Well, not much has changed.
Breaks provide perspective, time to breathe, learn, see the bigger picture and, in turn, be more efficient at work.
Humans are not machines. But even machines need their breaks, with services, checks, tunes, repairs, and maintenance. Similarly, work breaks function as prevention and intervention, helping us to be more resilient when stressors arise, and to perform better at our jobs.
Taking breaks provides you with renewed energy, focus and motivation. A walk and some form of movement have proven benefits for our cognitive ability.
A growing body of research suggests physical fitness is one way to boost brain health and even enhance memory and cognition, which are powerful tools and skills for your job.
Switching off from our job refers to stopping the physical action of working as well as the mental attention.
Switching off allows you to be present, more aware of your surroundings and have a greater contribution to the task at hand.
If you are like me, you might love your job and even the accompanying long hours. Perhaps it’s your high engagement that brings about the longer hours and not the workload.
Either way, these longer and blurred working days inevitably take their toll, making it impossible to operate at optimum levels.
The sense of accomplishment slips away and with it self-confidence, a critical component to job performance.
Make it meaningful
The mental switch off is the hardest. For a lot of us, we carry high workloads and while we might physically be away from our job, our brain is still ‘on’, processing mountains of emails, projects and looming tasks.
The inner conflict, guilt and debate vies for your mental focus. Even if you are physically present, mentally you are far, far away.
And some distractions serve to numb us rather than provide the detachment elixir.
Switching off needs to be a practice, and an external focus on others with kindness has proven to increase the ‘happiness’ hormones. It is hard to be upset, angry or sarcastic while also being kind. This has to be a significant positive impact for your job. Being kind might well be the best switch-off you can do.
We knew it in 1817 and we know it now – breaks are vital to our wellbeing. Switching off restores energy and mental resources and decreases the development of fatigue.
All of this is critical to work performance and, of course, in being better humans for ourselves and those around us.