Have you become the device that is always on?

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Do you struggle to turn-off?

Have you found that work has become your life?

Maybe you don’t see your friends or family as often as you used to?

Perhaps you are in overwhelm mode, just surviving?

In the greedy nature of our work, we wear multiple hats, do more and are always ‘on’. But just because that is how it is, does it mean it should be that way?

Research conducted by Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan found that “people typically rely on one of three strategies when confronted by a high intensity workplace: accepting and conforming to the demands of a high-pressure workplace; passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the norm; or revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to abandon them”.

Within their study, 43% of the people interviewed fell into the ‘accepting’ category. In their quest to succeed on the job, “accepters” prioritize their work identities and sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are. In many work cultures however, this is deemed as the “ideal employee”.

Such employee’s struggle with those that don’t operate in the same way as them. With a tendency to get totally absorbed in their work, they don’t tend to make very good mentors, as they can’t see how difficult it can be for others; particularly newcomers. One research candidate stated; “They can no longer understand how unbelievably stressful it is to come in not knowing how to play the game. They not only cause themselves stress, but they create stress ripples around themselves.

The study also found that 27% of participants fell into the “passing” category. Whilst looking like the ‘ideal employee’, and in fact gaining the same rating as the ‘accepting’ employee, these people will organise their work so it serves their needs as well. One candidate focused on local industries, which permitted them to develop rosters of clients they could serve with minimal travel time, thus opening up space for other parts of their lives.

Lastly, the study found 30% of those interviewed pursued the “revealing” strategy. This means they coped by “openly sharing other parts of their lives and by asking for changes to the structure of their work, such as reduced schedules and other formal accommodations”. They were however, not so favourably perceived by management with their commitment often challenged. one participant’s commitment was challenged when he requested paternity leave to put his family first over his job.

So what might this mean for you?

Which category do you align with?

As leaders, it begins with what we role-model. We set the tone for the whole organisation or team.

Do you need to develop a multi-faced identity? Maybe you need to invest time in exploring and developing other parts of your being. It may just start with going to a market with a friend instead of beavering-away on work that will always be there.

Maybe as a leader you need to reward balance, rather than outputs. Perhaps it may mean giving (timed) time to hearing about people’s weekends in a team meeting (I once worked for a very progressive organisation who did this and it built such tight bonds within the team). You may also look at providing incentives such as a get-away weekend as a reward.

Lastly we may need to protect employee’s personal lives. We need to understand and work with their values. If family is a high value for them, then we need to support them as best we can to spend time with their family. It is not about squeezing the last possible ‘bit’ out of them; it is about actively modelling and supporting them to have-a-life outside of work.

What type of culture are you modelling through your leadership?

How are you being explicit about what is important for people’s wellbeing?