Why Companies Encourage Unplugging

Unplugging from Technology

More and more employers are encouraging their employees to unplug from technology.

Does being plugged in 24/7 make for a better employee?

Not necessarily. According to Time.com, employers are encouraging their employees to find a better work-life balance by taking a break from being constantly connected.

In a recent article, “Why Companies Should Force Employees to Unplug,” the online news magazine cited companies ranging from Atos and Duetsche Telekom to Google and Volkswagen,  which have recently adopted measures to get their employees to unplug from technology. Volkswagen, for example, deactivates emails on German staff BlackBerries during non-office hours and limits the transmission of work-related emails during non-work hours.  Google famously insists its employees unplug for portions of their workweek, the better to stir creative juices.

But employers are motivated by more than altruism, says Time. The news magazine noted a 2009 Stanford University study, which found that people who are constantly exposed to electronic information don’t pay attention as well or switch from task to task as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

“There’s no priority structure. Everything is urgent. Everything is red flagged,” Nancy Rothbard, a Wharton management professor, told Time.com. As a result, activities that require a great deal of focus — like decision making or writing — get short shrift.

The ability to focus is not all that suffers from our constant connection to technology. Time.com cited numerous studies showing that psychological detachment is important to employees’ health and well being, as well as stress reduction. This well being, in turn, translates to fewer sick days and lower healthcare costs for employers.

Another study by the Harvard Business School found that study participants who were encouraged to engage in regular downtime while carrying out a high-pressure project reported greater job satisfaction, were more likely to envision a long-term career with their firm, and experienced a better work-life balance than those who did not participate in the study.

These are all compelling reasons employees to unplug and reconnect — and for their employers to support them while they’re doing it.


The Conductor on the Train Says ‘Shhh!’

A growing number of commuters traveling on New York’s Metro North railroad apparently like to unplug and reconnect during their morning commute – so much so that the MTA recently announced yet another expansion of its pilot “Quiet Car” program to include rush-hour trains on its New Haven line.

The transportation agency’s Quiet Car initiative asks customers to refrain from using cell phones and to disable the sound feature on pagers, games, computers and other electronic devices during travel. Commuters riding in these specially designated cars are also asked to conduct conversations in subdued voices and to use headphone devices at a volume that cannot be heard by other passengers. If riders don’t comply, conductors hand them a card that reads “Shhh!”

According to the MTA, Quiet Cars have been catching on across the northeast. New Jersey Transit began its Quiet Car program on the North East Corridor Line in September 2010. Following a positive reception, Metro North partnered with NJ Transit to expand its Quiet Commute program in June 2011 to include all of Metro North’s peak West of Hudson Service, both the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines.

The pilot then expanded to 36 peak Hudson and Harlem Line trains in October 2011. The following December, the Long Island Rail Road launched its Quiet Car pilot program on select peak hour trains that operate between Far Rockaway and Atlantic Terminal.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said it’s likely the initiative will be made permanent, due to overwhelming favorable response.

Want to enjoy some unplugging time during your rush-hour commute? New printed timetables show a “Q” to designate trains with a quiet car, which are usually the first car for morning trains and the last car for evening trains.

Yes, Let’s Do Lunch


Are you guilty? Are you one of the growing number of employees who lunch at their desks or go without if you’ve forgotten to brown-bag it?


According to a recent study by Aviva Health, Health of the Workplace, you’re not alone. Thirty percent of employees surveyed said they were likely to skip a regular lunch break. Aviva found that almost 15 percent of employees skipped meals entirely because of stressful workloads, while 25 percent said their decision to take lunch or not depended on whether they had the time.


Many  of us would have fallen in with the 30th percentile, those who skipped lunch in order to complete their work. If you’re like these workers, you rarely take yourself away from your desk for a leisurely meal break. You probably feel virtuous about it, too, since skipping lunch seems to have become part of the new American work ethic. But skipping lunch isn’t good for you– and it isn’t good for your employer either.

From a health perspective, it’s important to refuel with a nutritious lunch, especially in the midst of a stressful day. When we’re stressed, we get an adrenaline rush that may mask our hunger pangs, but our body still craves food. Without midday nourishment, our body experiences dropping glucose levels. Glucose is something our cells (including those all-important gray cells) need in order to function properly. Eventually, skipping lunch will slow one’s metabolism, which may explain why we find ourselves stifling yawns at three in the afternoon.

But more importantly, taking a lunch break forces us to Unplug and Reconnect. The very act of getting up and walking away from our computers helps us recharge our batteries. Sometimes, when we give ourselves a brief respite, we find that our problem-solving skills grow stronger, that our creative juices start to flow again. A workload that seemed insurmountable before lunch seems more manageable once we’ve walked away from it for a while.

If you’re an employer who hopes for an energized workforce, encourage your employees to take lunch. If you’re an employee who’s tempted to skip lunch, step back and repeat: Let’s do lunch.


Author Nicholas Carr says "Ok to be disconnected sometimes"

Carr, a Pulitzer Prize nominated author, recently espoused his views on how the internet and computers are changing the way we think, our attention and creativity. Carr initially embraced technology but soon found it was effecting the way he worked and the ability to achieve “deep-thinking.”

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