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Are we ready for technology of 21st century?

While technology continues to develop exponentially, and efficiency tools are allowing corporations to do more with less, the workforce is supposed to keep marching on fearlessly and deliver ever more results. Managers expect it. Investors expect it. Even some workers themselves expect it. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that employees are overwhelmed by the “always on and online” lifestyle driven and pushed by corporations armed with productivity technology. Not to mention that employees no longer want a career, they want a meaningful experience. Technology is great for productivity tools, but it must be used in our favor. Technology is meant to be an enabler, otherwise it can dehumanize and destabilize our experience and expectations. One solution requires lifestyle balance. Just think of professional athletes versus corporate athletes.  

Technology: the corporate performance champion

Moore’s Law has been used to describe and predict technological performance efficiency. It predicted an evolution pattern where transistors on a chip scaled down and multiplied, driving the computing power to double every year, while the size of devices actually decreased. In a nutshell we seem to always be able to do more with a smaller and smaller device. In addition to devices getting smaller and more powerful, accessibility to technology around the world has also increased. Here is a fun fact according to research by 60 Second Marketer: out of the 6.8 billion people in the world, 4 billion use a mobile phone. Even though only 3.5 billion people actually own a toothbrush, people like to be connected. Leaving personal hygiene to the side, how connected is too connected? If computing power has been doubling every year, is it possible that employee stress has also been doubling as well?

The overwhelmed employee: 24 hours stress

Many employees feel overwhelmed by the corporate lifestyle. There is so much information that is being generated, so many productivity tools that are keeping us interconnected and “always on” that a feeling of overwhelm is not surprising. Research by Deloitte last year made this a fact. Their results showed that two thirds of today’s employees feel “overwhelmed.” The proliferation of technology has broken down barriers between work and life, and you can forget about mentioning work-life balance, many employees do not even know what that is.  

Are people working too hard? Absenteeism at work is also an issue, as people cannot seem to focus. The average office worker can only focus for seven minutes at a time before he or she either switches windows or checks Facebook (according to Neurologist Larry Rosen). But we cannot blame Social Media, mobile device users check their phones 150 times per day. Employees are just too distracted, too busy and expected to perform at peak efficiency most of the time. Too many professionals work 50 hours per week, flooded with too many conference calls, meetings and emails even out of the office. The days when we could leave our jobs and go home to our families where work, emails and Internet did not follow us, are long gone. Now, employees can be fully connected to their work, 24 hours a day. Is this really increasing performance? Of course not, since our workforce cannot even stay focused more than an average of seven minutes. Even though this is an urgent issue in business, I do not see many organizations doing anything about it – whether they do not know what to do about it or they are just ignoring the problem altogether. And this challenge impacts our personal lives and happiness, our children, and our families. Our “always on” lifestyle has impacted even children, causing them to suffer from anxiety from an early age.

A note on Digital Dementia

Dementia has not usually been a term associated with young, fit people, but these days it is. Digital Dementia is a term coined in South Korea, that refers to the deterioration in cognitive abilities due to over reliance on digital devices, and which has similar effects to a head injury or psychiatric illness. The study done in South Korea reveled that overuse of smartphones and game devices actually hampers the balanced development of the brain. Furthermore, heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped. Therefore, keeping your smartphone too close, having access to your email anytime is great, but take caution. Being “always on” may have negative effects on performance, and even lifestyle with first symptom described as problems with short-term memory. Forgetting anything lately? We all could be. We take out our cell phone anytime we need an answer, which hampers the brain’s ability to think for itself. Since anything can be found at the click of a button or the swipe of your finger, why bother memorizing new information.

Professional athlete versus corporate athlete

Having or reaching a healthy lifestyle balance means thinking more holistically. As a coach, I like sports analogies so I am going to use one by comparing professional athletes to corporate athletes. I will mention that there are those that disagree with this comparison due to the simple fact that a professional athlete, for example a tennis player, performs for about two or three hours a day, maybe a couple of times per week in a tournament, while he or she keeps winning. The corporate athlete works and is supposed to perform about eight hours per day, five days a week. However, I think it is wrong to assume that anyone can perform at peak so many hours every week. I think the analogy is important because it is about being on top of your game. The corporate athlete could take some lessons in this area from the professional athlete.

Let’s break it down. I mentioned that the tennis player performs in tournaments up to three hours a day, perhaps a couple of times a week during a tournament. Outside the tournament, the tennis player trains, gets coached and mentored, learns new skills while developing existing strengths, as well as rests, recharges, eats the right nutritious food and sleeps at least seven-eight hours per night. Then, of course the professional athlete can have peak performance when needed. We could say that the professional athlete, in this case the tennis player, spends much less than half of the time performing in tournaments and more than half preparing mentally and physically.

However, the corporate athlete has a different life. Out of the 24 hours in a day, the corporate athlete should get at least seven-eight hours of sleep – from my experience this does not necessarily happen. Then, there are 16 hours left in the day, which means the corporate athlete works at least half of his waking hours – although this is a very positive estimation. I do not usually meet many employees that are able to be out the door of their office building exactly after eight hours of work. Usually they work longer hours. In addition to working half of his or her waking time in the office, the corporate athlete spends more time checking his work email on his cell phone or at home, as well as simply thinking about work. The corporate athlete does not get much preparation, and sometimes no coach or mentor either. How much time does the corporate athlete dedicate to being ready to perform at their peak when they are needed to be at their peak like the professional athlete? Does the corporate athlete even know when he needs to be at peak, or is he expected to be at peak all the time?

The corporate athlete is the analyst, the manager, the CEO. They are expected to have all the answers and be at the top of their game all the time. But how much time do they allocate to being at the top of their game? To being coached? To learning new things? To being rested and regenerated? To eating right and being in tip-top physical and cognitive order? The corporate athlete can allocate very little of their time to important things that the professional athlete allocates more than half of his or her time – which can then yield ‘dividends’ when it is time to perform. How much more successful would corporations be if corporate athletes could really learn from real athletes and take note of the lifestyle balance? Nobody can say that professional athletes do not work hard. They do, but they do it in a way that allows them to perform at peak when they need to – and that is the main important lesson the corporate athlete could learn.

The corporate athlete could start by taking at least one day a month to work on themselves, which will actually mean working on their performance, on being a better leaders, on making better decisions, on getting better results. One day a month might not be enough but it would be a start. Corporate athletes cannot afford to NOT take the time to work on themselves.


Jan Muehlfeit
Global Strategist / Coach / Mentor in cooperation with Czech Leaders Magazine  
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