March 30, 2017

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Are You Always On?

March 30, 2017

I recently read a LinkedIn profile summary, as I often do before or after meeting someone, and in the Summary section there was a line which particularly stood out. This person's profile gave a really interesting, thorough overview of their accomplishments and interests, and then stated "In fact, I'm barely ever not working".


This was quite interesting to see, as it implied a sort of badge of honour around the concept of never switching off from work. There might've been other reasons this person wrote this - they might've been proud of the efforts they were putting into growing a business, or thought it was very important to prospective clients to emphasise how much they worked, but to me it rang alarm bells and gave me a sense of what that person valued and that they might succumb to burn-out in future. If I was looking at this profile summary through my HR or recruiter lens, I realised nowadays this would actually be a red flag for me.


Separately, I was looking at a company website this week, and noticed they'd written prospective clients could contact them seven days a week, any time. This is a relatively new company which prided itself in "disrupting" a traditional industry, so I wondered if they were trying to use the seven days' accessibility aspect as a way of differentiating themselves from the competition. Or - if the company's leadership genuinely believes being always-on is good for them and their team members. It was surprising to see, especially in the age of digital detoxes growing in popularity.


I've lived and travelled in big cities which rarely seem to switch off, and this was always exhilarating, especially when travelling, but I usually found it overwhelming after a certain period of time. For me, this was definitely the case in New York ("city that never sleeps"), Las Vegas, and ultimately London, where I lived for eight years. I always preferred travelling somewhere quiet (remote Norway for instance) as it gave me chance to re-charge my batteries, which like an electronic device, at times start to flash the Charge Me signal and need to be plugged in.


This is the same for many people at work - there is a certain volume and pace of work each person is able to sustain until burnout hits. Many companies these days are making concerted efforts to ensure employees are rewarded for the level of impact they make in their work, as opposed to the number of hours they spend sitting at a desk, responding to emails or attending after-hours meetings/calls. Smart companies and people understand to ensure maximum productivity of themselves and their team members, they need to do all they can to minimise burnout. Being brave enough to do this is the true disruption, and sadly there are many still behind the curve on this.


It's important to note not being always-on doesn't mean not working hard, or not being available when needed. It's about finding systems that work for individuals, instead of expecting everyone to be held to the same standards. I've worked in places where I could book a personal appointment at 10am, and be trusted to arrive at work as soon as I could afterwards, and perhaps put in a couple of extra hours that day - but only if needed (and I was never asked to do so). This made me feel valued and inspired me to consistently give more and work harder, which actually decreased the chance of burnout.


Psychology Today report outlines the six sources of burnout as employees feeling they:


  • Have little control over their destiny

  • Aren't bought into the company values at work

  • Lack reward for what they are doing

  • Are overloaded with too much work

  • Aren't being treated fairly in comparison to everyone else

  • Don't exist as part of a wider community of colleagues


I can't help but think in an effort to "disrupt" traditional ways of doing things, some people and companies are now trying to revert to the always-on mentality as a way of trying to differentiate themselves from others, without considering the impact this will very likely have on them or their teams longer term.


Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which partners with startups wanting world-class talent strategies, and coaches people looking for awesome careers. Find her at 








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