Once upon a time, in a life far away, people finished their working day at around 5pm. They would switch off their computer terminals, lock their filing cabinets, and the last one to leave would click off the office lights and close the door. For many of these lucky, faraway people, their work worries would also be switched off until the next day.
Remember those days? Nostalgia always casts a pink glow,and it’s true that even then we had sleepless nights sometimes – but my point is that in those days, it was far easier to let it be and focus on something else – like leisure and family. Because you simply didn’t have access to all your work emails and documents through your smartphone or company-issue tablet, you were not expected to be multi-tasking until bedtime, as people often are now.
Communications have improved beyond anything our grandparents could have imagined. Access to information is instantaneous, and this has literally changed our world. The fundamental impact this has had on our lives is on a scale not seen since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
How to cope? Is it a coincidence that so many people of every age are suffering from anxiety, depression and other stress-related illnesses? Last year, the HSE reported that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 10.4 million lost work days. The overall total, including days lost through injury, was 27 million. It has to be bad for business – and it’s very bad for people. There’s no point in trying to lay all the blame on the smartphone either (after all, the printing press got a lot of stick too and that made no difference!) Understaffing, workplace bullying, threat of redundancy and poor management all have a part to play in creating and maintaining this epidemic.
As individuals, though, we’re largely responsible for our own wellbeing. It seems we’re willing to hand over millions a year in gym memberships and branded low-calorie foods in order to feel better. My suggestion is that, in today’s world – whatever it takes – we must be equally serious about the practice of just switching off.