Productivity Lie #3: you must always be available

Being available at any time isn’t really the answer to higher levels of productivity or being more engaged. It’s like showing up without an outcome.

One of the first slides I show during our Productive Time workshop says, “In today’s workplace, it’s no longer good enough to just show up.” There is a vast difference between ‘showing up’ or ‘just being there’ and being actively engaged. So, before unpacking this lie of 24/7 availability, let’s take a quick, and face-smackingly-hard, look at some worldwide figures on engagement shall we? Breathe in!

According to Gallop’s State of the Global Workplace, worldwide study spanning 180 million employees over 142 countries, only 13% of employees are actively engaged at work. This leaves a staggering 63% who are “not engaged” i.e. lacking motivation and therefore less likely to drive company goals and outcomes, and 24% who are “actively disengaged” i.e. unhappy, ineffective and likely breeding negativity like wildfire throughout your organisation. Or, if you prefer to look at it a different way, then there areapproximately 900 million workers who are “not engaged” and 340 million who are “actively disengaged” around the world right now (or between 2011-2012 when the study was curated). Exhale.

So, let’s think about that quote again for a moment … you are just as busy or, with shrinking department sizes resulting in more pressure and escalated workload, in all likelihood, you are busier now than ever before. With unemployment levels staggeringly high in South Africa at around 24% in the last quarter of 2014, changing technology and a whole new breed of generation Y’s entering the workplace, it’s fair to say that what you were doing say five years ago to get by (Read: “not engaged”), is absolutely not enough today. BAM, and there you were thinking you were adding value.

This picture of doom and dreadful gloom could well be the reason that many of our clients fall prey to believing that they always need to be available. But being available at any time isn’t really the answer to being more engaged. It’s like showing up without an outcome I guess … and that’s worth diddly-squat to your efficiency and your company’s financial wellbeing. But there are alternatives that you can easily apply to be more amazing. Dispelling this lie right now, and convincing your boss to do the same, is the first thing you can do to winning that workplace star of the month award. Let’s tell you how.

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #3: To be a great employee, you always need to be available

With the exception of the employee who is contractually bound to a 24/7 type of job, of whom I can’t think of anyone right now (although I’m pretty sure they exist), the ‘always on’ mentality breeds a ‘seldom on’ performance level. Counterintuitive as it sounds, taking a break is likely the most valuable thing you can do on any given workday. While there are reams of scientific evidence about taking a break and the positive effects on your productivity, I like saying that it’s similar to working on a slow computer … and we’ve all at some point been unfortunate enough to do that! In the front of the brain we find our prefrontal cortex. It’s responsible for our conscious thinking, reasoning and processing. Without taking a break, this very important part of our brain tends to slow down, just like the computer. It becomes difficult to remember detail, creativity is stifled and taking action of any kind becomes sluggish to say the least. In addition, as the day progresses and you continue to dismiss taking breaks, you decline even more. So your post-break, fully charged prefrontal cortex loses power as the day progresses making you less effective as it depletes. Think of the image of a fully charged battery, 5 cells glowing green, and as the battery weakens, the glowing cells diminish 4, 3, 2 till you are left with 1 red cell and not much power. That’s the result of not recharging; taking a break helps you do that.

While productivity lie #6 unpacks the excuse of ‘There’s never enough time to take a break’ and highlights ways to counteract the untruth, this issue of always being available is one that goes beyond the power nap. If you are merely showing up at work like the vast majority, as the Gallop study suggests, then you might want to reconsider your belief system right now and make a shift or three.

The 3 things you can do right now

Set boundaries & communicate them:

Ideally this should be done right at the beginning of your employment or change in role, but just because you haven’t yet gotten around to it, doesn’t mean you can’t start now.

Setting boundaries starts with deciding what will work well for you as an individual while bearing in mind that you co-exist as part of a team who’s ideally working towards the greater good of your company.
You’ll need to take your employment contract into consideration, although if your standard initial employment agreement no longer serves the greater good of your organisation, it might well be worth challenging it, when setting these defined availability parameters.
Now, depending on your position, you might need to have a ‘benefits driven’ conversation with your boss. Think of what’s in it for him for you to not be available 24/7. He’d need to understand that in order for you to do your best work while making a massive contribution to the company or team, taking time off from work on a daily basis is the golden key.
Lastly, once you have permission, you’d need to communicate with your colleagues. If your new work habits change without communicating to them, you can expect resentment. Be mindful of sharing the benefits of implementing this change with the team too, and get them on board to try it out for themselves as well. Better still, if you already know that they are feeling edgy about always having to be available, pull them together earlier to get a collective voice on what can work best for your department and how to achieve that.
Tip: Determine your team’s definition of an emergency and agree on communication platforms should you need to be contacted outside of your standard work times.

Note: Manage expectations and allow for a little team freedom. If your colleague likes to do an hour’s work once their kids are in bed, this doesn’t mean they can’t send you emails or leave you a message. It just means that provided it’s not an emergency, you will only be responding to said message during your office hours.

Create a routine and protocol:

Now that you’ve done all the hard work convincing, it’s time for the implementation. Think of it as putting together a contract or protocol for you and hopefully your team to adhere to.

Open up an Excel spread sheet and note down the days and times you are contracted to; this is your weekly roster so you can boost planning, encourage execution and build discipline. Keep tweaking it until you find the ideal fit for you and your busy lifestyle, then print it out, pin it up and let everyone know what they can expect from you when.
While you are at it, list expectations to help everyone stay engaged without having to be available 24/7.
If there always needs to be someone available in the case of emergency, create a roster and rotate shifts. Let everyone know who’s ‘on duty’ when and resist taking a call when it’s not your turn.
Determine the best way to get in touch outside of work hours should this be necessary. Perhaps you won’t take a call or check email, but you will check in to the WhatsApp group or listen to a voice note.
Appoint an accountability buddy:

And now for the cherry! Change can be challenging without self-discipline and if you feel you might well falter, then enlist the help of a buddy/colleague/partner, to help you stay on track. Periodic check-ins via text message or email might well be the one thing that helps you actually implement and maintain your new routine. Baby steps might be called for while you transition, but regardless of how small the progress, removing the expectation of being constantly on call, and the guilt and resentment that builds as a result, will bring about a sense of self-liberation. That alone will boost your engagement … and that is good.

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