Social media can take a great deal of our time and attention. But is that time and attention being taken away from being productive at work or being engaged with our surroundings? A recent survey from Harmon.ie, as reported at FastCompany.com, demonstrates how digital interactions often are digital distractions. And the distractions add up to over $10,000 in productivity losses per employee over the year.
How do the numbers break out and how have people responded to the not-so-surprising news? Can we have some cake and eat it too?
To us, the least surprising aspect of the survey is how the use of digital technologies broke out by age group. Brad Friedman,of The Friedman Group LLC, posted the breakout in:
- 54% of 20-29 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 46% keep 1-5 items open
- 53% of 30-39 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 47% keep 1-5 items open,
- 38% of 40-49 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 62% keep 1-5 items open
- 28% of 50+ year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 72% keep 1-5 items open.
So, over half the workers under 40 tend to work with more than SIX applications and/or pieces of hardware at a time (Full disclosure: this blogger has his computer on with three web-browser windows open. I leave it to you to work out my age.).
That’s a huge amount of potential input. But as the various streams of information come to the worker, the ability to work through any one of those streams drops significantly.
That younger employees crave varied and comparatively unproductive digital interaction is perhaps best shown in their use of such interaction outside the workplace:
The increasingly common addiction to web-based activity–which psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’–is pervasive in the workplace. For example, 2 out of 3 people will tune out of face-to-face meetings to communicate digitally with someone else. The addiction is also taking over people’s personal lives. Case in point: the majority of people under the age of 40 stay digitally connected in bed, and 44% of people under 30 stay connected during a night out at the movies.
Thus the digitally compulsive are not simply avoiding unrewarding work. They expect ongoing digital access even when doing activities they chose to participate in (and pay for).
The survey has stirred a good deal of commentary across the blogosphere, but one we think worth noting comes from ‘Steve S.’ to Brad Friedman’s posting:
The flip side is that with the ubiquity of mobile devices, more and more companies are expecting employees to be always on. E-mails come in at any time, day or night. Some companies subsidize the data plan, others don’t, but still want to see turnaround on after hours emails.
How much unpaid personal time are employees spending doing work-related tasks when they should be relaxing with family or friends? The lines have been blurred on both sides of the clock.
So as social media has changed our definitions of ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’, so too has it changed our sense of work time and personal time. The question then becomes how might employers and employees find ways to achieve mutually profitable balances of personal time, digital productivity, and engaged collaboration?