Busyness, Growing Inability to Disconnect Plagues Employees

It wasn’t so long ago when going to work was also work in itself. One dresses up and takes the car or mass transit to report to work, but nowadays, people may not notice that they’re not that in a hurry anymore, at least in northern California where most employees work from home or work remotely somewhere else. 

In northern California especially, the word busy doesn’t even seem to apply right now. There’s work for most people working in Silicon Valley, but taking away commute time and employee interactions — long drawn-out meetings, for instance — people are realizing how many things can be done online — and as a result, it feels like there’s more time in a day. 

Before, everyone had to rush to a famous coffeehouse to grab some coffee on their way to work. Today, one makes coffee at home and enjoys it while basking in the sun for some Vitamin D before that early morning Zoom meeting. 

Of course, those with kids at home may not think this is the case, but in general, everyone feels like things may appear slow at home but work pressure is still high. So people keep busy in many different ways, even if busy does not alway mean productive.

Busy does not always mean productive

As much as workers need time off, or to let things slow down, they may not be doing so. No one is actually being idle. No one thinks the pandemic has slowed them down.

Research has demonstrated the benefits of downtime and rest on overall health and mental capacity. Yet workers have also been taking limited time off to recover, let alone enough time to extend their capacities in the ways the changing nature of work requires. 

In 2018, American workers left behind 768 million days of unused paid time off (PTO), or more than 27% of their earned PTO, a 9% increase from 2017. These problems are only being further exacerbated by the pandemic, according to a report by Deloitte

Resisting time off is what Deloitte refers to as the “disconnect disconnect,” one of the reasons being fear of losing one’s job. Others include the inability to travel, and difficulty justifying time off in a work-from-home environment.

Inability to disconnect

The growing inability to disconnect has skyrocketed during the pandemic, as burnout, among other mental health conditions, has worsened and increased in prevalence, but taking time off has decreased.

Mental health outcomes in recent months are jarring: It has been reported that 75% of workers are experiencing burnout, and the risk for depression has risen 102% for workers of all ages and 305% for workers aged 20–39.

As a result, annual global productivity losses have been pegged at US$1 trillion, which are attributed to increased prevalence of negative mental health outcomes and their coexistence with negative physical health outcomes.

Intangible losses also come into play when workers aren’t at their best: Lack of attention may lead to workplace safety concerns; apathy can cause customer service and satisfaction to suffer; and decreased creativity and productivity can stifle innovation. 

The case for doing nothing

A New York Times piece may be apt for what’s needed today. In The Case for Doing Nothing, it says, “Running from place to place and laboring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes.” 

From the same piece, Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, was quoted as saying that daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.” 

Resisting the culture of busyness is a tall order and seems counterintuitive in an unstable job market, but with rising burnout and depression, when a global mobility manager or employers asks them what their employees are doing, they may need to learn to simply say, “Nothing” when it counts the most — and that is during their time off. And when employees do so, they mean it.  (Dennis Clemente)