Go to any restaurant on Friday night and look around. What do you hear? The clamor of the kitchen, maybe. The occasional clanking of silverware or a server taking orders. What do you hear less and less of? A steady stream of conversation between patrons. Instead, they browse Facebook, others check email or text. Many of us do this out of habit or for pleasure, but those of us with high-stakes careers often stay connected because we feel we have to.
Technology is transforming the workplace and though there are hundreds of books that aim to “help” professionals cope with the demands of work and reap the benefits of work-life balance, few really look at the issue in a critical way. Once exception to the pile is a recent book by Leslie A. Perlow called Sleeping with Your Smartphone. While we don’t have the space to summarize her work here, we do want to share the results of a study she conducted in 2007 with The Boston Consulting Group.
Unplugging 1 night a week: The surprising benefits of work-life balance
The purpose of the study was to measure the impact of completely disconnecting from work for just one night a week—that meant no email, no texting, no phone calls. Owens calls this complete disconnection “Predictable Time Off” (PTO). Before we reveal the results of the study, you might find it interesting to know that of the 1,600 managers Perlow studied,
- 92 percent reported putting in 50 or more hours of work a week (this doesn’t even account for the 25 hours a week they spent monitoring their work when they “weren’t working”)
- 70 percent admitted to checking their smartphone each day within an hour after getting up
- 56 percent checked their smartphone an hour before going to bed
- 48 percent checked over the weekend
- 51 percent checked continuously when they were “on vacation”
- 26 slept with their cell phones (we’re not exactly sure what this means)
What did Owens find and what does it have to do with the benefits of work-life balance? Those teams who participated in PTO (as opposed to those who did not) were much more likely to rate their overall satisfaction with work and work-life positively. Here are some numbers for perspective:
- 51 percent (versus 27 percent) reported that they were excited to start work in the morning
- 72 percent (versus 49 percent) reported being satisfied with their job
- 54 percent (versus 38 percent) were satisfied with their work-life balance
The study also revealed that those on “PTO teams” found the work process to be collaborative, efficient, and effective. Here are some more numbers for perspective:
- 91 percent (versus 76 percent) considered their team to be collaborative
- 74 percent (versus 51 percent) rated their team as doing everything it could to be effective
- 58 percent (versus 40 percent) were more likely to see themselves at the firm for the long term
- 95 percent (versus 84 percent) were more likely to perceive that they were providing significant value to their clients
The results are rather stunning, aren’t they? As compelling as they are, Perlow argues that getting employees to disengage is not an individual problem; it’s something that needs to be addressed and fully-endorsed by leadership. You can find an interview with Leslie Perlow in the January 2013 edition of HR Magazine.