Christine Louise Hohlbaum

Christine Louise Hohlbaum

The Power of Slow

Redefining the Workaholic in Our Digital Age

Workaholism has taken on a new meaning in our 24/7 world.

Posted Nov 22, 2011

Workaholism can be defined as the condition of working excessively at the expense of other relationships and that, if left untreated, can lead to burnout and depression. A workaholic is reluctant to disengage from work at any time.

With the rise of our 24/7 availability, the trend toward workaholism is on an upward swing. Or is it? The lines are blurred as our work lives encroach more and more on our private lives. Are you a workaholic if you check your Facebook page while standing in line at the bank?

Maybe it's more important to look at the content of what we are doing. It may start out simple, such as answering a client email on the weekend because, well, he's in a different time zone after all, you rationalize. The next thing you know you're answering emails on the weekends all the time. The work cycle lengthens as your rest periods shorten.

According to the third annual Osterman Research Survey, commissioned by Neverfail®, researchers found an increasingly mobile workforce and continued reliance on email connectivity. The results were compiled from a survey conducted with roughly 213 respondents, half of whom were IT professionals. Among the interesting findings: people are finding it necessary to always be connected to their work and personal email, even interrupting meals and daily activities to check email, and workers are willing to drive great distances for connectivity.

Are we on a downward spiral to workaholism?

If you've ever cursed the sky as you hold your handheld up to it in search of a few 'bars' of reception, you know of which I speak. Connectivity has become our life lines. But what are we really panicking about? Why do we find it so hard to disengage from the online world? And is it really work that we are worried about or an underlying fear that we'll miss out on something if we 'disconnect' even for an hour?

Eighty-three percent of those surveyed admitted to checking email after work using a smartphone or mobile device. While the number of users who access business email during time off decreased slightly (10 percent), many users continue to take work with them wherever they go. More than half of the respondents brought a work-related device with them on vacation (66 percent), and a similar percentage (68 percent) admitted to driving more than 10 miles to access email. This could demonstrate that the tough global economy requires near-constant productivity, or it could indicate an addiction to email and multi-tasking-anytime, anywhere. And I don't think IT professionals are alone in this behavior.

The number of users who would return home to retrieve a forgotten email device increased from 19 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2011, an indication of how attached people have become to devices, such as BlackBerrys, iPhones/iPads, or other types of smartphones or tablets. In fact, almost a third of users (31 percent) report that they exclusively use their mobile device for business processes, such as reading and responding to emails.

Our digital reliance (or addiction?) is real. It informs our behavior. But the good news we are starting to get smarter about where it's appropriate or inappropriate to use our mobile devices.

Take texting while driving, for instance, a topic close to my own heart. It seems stricter laws around driving while texting and increased accident awareness are making an impact. The survey found that less than half of respondents (49 percent) admitted to driving while texting. This is down significantly from 76 percent in the previous survey.

Some other interesting findings:

  • Dinner with friends or family still represents a prime time for users to find out who's contacted them. Well over 50 percent of users reported sending emails during a meal. If you've ever been at a table with someone who's checking in with a distant contact, you know how alienating that can feel!
  • People also like to multitask on their devices while shopping, with nearly 65 percent of users admitting to emailing while in the grocery line. Admittedly, I will do this. It's as if we can't stand still for even a minute of mindfulness!
  • There are some things that are still sacred, though: the number of users who admitted to emailing during a romantic moment has decreased from 11 percent in 2009 to a mere 2 percent in 2011. Now that's multitasking gone seriously awry!

How close are you to your smartphone? What would you do if you left it at home for a day?

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