Is it time for workers to switch off ?
Employees in the UAE could benefit from being emancipated from their emails, an expert has said, as workers elsewhere in the world show signs of rebelling against having to be wired to the workplace.
Dealing with work mails during out of office time, being spammed on social media and having a rare moment of calm disturbed by an unwelcome text are recognised as the price of living in today’s ultra-connected world.
But after one US tech expert warned this week that the bombardment of updates in our personal time means “we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves” a UAE-based workplace guru has told 7DAYS that UAE firms should explore ways of protecting the downtime of their employees.
David Robert is a partner and director of the Great Place to Work Institute UAE, an organisation which compiles an annual list of the country’s best workplaces and works with firms to improve their office environment.
But while firms in the Emirates may frown at the power naps and office chefs that are all the rage at Google’s California HQ, he said firms could help just by encouraging a limit to emails.
“Email is one of those tools that had great intentions and it is often not used appropriately,” Robert explained, adding that some workers use messages to “protect themselves”.
“Employees sometimes don’t know who should be informed of something, so they list everybody. These humungous, massive email chains get started… these endless loops.”
Many could be avoided by simply walking over to a colleague’s desk, Robert said.
The workplace guru says local firms are struggling with the same “pain points and challenges” around communication as bigger firms elsewhere - but many have yet to devise a way to reduce the tide of interruptions.
“Encourage people to limit email use, or to stop using it all together for a short period of time. Some companies have ‘no-email Fridays’, or have an hour a day where staff don’t email.”
Firms may feel they’ve done their bit by allowing flexible hours and working from home. But Robert explained: “If you are giving people a BlackBerry or an iPad or a laptop and expecting them to be available 24/7 you haven’t really solved the problem.”
...but we only have ourselves to blame, says expert
Social media consultant Alan Devereux is used to being plugged in - but even he’s got his limits. “I’m not available on emails when I’m in the car,” he told 7DAYS. “There’s no phone call that can come to me that is more important than me driving safety. There’s no text message I have to answer that is going to risk me crashing my car.
But he has found such off-the-grid moments are increasingly rare in the UAE.
“In one previous job here I was on call 24-hours a day and I would get emails and text messages up until midnight - and people would expect a response,” says Devereux - who now runs his own firm 120Talk.
But, he says, the relentless tide of emails we have to field is not down to controlling bosses - it’s largely our own fault.
“I think it’s human nature,” he says. “I think if in your company there is a competitor for promotion, let’s say, then he is going to be point-scoring, he is going to be making sure he sends an email at 11pm and that someone sees it. And if you haven’t got your phone switched on and don’t respond, people tell me they feel they’ve lost a point with the boss.”
Even this social media evangelist is convinced of the having a break from the internet and emails. “If you don’t allow people to rest, they are not energised when the week starts again,” Devereux warns.
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