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Overworking yourself just isn’t cool any more

October 31, 2014

Overwork is going the way of cigarettes. That’s the analogy Arianna Huffington made the Dreamforce 14 conference last month. It’s unacceptable for leaders to appear at public events with a cigarette in hand, and cognitively speaking, being sleep deprived is worse—so why would we be OK with a leader who is obviously burned out?

Huffington urged tech industry workers to stop letting technology control their lives. "Technology has to become our slave, not our master," she said in her keynote speech. “We take better care of our smartphones than we take care of ourselves.”

“How many people know how much battery they have left on their phones?” she asked, the crowd rippling with nods and raised hands. “Yet people burn themselves out all the time because they don’t pay attention to their own ’battery level.’”

Spiritual author Eckhart Tolle, who joined Huffington for a Q and A session, said that social media has encouraged us to construct stories about our lives to craft a self-image that more often than not is skewed and delusional, blocking our ability to achieve inner peace.

At some point it became the norm to martyr ourselves by proclaiming, “I pulled a killer all-nighter last night working on those TPS reports,” like being overworked is something to be proud of.

Huffington went on to lead the conference attendees in a brief meditation, asking them to put aside their devices for a moment to focus on their breathing and quiet their minds.

The tech industry must lead the fight against burnout, said Huffington, for the industry’s own good. Mobile work devices encourage workers to stay plugged in all the time, which is not healthy for the employee or their company in the long run.

In a recent TEKsystems survey on the work-life effects of BYOD, 50 percent of IT professionals reported the ability to access work via a mobile device increased their stress because of their inability to disconnect. Sixty-one percent of all respondents said that if they had their choice, they would prefer to work in yesterday’s world where they would be inaccessible outside of business hours.

It certainly seems possible that we are returning to that disconnected world. Many companies are trying to change things. A Washington Post article by Jena McGregor outlined five clever ways companies are helping employees fight burnout:

1. Paying people to take vacations. Yes—apparently some people need to be paid to take time off! Evernote is just one company that offers a sweet stipend to employees who take a full week of vacation.

2. Taking your desk away at the end of the day. It sounds crazy, but Dutch design firm Heldergoen really does this in their Amsterdam offices. At 6 p.m., steel cables attached to all the desks retract the furniture to the ceiling.

3. Company-wide vacation time. TED shuts down all their operations during certain times of the year to force everyone to rest up.

4. No email after hours. Whether the rule is formal or informal, discouraging employees to communicate after working hours takes some of the pressure off their need to stay connected.

5. Limiting technology use to within the office. If you aren’t given a laptop or access to work documents via your mobile device, it’s pretty clear that your company doesn’t want you working on the weekend.

"We have the power to change things,” said Huffington. “We can get away from the collective delusion that burnout is the price of success."

What does your company do to prevent employees from burning out? Tweet them to us @TEKsystems #BurnoutIsNotCool.

As part of TEKsystems’ public relations team, Vanessa Ulrich reads everything she can about the technology industry and emerging trends. Vanessa blogs about where technology and society collide, giving context and commentary to top news stories. You can reach her with questions and comments @vanessulr via Twitter.

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