Debate: Can we curb the always-on culture?

15 December 2016 -


Customers want 24/7 service and won’t hesitate to switch suppliers if they can’t get it. At the same time, 92% of British managers work more than their contracted hours and burn-out rates are on the rise. Something’s got to give

Matt Scott

Online businesses don’t need to operate 24/7

We are an online training company, so we are very aware that people on our courses could be working at any time of the day or night – and they do. But we have tried to make sure they understand that the process of working with a tutor is asynchronous.

We don’t attempt to be live 24/7 because it’s impossible and it wouldn’t even benefit people, since tutors need to think about their responses.

Of course, the people taking our courses need a response in a reasonable time frame, but that is days, not minutes. So we largely allow our tutors to choose the times that they work.

And our permanent employees can stagger their working times. We allow them to work out cover, and when they come into work, between themselves.

I reject the notion that we have to always be on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because that brings people down. We are an online company and we have not suffered at all as a result of this approach.

Alan Macgregor is a director at Real Group and an educational psychologist

Switch on, and then switch off

Every parent I know sets a limit on screen use for their children – but not themselves. Imagine a herd of antelope grazing. Then a Land Rover drives past. They stop, assess the threat, decide it’s not a concern, and go back to grazing. They experience a brief spike of adrenaline and then it’s gone – they switch on and then they switch off.

What do humans do? We stay connected and worry about everything when we should have switched off and allowed ourselves to come down from the stress.

ASarah Rudder is a learning and development consultant, and an expert in organisational wellbeing

Clients never sleep

When it comes to clients, not only is flexibility key, but you need to be on the ball. Whether it’s a client in a different time zone, your ever growing email inbox, or a social media storm, there will always be something that needs your almost immediate attention.

That said, while you want to assure customers you’re attentive to their needs, you can’t be in all places at once or online 24/7, so set some boundaries to avoid getting burnt out or overwhelmed.

Jennifer Janson is author of The Reputation Playbook

Set protocols for disconnecting

Should we impose the right to be disconnected? Some companies have already signed agreements in this area and introduced a charter on the use of communications tools. The simplest solution would be to underline that there is no obligation to answer professional communications in the evening, at weekends and during holidays.

A more complex measure would be to track connections made outside work hours. Why not put the firm’s servers on standby from 6pm to 7am and at weekends? Or impose a day without email at least once a month to encourage people to meet and to create a warmer work atmosphere?

Interestingly, it is managers and office teams who resist most when such measures are suggested. The ever-higher targets set by those in charge may explain this attitude.

Disconnecting should be a right and a duty for both the individual and the company. However, on a deeper level, it is our culture of immediacy and hyperactivity that should be questioned. We need serenity to be able to think and act.

Sandrine Frémeaux is management professor at Audencia Business School

Always on = unproductive

At Volkswagen’s central offices, they block emails at the end of the shift until the next morning, and Daimler does the same over holidays. These are examples of companies that are worried about the always-on culture.

Britain is one of the world’s highest users of technology in the workplace per capita, and it is the only big economy in the top ten to make that list.

We also have one of the lowest productivity rates per capita. I suspect there is a link; we are almost too on.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper CCMI is professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School

Get real. Put in the extra work

Being ‘always on’ is here to stay, so get used to it. People have been saying that technology is taking over our lives for ages now – it’s boring.

Switching off isn’t really an option for my business, so it’s very important that the team consists of dedicated individuals who understand the demands of the job. This culture might not be for everyone, but, when you’re as driven as we are, it’s a natural response.

Critics need to get real – there is a global shortage of both jobs and opportunities. To stand out, you have to put in the extra work.

Employers and employees should realise that the nine-to- five job doesn’t exist any more and adjust the benefits they offer accordingly.

Paul Blanchard is founder and managing director of Right Angles

Take the time to look after yourself

As a business owner, I am all too aware of just how difficult it is to switch off from work. It’s second nature to reach for my phone and stay connected with the world.

For many professionals, taking time away from the office can actually be more stressful than being at work. Holidays can be ruined by constant worrying, sleepless nights and an inability to relax.

Personally, I leave my laptop in the office or at home, and allocate a set time of day to check in with the team when I’m away. I’ve realised over the years that, for my own wellbeing, I need to be able to disconnect when I’m away.

This means I come back refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to take on new challenges.

Lee Biggins is founder and managing director of CV-Library

Come on. You’re not that important

We can all too easily overestimate our own importance, forcing ourselves to be available 24/7, working on the assumption that somehow our business will face a cataclysm if we are not electronically available for a few minutes.

We have a growing population of people who spontaneously, without thought, respond to their technology as a conditioned stimulus. Irrespective of any health problems associated with electromagnetic radiation, we need to pay attention to the long-term social and psychological consequences of this.

David Cliff is managing director at Gedanken

Concerned about creating a balanced working environment? CMI’s latest The Quality of Working Life report is available to download at

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