Updated: Jan 26
It was about 3.00 in the afternoon one Tuesday recently and I was walking along a pathway that runs adjacent to a narrow slip road that leads to our local shopping centre. As I looked over towards the entrance I saw a schoolgirl in uniform probably in her mid-teens walking brusquely towards the pedestrian crossing which was about 20 meters ahead of me and I could see she was fully engrossed in her phone.
Just then, a car doing about 20mph passed me heading for the same pedestrian crossing and I could see that the driver had their phone open and on the steering wheel. It all happened in a split second as both the schoolgirl and the car came onto the pedestrian crossing together and then it was over in the blink of an eye, the driver went through the crossing unaware that there was a pedestrian on it and the school girl walked across without lifting her head, oblivious to the car. The girl was connected to her virtual world but was disconnected to the present world and how close she was to serious injury or possibly death and the impact that it might have on her, her family and close friends. The driver was connected to someone in her virtual world but disconnected to what had just happened. She was totally oblivious to how close she was to injuring and perhaps even killing an innocent child on a pedestrian crossing and the long term consequences that it might have on her life, the lives of those around her and the lives of that girl and her family.
The frequency of incidents similar to this is growing and more worrying is that it is becoming an accepted way of life. We are so focussed in our own world and the pace of life is not letting us stop to understand what is driving this behaviour.
In fact what we are experiencing is the consequences of living through the 4th Industrial Revolution which is not like anything mankind has experienced in the past. For the first time in history we have a convergence of science, technology and communications and we are struggling to understand the implications of what that means to us across every fabric of our lives.
Watch around you how everyone is consumed by technology, most of which is fantastic for business but we need to manage the downside if we are truly to enjoy all it has to offer.
Over the coming weeks I will explore the impact of this rapidly changing world on productivity, resilience and wellbeing and will suggest simple tools that you can employ to help you navigate your way through a potential minefield.
Productivity part 1
We are all walking around carrying weapons of mass distraction on our person, namely the smartphone. For those born at the beginning of the century it is part and parcel of everyday life and the thought of not having access to it continuously would not even be contemplated. This need to have access to our personal phones has spread across the generations and is driven by our need for instant gratification and our in built reward system. In response to our need to have this device on us at all times many organisations have seen this as an opportunity to encourage their employees to use their personal smartphones for business purposes also. Other organisations have refrained from encouraging their employees from using their phones for business but are happy to allow them to use them during the course of the day for personal use.
This is something that would not have even been considered a generation ago even if the technology had been available.
Most organisations frowned upon family life interrupting the work of their employee which on the surface may seem old fashioned but perhaps not when we consider where we are today. We can always learn from the past.
Lets for a moment consider what happened in the past in relation to phones. As an employee you went to work, had access to a company phone which was for company business only and when you left the office you left the phone there. You would not have been expected to take a business call at home and so it did not happen.
From a wellbeing perspective there was a clear line between work and family life which for most allowed employees to charge their batteries as they enjoyed their family time.
With the use of personal phones in the workplace we are led to believe that people are more agile and that it is a win-win situation for everyone. On the surface that looks reasonable but once you examine the impact of this strategy you see a different picture.
The employee is now expected to be available outside of business hours which now intrudes into personal and family time. Emails come in from senior colleagues and customers at all times of the day and night and even though the employee is told that there is no rush in dealing with this the reality is something different. The employee feels under pressure to respond as a delay may impact negatively on their annual assessment. This need for instant gratification is putting unnecessary stress on employees which is also delivering a poorer outcome.
What is not being understood is that having employees work these abnormal hours is actually counterproductive. According to the Harvard Business Review “There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us. For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output. In a study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to do so. While managers did penalise employees who were transparent about working less, Reid was not able to find any evidence that those employees actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more. If you would like to know more https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies
So what can we do to achieve our business goals in the most efficient way possible. I suggest the 3R’s which are Recognise, Respond and Review. Recognise the changes that are taking place around you and ensure that they are in the best interests of all concerned. We all want the optimum productivity but it needs to include the wellbeing of our most prized assets, namely our employees.
Respond means involving people within your organisation and allowing them the space to use current thinking to introduce strategies that serve the organisation best even though they may go against traditional practices.
Review is about staying abreast of what is happening and being agile enough to change. In a world that is moving faster than ever before, those who don’t keep up will be left behind.