• The Myers-Briggs Company says 24/7 work culture can be both good and bad for us.
  • There are potentially serious consequences for well-being.
  • Employers need to help their staff find a balance.

If our smartphones and other devices are always on – it means we are, too.

This is a double-edged sword, according to The Myers-Briggs Company, a company that specializes in business psychology.

“Services and information are available 24/7 and we can connect with each other anytime, anywhere in the world,” the company says in its research study, Type and the always-on culture.

“However, when our smartphones are always within reach and switched on, we can find it difficult to ‘switch off’. This is the ‘always-on culture.'"

mental health stress challenge always on personality work working employees employers office culture employment remote wfh work from home flexibility concerns managers
The advantages of being always on include keeping on top of work.
Image: The Myers-Briggs Company

It’s good and bad

Being always connected acts as both an enabler and a stressor, with “some potentially serious consequences for individual well-being", Myers-Briggs finds.

“This suggests that organizations stand to benefit from exploring how to help individuals find the ‘sweet spot’ between using technology to increase engagement and flexibility,” says study co-author John Hackston, head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company.

“And not letting technology take over to a point where it causes negative effects.”

The study was published in December 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, but highlights a dilemma that has become increasingly prevalent in the COVID-19 world of work.

Myers-Briggs surveyed more than 1,000 people to understand the role of personality in managing the always-on culture. Key findings include:

  • People who were able to access work emails/calls outside of work were more engaged in their jobs, but also more stressed.
  • Those who found it difficult to switch off suffered a range of negative issues including stress, interference with home life and being unable to focus on one thing at a time.
  • People mentioned the disadvantages of the always-on culture more than the advantages.
mental health stress challenge always on personality work working employees employers office culture employment remote wfh work from home flexibility concerns managers
The disadvantages of being always on include stress.
Image: The Myers-Briggs Company

Why personality matters

Personality also played a role: those who were more practical and structured had a greater desire to keep home and work separate and experienced more stress related to being always-on, compared with those who were more big-picture focussed and flexible.

Extravert types were more likely to have a work smartphone or laptop than those with a preference for introversion.

Strategies for managing being always-on include turning off phones and notifications; setting aside time for work and family, as well as letting others know when you will and won’t be available.

mental health stress challenge always on personality work working employees employers office culture employment remote wfh work from home flexibility concerns managers
There are different strategies for managing being always on.
Image: The Myers-Briggs Company

A separate report published this month by online collaboration tool Slack suggests COVID-19 has exposed a 9-to-5 office culture that has been broken for decades.

“People worldwide want more flexibility in where and how they work,” the authors say.

Most of the 9,000 knowledge workers surveyed (72%) would prefer a mix of remote and office work, a hybrid approach. Slack defines a knowledge worker as anyone who holds an office position and/or works with data, analyzes information or thinks creatively during a typical workweek.

We’re generally happier

Remote working is a net positive and scores more highly than office work for work-life balance, stress and anxiety levels, productivity and overall satisfaction.

“Workers’ sense of belonging can suffer while working remotely,” the report adds, suggesting that employers need to think about working differently by investing in a virtual office, more flexible work schedules and ‘asynchronous’ communication tools.

For example, instead of real-time video calls, asynchronous tools like messaging apps or project management tools allow people to connect according to their own convenience and schedule.

The World Economic Forum’s virtual Jobs Reset Summit on 20 – 23 October 2020 is bringing together leaders to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The four-day programme includes sessions on A New Vision for Health at Work and Valuing Online Learning for the Workplace.

As The Myers-Briggs Company found, it will be up to both employers and employees to ensure people are able to switch off and maintain a mental health equilibrium in the future world of work.