ccording to a recent study conducted by the Society for Labour, Industrial, and Organizational Psychological Research in Oldenburg, Germany, more than 50 percent of us find ourselves engaged in work-related activities outside normal business hours. That's true for exhibit managers, who work an average of nearly 50 hours per week. But perhaps the more alarming issue is that even when we're off the clock and in our homes, we never really leave the office.
Thanks to email and smartphones, employees are essentially on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, according to a separate study by Pixmania, a French e-commerce site, people with smartphones check their emails more frequently and, as a result, add up to two hours to their normal workdays. That means those people are putting in an extra 460 hours – or nearly three weeks' worth of 24-hour days – of work every year, all thanks to so-called "smart" devices that are supposed to make our lives easier, enhance our efficiency, and offer flexible work environments.
The resulting imbalance that has occurred, however, isn't just an annoyance. Studies indicate that work has encroached so intrusively into our personal lives that the two are now difficult to delineate. As a result, we're constantly multitasking rather than focusing solely on any given activity. University of Sussex researchers claim that multitasking individuals are less efficient, are more prone to depression and anxiety, and even have less gray matter (the part of the brain responsible for processing information). In other words, our smartphones are making us dumb.
But that's not all. The aforementioned German research study found that those who frequently checked their email via laptops, tablets, and smartphones outside normal business hours were more likely to experience insomnia, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, stomach and muscular problems, and cardiovascular issues.
So what does all this have to do with exhibit and event professionals? Well, according to a recent EXHIBITOR pulse survey, the majority of you likely fall into this multitasking lot. Eight out of 10 exhibit managers admitted to excessively checking work email outside of normal business hours, with 62 percent doing so every day, including weekends, family holidays, and even vacations.
Thankfully, according to an article in the U.K.'s The Daily Mail, employers are taking note, and things may be starting to change. Managers at Deutsche Telekom have agreed to stop sending emails to employees during evenings, weekends, and holidays. And France recently introduced rules that safeguard people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from being expected to respond to work email outside office hours. In a similar move, German carmaker Daimler AG has installed software on employees' computers that automatically deletes emails when they're out of the office on vacation to give people a break and let them rest.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the pond, corporate America seems less willing to change. We have fostered a notoriously workaholic, multitasking business culture. And as self-proclaimed road warriors, exhibit and event professionals may find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a 9-to-5 business day.
Somehow, in our eternal quest to have it all, we inadvertently turned the pursuit of the American dream into something of a nightmare. But if companies are unlikely to proactively step up to the plate, it's up to us to wake up, set and enforce reasonable boundaries, and infuse a little more life into that work/life balance. Because despite employers' collective expectation that we're always on, we are still the ones responsible for never pressing the off button.