By John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership, The Myers-Briggs Company
The always-on working culture is well documented, with many fearing its negative effects on productivity, employee engagement and our general wellbeing. Technology has allowed a culture of flexible working to grow but it has also led to a trend where employees can never truly disconnect, something that can have diverse, though often adverse, effects on individuals. While the always-on culture is often discussed, few have stopped to think about how it affects individuals with different personality preferences, something that research from The Myers-Briggs Company has sought to highlight.
Employees may leave the office at 6.30pm but this doesn’t mean that they stop checking emails. One study from the University of the West of England found that commuters are so regularly using their commuting time to catch up on work emails that their journeys should be counted as part of the working day.
There are many negative effects of the always-on culture with findings from The Myers-Briggs Company’s 2018 Global Trends Report linking it to increased stress, decreased performance, low satisfaction with family life and poorer health. A further Myers-Briggs report, titled ‘Type and the always-on culture’, surveyed over 1,000 people about the always-on culture with the key findings showing that people who were able to access work emails and calls outside of work were more engaged in their jobs, but also much more stressed. The top three disadvantages were reported to be: not being able to switch off mentally (28%), experiencing interference with family or personal life (26%) and mental exhaustion (20%).
This highlights that the always-on working culture is generally detrimental to employees and has adverse effects on employee wellbeing and performance, however the report also revealed key insights around the effects on individual personality preferences. The research findings showed that there are in fact some people who thrive within the always-on culture, and the aim of flexible working should be that employees have more power to work in the way that suits them best.
We all know that some people need the impetus of a last-minute deadline and will work best when they’re burning the midnight oil, while for others this would be highly stressful. But one issue in the always-on culture is that those who prefer to work at odd hours can fire off emails to their colleagues at any time – perhaps to the detriment of the team. How can understanding personality types help us make the flexible working culture work for everyone?
The research found that those with a preference for Sensing and Judging (individuals who prefer to take a more practical and structured approach) often have a greater desire to keep their home and work lives separate. They are likely to experience more stress compared to those with a preference for Intuition and Perceiving who are generally focused on the big picture and have a more flexible approach to work. Individuals with this preference are far less likely to see the blurring of work and home life as a disadvantage, yet this can cause clashes when they work with people who prefer a different approach.
This highlights why tensions can occur and how the always-on culture can be detrimental to employee wellbeing and team dynamics. Employees may find the way others work to be inconsistent with their own boundaries, which is why it is so important for companies to consider how to address the always-on culture from the point of view of both the individual and the organisation. One of the key things individuals should do is consider ways to mentally switch off from work on a regular basis, while organisations should work to cultivate a workplace culture that allows this. Furthermore, it’s crucial that individuals set their own personal boundaries around how they use technology, and ensure they communicate this openly. Similarly, organisations should set clear expectations about technology use inside and outside of work, for example that employees are welcome to send emails when it suits them but they shouldn’t expect a response outside of work hours. Employers should also remember that some employees may not automatically feel comfortable communicating their preferences, which is why leaders should encourage and role-model this kind of behaviour.
We cannot reverse the way technology has changed our working culture and society at large, meaning it’s critical for employers and employees to find ways to mitigate the disadvantages in order to reap the awards. The always-on culture will work well for some people and perhaps even bring out the best in them, but for others it can be extremely damaging. Employers must ensure they’re giving each individual employee the chance to succeed by allowing them to work in a way that works for them, and leaders must help them do this by setting the example.