‘Always on’ employees are more engaged but also more stressed

11 Jan 2019 By Francis Churchill

Businesses urged to help individuals find the ‘sweet spot’ between job satisfaction and work-life balance

Employees who are ‘always on’ tend to be more engaged at work but also report greater stress and poorer work-life balance, according to research being presented at the British Psychological Society (BPS) today.

Of workers who were identified as always on, 28 per cent found it difficult to mentally switch off, 26 per cent reported interference with their personal life and 20 per cent suffered mental exhaustion.

However, despite individuals who were able to access work emails or calls outside of the office reporting a poorer work-life balance, they also tended to be more engaged and enjoy greater satisfaction with their job.

The study also found people with different personality types, as defined by psychometric testing, responded differently to the pressures of constant connectivity that has been encouraged by technology.

It found those who scored higher on introversion, sensing (a preference for facts and practicality) and judging (a preference for structure) had more of a desire to keep their home and work life separate, while those who were more practical or structured in their thinking found it harder to switch off.

Nikhita Blackburn, one of the business psychologists behind the research – which was conducted on behalf of The Myers-Briggs Company –  said it was in businesses’ interests to help employees strike a balance.

“In the short term, people who are more engaged in their job may be tempted to be always on, but this may impair wellbeing and job performance over the longer term,” she said. “Organisations might consider helping their staff recognise the ‘sweet spot’ between using technology to increase engagement and becoming a slave to it, as well as setting clear expectations about technology use outside work.”

Laura Little, learning and development manager at CABA, a charity that supports the welfare of accountants, told People Management it was becoming generally accepted that a work-life balance was no longer achievable. “Advancements in technology have hindered our ability to strike a healthy balance. We’re expected to be more productive as tasks should take less time due to automation,” she said.

Little said employees needed to learn to integrate their work and home lives instead of balancing them. “[Acknowledge] that the two will always be intertwined but not always equal, and act accordingly,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s about being present during your down time, in order to make the most of it.”

The study included a total of 1,116 people, and the results were presented at the annual conference of the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology.

The study echoes the results of a survey earlier this week which found nine out of 10 employees felt stressed in their jobs.

The survey of 1,056 UK workers, conducted by research firm Qualtrics, also found more than half (52 per cent) described themselves as stressed at work ‘most of the time’, and that one in five would describe their company as unsupportive of a healthy work-life balance.

Ian McVey, enterprise lead for northern Europe at Qualtrics, said the figures showed high levels of employee stress were becoming the new normal. “We know from our research that employees who feel they have a healthy balance between their work and personal lives tend to be less stressed, more engaged and more likely to remain in their jobs,” he said.

“Given that it costs up to 10 times as much to train new staff as it does to retain existing workers, employers should think carefully about how they can help their staff manage work-life balance.”

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