I feel as though I should start this post with a confession: My name is Jennifer, and I am addicted to my Blackberry.
Remember the old days when cell phones did nothing but make phone calls? Heck, remember the even older days when there were no cell phones? Back then, people went to work at the start of the day, and then they went home at the end of the day. That was it. If something happened during the evening or overnight, it was dealt with in the morning. I know it’s hard to believe, but this is a true story – I read about it once in a book.
The time when workers left work at work really wasn’t that long ago, and yet here we all are, a world full of people now have their work cells strapped to them at all times, ready to respond instantly to any email or phone call that comes through. After all, we live in a global world that operates 24/7, and the business that lets problems slide without dealing with them ASAP could be the business that doesn’t exist for much longer. It’s a sound business practice to ensure that everyone responds to their customers at any given moment. Here’s the problem: we now have a large segment of the population that can’t put their work away because it’s with them all the time. What started out as a convenience has turned into an addiction. There are a multitude of symptoms to this type of compulsion. See if any of these sound familiar to you:
- You are not able to sit at a stop light for more than one minute without checking the phone.
- When grocery shopping you check your messages at least once before you head to the cashier.
- If you leave the Smartphone at home/work/wherever you currently are not, you feel as though you cannot function until you retrieve the device.
- You have been known to check your work email during a meal while on a first date or during your anniversary part or midway through the birth of your child.
- When you leave work at the end of the day, you then spend the rest of the evening answering every “urgent” email that comes through on the phone, even if it’s just to thank someone for their email.
- You lunge across the table to grab the phone every time it makes a noise, because someone has sent you an e-mail or a BBM or a Tweet or a text and what if you don’t answer back right away? What if you don’t get to it in time? What if you sleep through the Zombie Apocalypse because your Smartphone was not within a one-metre radius of your bed?!
Okay, maybe that last one isn’t so common. But you can’t tell me that I’m the only person who thinks this way.
Here’s one symptom of Smartphone Addiction that I find particularly fascinating: you have checked your phone because you thought that you heard the phone ring or vibrate, only to discover that you didn’t have a message after all. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gone running for my work Blackberry because I thought I heard the email alert, only to discover that I don’t have a message. But…I know I heard it. Didn’t I?
According to a study that was conducted at the University of Worcester in the UK, the phenomenon of “phantom vibrations” is becoming more and more common. More than 100 volunteers were tested from a variety of professions and the results showed that while the majority of the participants began using Smartphones as a way to make their jobs easier, being constantly plugged in to work drastically increased stress and pressure levels in the workers. The more the stress increased, the greater the compulsion to check the phone even when there was no reason to do so. Of course, the more that the phone was checked, the more work was being done, which greater increases stress levels, and so on. It’s like the song that doesn’t end. This really does go on and on, my friend.
So, how do we put an end to this vicious circle of stress and addiction? According to researchers who led the study, the solution lies in the hands of employers who hand out the phones in the first place. Companies are being encouraged by mental health organizations and researchers to tell their employees to turn off the phone and to spend more of their non-work time doing non-work activities. When employees go on vacation or take extended leave, make sure they understand that their phone can stay turned off or even left at the office. In some countries, laws have even been passed to allow a worker to claim paid overtime for checking their work phones after hours. Of course, there are some calls or emails that really are emergencies, and having a Smartphone at hand can help businesses assist their clients and customers better. But do all after-hours emails and phone calls need to be answered with the same level of urgency that is currently occurring? Probably not. Will industry collapse and the economy tank as a result of people putting down the phone long enough to enjoy their meal and tuck their kids into bed? Highly doubtful.
Does your company encourage workers to put down the phone when they’re away from the office? Or are you in a job where there is no such thing as “after hours”? If you’re a manager, how do you feel about your employees being disconnected?