This year my blog is dedicated to interviewing leaders and subject matter experts to help promote healthier work-life balance. With any luck this will enable us to create better relationships, productivity and performance. I am convinced that this is an idea that needs to reverberate from the top and therefore will devote this year focusing on just that. With a little help from my friends!
This month, I have been lucky enough to interview Nada Kakabadse Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics at the Henley Business School, University of Reading. Professor Nada Kakabadse’s latest findings on compulsive Internet use were recently published in the Daily Telegraph, entitled “High-fliers at risk of isolation and depression from Internet addiction.” The piece prompted vigorous debate on risks faced by the very best employees, and how the online environment is adding extensive pressures to achieve more.
I really hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. Enjoy!
Sunita Sehmi: How did you get to where you are today?
Nada K. Kakabadse: I spent 20 years in the IT industry and noticed at an early stage of my career that many people around me were spending what appeared to be an unhealthy amount of time in front of their PCs, even before the Internet came into existence! This led me to begin studying the habits of professionals and their online addictions. It became clear they were increasingly susceptible to suffering withdrawal symptoms when they eventually switched off.
SS: Why are we so addicted to the Internet?
NK: Organisations encourage and feed these addictions by creating a culture where workers are expected to always be connected and available on demand. This has very real and damaging long-term effects to individuals, causing burn-out and exhaustion. Our society is such that being regarded as an ‘overachiever’ is viewed as a positive and respectable thing. However, I see the difficulties people face in switching off while working in global, 24/7 cultures. Let’s be clear – this is dangerous to your health and relationships with others. We are not designed to work all hours of the day. We need to sleep, rest and recover. Studies show that our brains get rid of 10 times more toxins when we sleep, and so suffering sleep deprivation is hazardous to our wellbeing.
SS: Define Burnout
NK: Leading up to burnout you start making mistakes because you are so exhausted. It may take just one small additional activity to make things feel too much to handle. You have likely stretched yourself to a limit where even the simplest task seems insurmountable. Your spatial judgment becomes disturbed and you get clumsier as your judgement becomes impaired. It is completely debilitating and you just can’t do any more. For overachievers this is often much worse and they are more likely to burnout more quickly.
SS: Who’s to blame?
NK: I think we are obsessed with efficiency and people are sometimes seen as mere instruments to achieve an organisation’s goals. As a result they push themselves, and others, to exorbitant limits. They leave work late and are still connected to work emails when they finally get home. This leads to colleagues feeling compelled to behave in the same way. Some organisations are waking up to the potential for harm and are shifting their values to make downtime a key part of their operational DNA. Ironically, Google is a great example of instigating a culture which incorporates compulsory ‘R&R’ for staff, which in turn helps them attract likeminded workers, investors and clients, while increasing profitability. I believe companies should learn from this and issue guidelines to employees on safe Internet use both in and outside of the workplace.
SS: How can one say “NO”?
NK: This depends on the nature of your workplace, its policies, your line manager and whether top management recognise the importance and value of a proper work-life balance. HR can play a pivotal role. I worked with one organisation which implemented an annual ‘Feel Good’ survey, received the results, and then did nothing with them. There has to be open and two-way dialogue, discussion and resulting action, but this demands accessible leaders who believe in listening.
SS: Tell us more about your research.
NK: We discovered many of the most successful employees are at risk of isolation, depression and anxiety as they increasingly use the Internet to continue working outside of the office. These workaholics are increasingly becoming inseparable from the Web. What is even more worrying is that a significant number of companies overlook these dangers because those at most risk are often generating the most productive results, until they reach the point of burnout. These findings were somewhat surprising as we had expected to find compulsive Internet use primarily among young and unemployed people who one might expect to have more time to indulge on the Internet.
SS: What did your participants report?
NK: We found a significant number of participants were in denial. When quizzed they often justified circumstances as an unavoidable part of their job. Some people reported getting up in the night to check work emails. Research in this area repeatedly flags that it is not efficient to multi-task because it takes much longer to learn anything or complete tasks without having a singular focus.
SS: What is your advice for managers and leaders?
NK: Being connected 24/7 in reality just means being associated. Being reflective is much more productive and if you don’t disconnect you can’t reflect. You should allocate specific time in the day to reflect, and encourage your team to follow suit. A short-term perspective of going from crisis to crisis is the new norm. This is unsustainable and organisations cannot become more efficient with electronic devices constantly distracting workers. Genuine innovation happens through conversation.
SS: Could you share the best piece of advice you were ever given?
NK: Prioritise what is important and what is not important. If you can’t do the selection process yourself then ask for help from a friend, manager or coach.
SS: What’s the next biggest challenge for us?
NK: I think what’s most difficult is trying to keep in touch with what’s happening in our sector. Things are changing so fast it’s challenging to keep up with new technological innovations and the effects these are having on the next generation of users. You sometimes have to accept you can’t follow every new trend, so it’s important to offload, outsource and involve colleagues, professional associations and networks for help and support.
SS: What’s next for you?
NK: In the area of compulsive Internet use we are continuing our work with a comparative analysis between the Middle East, America and the UK. We are also running a follow up study, looking at the unemployed sample from our previous research. Many in this group have now found jobs and we would like to investigate how much they are now using the Internet now.
“Compulsive behaviour occurs when workers cross an invisible boundary and their Internet use becomes unhealthy.” Nada Kakabadse
Bio: Nada is currently Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics at the Henley Business School, University of Reading. She has contributed over 80 chapters to international volumes and has published over 180 scholarly articles and co-authored 19 books with her husband, Professor Andrew Kakabadse. Nada was elected a Member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in January 2013. She has worked for international organisations in Scandinavia, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as with the Canadian Federal Government. In a consulting capacity, her clients in the private sector have included Alliance & Leicester, Citigroup, Microsoft, Motorola, Vodafone Australia, and in the public sector a number of UK Government departments. Previously, Nada earned her PhD in Management at the University of Western Sydney - Nepean (Australia), amongst other degrees. She is co-editor of Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society and Journal of Management Development. Along with her co-authors, Nada won the William E. Mosher and Frederick C. Mosher Award for the best article written by an academic in the journal Public Administration Review (PAR) in 2003, and also the best paper of the year in the Journal of Managerial Psychology (JMP) in 1998.
To find out more, visit: www.kakabadse.com
Sunita has a passion for helping individuals, teams and companies to maximize their potential. With over 20 years experience both in the UK & Switzerland, she created Walk The Talk, with the sole aim, to help professionals improve their Business Communication Skills. She is of Indian origin but was born and raised in Britain before she moved to Geneva in 1991. She has a Psychology background, (specializing in Occupational Psychology) and a Post Graduate in the Development and Training of Adults from the University of Surrey. Furthermore, she recently completed a Masters of Advanced Studies in "Gestion des RH et des Carrières," (Specialising in Career Management and Coaching), at the Universities of Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchatel & Fribourg.
Having successfully worked and operated in different cultures and languages, Sunita's strength lies in her ability to totally empathize with her clients and help them to perform their best.