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Assessing the People Cost of an “Always-on” Work Culture

Assessing the People Cost of an “Always-on” Work Culture

Our increasingly digital-first workplaces have profound implications for the employee experience, particularly on employee well-being and overall mental and physical health. This shift, underscored by an "always-on" culture, has necessitated a deeper examination of how continuous availability and the blurring lines between our work and personal lives are impacting employees at all levels. Drawing from Perceptyx research, I want to unpack some of the complexities of these work dynamics and outline some actionable strategies for navigating the challenges they present.

The Evolution of Workplace Productivity

Historically, the measure of productivity was not your perpetual presence at a desk. In the pre-digital era, it was common for workers to spend about 30% of their day at their desks, with ample opportunities to socialize with colleagues, truly disconnect from work activities, and engage in restorative activities outside of work. This balance offered a clear delineation between professional and personal life, contributing to a sense of individual well-being. 

However, the advent of digital technology and its dominance in our workplaces have significantly altered this dynamic, creating a "digital leash" that keeps people tethered to their devices and the associated notifications. The percentage of time that office-based employees spend at their desks has skyrocketed to approximately 90%, fostering an environment where the expectation to be constantly available has become the norm.

The Detrimental Effects of Always-On Culture

This shift towards constant connectivity has introduced several challenges, notably in the realm of attention management and executive function. The barrage of digital notifications, the expectation of immediate responses, and a culture of multitasking have collectively led to a state where disruptions and task-switching are frequent. These conditions not only diminish the quality of work produced but also lead to burnout and a decline in overall mental health, as examined in this Perceptyx research. The repercussions of an always-on culture are multi-faceted, affecting not just the individual's productivity but also their engagement with work and sense of fulfillment.

What Our Data Shows

Since 2019, data insights from the Perceptyx Benchmark Database paint a detailed picture of these changes and their impacts across multiple dimensions of employee engagement and well-being.

Perceptyx’s data, measured by a 5-point agreement scale, reveals a short-term trend of declining employee engagement during those four years, with a cumulative decrease in favorability of -1.6 points by 2023. This general decline encompasses several key facets of engagement:

  • Purpose: The decline in employees' sense of purpose has been slower (-0.7), suggesting that while employees might still find meaning in their work, other factors are influencing their overall engagement.
  • Pride in the Organization: A significant drop of -2.8 points indicates a growing disconnection between employees and their organizations, potentially reflecting dissatisfaction with corporate culture or values.
  • Intent to Stay: The decrease of -1.7 points in employees' intent to stay with their current employers signals a risk of increased turnover, hinting at underlying issues with job satisfaction or career prospects.
  • Likelihood to Recommend: The -1.3 point drop in employees' likelihood to recommend their workplace as a good place to work could impact talent acquisition and retention.

Our data on well-being and work-life balance offers a glimpse into the challenges employees face in maintaining their health and personal life amid the pressures of modern work environments:

  • Well-being: Although there was a rebound in 2023, well-being levels are still not matching pre-pandemic levels, indicating a sustained impact of the pandemic on employee health and happiness.
  • Work-Life Balance: Notably, work-life balance was on an upward trend from 2019 to 2021 but saw a sharp decline in 2022, with a further decrease in 2023. This suggests that the initial adaptations to remote work and flexible schedules might have given way to overwork, loneliness, and blurred boundaries between work and personal time.

Further insights from Perceptyx show varying degrees of satisfaction with organizational support, training, and empowerment:

  • Support for Health and Well-being: Employees felt less stressed in 2023 and more favorable towards organizational support for health and well-being, indicating a positive response to wellness initiatives that should be a part of any organizational strategy going forward.
  • Adequate Training: There has been a notable decrease (-1.9 from 2022 to 2023) in perceptions of receiving adequate training, highlighting a gap in professional development and skill enhancement opportunities.
  • Empowerment and Alignment: The data shows employees feeling less empowered, especially regarding job fit (-1.0), and a significant loss of clarity around how their work aligns with organizational goals (-3.2 since 2019). This lack of clarity and empowerment can hinder motivation and productivity, leading, as recent Perceptyx research noted, to workers becoming disconnected in their workplace.

Individual Strategies to Combat Burnout

To navigate these challenges, individuals can adopt several strategies to preserve their well-being and maintain productivity. Taking frequent breaks throughout the workday can help mitigate a high cognitive load and provide necessary mental rest. Engaging with nature and spending time outdoors offer therapeutic benefits, reducing stress and enhancing mood. Additionally, dedicating time to hobbies and interests outside of work can serve as a vital counterbalance to the demands of professional life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and personal growth.

Organizational Approaches to Foster a Healthy Work Culture

On an organizational level, many different strategies can be implemented to counteract the negative impacts of the always-on culture. For example, recognizing and valuing downtime is essential, as it not only benefits creativity and productivity but also contributes to a more sustainable work environment. Raising awareness of burnout and promoting strategies for employee well-being are critical steps for organizations looking to support their workforce effectively. Furthermore, a shift in leadership behaviors and mindsets is necessary. Leaders must champion the idea that constant busyness does not equate to higher productivity or effectiveness. Instead, encouraging a balance between work and rest, and supporting employees in achieving this balance, should be prioritized.

Leveraging Listening Solutions for Organizational Improvement

Perceptyx’s solutions for multi-channel listening and action can help involve employees in the problem-solving process and foster a more inclusive, productive work environment. These solutions include:

  • Comprehensive Survey Design: Perceptyx emphasizes the importance of a detailed survey design that captures a wide range of employee experiences and perceptions. By including self-report demographics, such as estimates of daily interruptions, stress, and well-being perceptions, wellness benefits usage, and multitasking perceptions, organizations can gain a deep understanding of the challenges their workforce faces. Our data collection enables targeted interventions to improve work environments and support systems, which can in turn enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.

  • Crowdsourcing via Dialogue: Dialogue enables employees to co-create solutions and vote on their peers’ suggestions, creating a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for organizational improvements. This method has shown measurable results in enhancing organizational safety culture among other areas, demonstrating its effectiveness in engaging the workforce in meaningful dialogue.

Perceptyx Can Help Your People Work Smarter, Not Harder

The comprehensive data insights provided by Perceptyx offer a blueprint for organizations navigating the complexities of the digital workplace. By partnering with us to thoroughly understand the impacts of excessive productivity on employee engagement and well-being, and implementing targeted strategies to address these challenges, we can help your organization foster a healthier, more productive, and more resilient workforce. To learn more, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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