- Health - The creep that lurks

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					12/05/07 16:31                  

          The creep that lurks
          As technology pushes work-creep
          to 24/7, Healthy Workplace Week
          attempts to put productivity in its
          October 23, 2007


          Forget 9 to 5. These days, work is

          The proliferation of email,
          cellphones, laptops, BlackBerrys,
          pagers and Palm Pilots has
          changed the meaning of "work."

          Many people are now employees
                                                                            PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH BEATY/TORONTO STAR
          around the clock. Responses to         Laptops, cellphones and PDAs let work stretch its tentacles into every aspect of an
          email are expected an hour ago.        employee’s life. But stressed workers are likely to be less productive.
          And multi-tasking is a way of life.

          "I see it in meetings," says Kladis Constantine, a project                          Survival strategies
          manager in the telecommunications industry. "People are on
          their BlackBerrys during a meeting, and then they miss                              At last week's Health,
          something and they say, `Oh, can you repeat that? I was                             Work and Wellness
          multi-tasking.'                                                                     conference in Toronto,
                                                                                              600 human resources
          "I tell them they're not really multi-tasking if they're missing                    professionals,
          what's going on in the meeting."                                                    researchers and
                                                                                              policy-makers from
          Worse still, our screen-centric existence has a profound effect:                    across Canada
          work creeps into life.                                                              brainstormed ideas to
                                                                                              help workers conquer
          Work-creep is a the focus of this week's Healthy Workplace
                                                                                              tech chaos.
          Week. Organized by Canadian businesses, unions, schools and
          health agencies, it's the 11th annual week designed to                              A few notions:
          motivate group action.
                                                                                              "No-email Fridays," to
          Interested employers can visit www.                         encourage a day of
          for resources and ideas – such as encouraging stretch breaks                        face-to-face
          away from the computer screen, and ignoring email during
          designated times to do focused work. Our dysfunctional

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          relationship with technology is "the social equivalent of global             conversations.
          warming," says Heather Menzies, a Carleton University
          professor and author of the 2005 book No Time: Stress and                    "No-meeting
          the Crisis of Modern Life.                                                   Thursdays," to clear
                                                                                       time for focused work.
          "You can draw parallels because it is intractable in some
          areas," she said last week during a break in Health, Work and                A concerted effort to
          Wellness, a national conference held in Toronto. "Stress is                  cut down on emails
          considered a personal problem, and if you can't manage your                  and voice mails sent.
          time, you're a wimp. You're a loser."
                                                                                       A moment of relaxed
          Just as scientists researching global warming were scoffed at                breathing before
          only a decade ago, she explains, employees who protest the                   meetings.
          24/7 work cycles risk becoming outcasts – at least in the short
          term.                                                                        Open discussion about
                                                                                       the personal costs of
          Otherwise, the long-term outlook will be costly. A recent study              24/7 demands.
          by Dr. Martin Shain, researcher at the Centre for Addiction and
          Mental Health, notes that work stress costs Canadian                         Taking group stretch
          employers $33 billion a year. About $11 billion of that shows                breaks.
          up on the bottom line due to absenteeism, staff turnover,
                                                                                       Blocking out an hour a
          accidents and benefits payments. The rest is spent on health
                                                                                       day to manage email.
          care and services for stressed, sedentary and
          addiction-troubled workers.                                                  Ignoring phone and
                                                                                       email for an hour each
          Add to all of that the new buzzword: "Presenteeism." It
                                                                                       day to focus.
          describes employees who are too distracted to be effective on
          the job.
                                                                                       In a work meeting,
          "You're a little bit present here, and a little bit present over
                                                                                       the first breath is
          there, and nowhere are you fully present," says Menzies. She
                                                                                       the deepest
          refers to 2005 British study indicating a 10 per cent drop in IQ,
          due to distraction and fatigue, among 1,100 frequent email                   It made me laugh.
          users. Other research of her own shows that shifting attention               Trying to imagine the
          every few minutes to constantly respond to incoming                          time-pressed,
          e-messages increases a body's level of cortisol, the stress                  tech-obsessed,
          hormone, which in turn decreases short-term memory.                          screen-centric senior
                                                                                       editors at the Star
          "People are showing up for work despite being brain dead.
                                                                                       taking a stretch break
          They're slowing things down, they're making mistakes."
                                                                                       – or sharing a moment
          This dumbing down translates into lost revenue and, in a                     of relaxed breathing
          worst-case scenario, lost lives.                                             before their morning
                                                                                       meeting – seemed
          To illustrate, Menzies points to nurses' work stations that focus            crazy enough to be
          on computer screens filled with task schedules, patient                      funny. But I put the
          information and physicians' demands. Stressed-out nurses can                 stress-reducing theory
          become so focused on fulfilling the screen's expectations, a                 into practice at last
          patient's critical needs may go unnoticed.                                   Friday's morning news
                                                                                       meeting, just to see
          "Organizations are dangerously exposed to disaster," says
          Menzies, explaining that a distracted health care worker, a

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          defective product or an inaccurate news report can jeopardize               what would happen.
          a life or a company.
                                                                                      With a few more men
          Businesses are beginning to find proactive approaches.                      than women, ages
                                                                                      ranging from early 30s
          At financial services firm Ernst & Young, schedules are flexible,           to late 50s, most were
          employees are discouraged from responding to emails during                  bleary-eyed and quiet,
          evenings and weekends, and supports like an on-call concierge               holding BlackBerrys in
          aim to make a busy work life more tolerable.                                one hand and
                                                                                      Styrofoam coffee cups
          Since the firm began making employee wellness a priority five               in the other. When
          years, ago, annual job satisfaction surveys show workers are                they sat down, I
          happier, according to Karen Wensley, head of human                          invited them to join
          resources.                                                                  me in a breathing
                                                                                      exercise before getting
          At Environics Communications, company culture discourages
          round-the-clock work. "We don't expect our people to carry
          hand-held devices," says CEO Bruce Mac-Lellan. "Some do                     I was nervous. These
          have (Palm Pilots), but it's a personal choice, not an                      folks are smart, fast,
          expectation."                                                               powerful and don't
                                                                                      suffer fools. And they
          These two companies, though, are exceptions. And greater
                                                                                      had important news
          action, says Menzies, can only gain momentum with numbers.
                                                                                      stories to discuss –
          "I'm urging people to set up research networks. If we could                 suicide bombings in
          put a dollar value on this, we could get commitment. You've                 Pakistan and a
          gotta do the work to show the powers that be that there's a                 Canadian pedophile
          payoff."                                                                    arrested in Thailand.
                                                                                      But I was surprised to
          In the meantime, change is a personal choice.                               find that even the
                                                                                      veteran news guys
          James Prudhomme, a hi-tech sales exec, recently set a new                   were game.
          boundary for himself: no more midnight messaging.
                                                                                      After having them
          "It's a Pavlovian response," he says. "I used to leave my                   write down a word
          BlackBerry by my bed. I'd hear it go off in the middle of the               that described how
          night and find myself peeking at it." Now, his BlackBerry is left           they were feeling, I
          in his home office overnight.                                               asked the editors to sit
                                                                                      up straight, close their
          Over the years he's set other boundaries: ignoring emails for a             eyes and focus on the
          few hours at a time and refusing to use his BlackBerry during               sound of their breath,
          meetings.                                                                   in and out, through
                                                                                      the nose.
          Personal boundaries are important, but Healthy Workplace
          Week aims to take it a step further, to encourage government                We sat quietly for one
          and businesses to help their employees conquer the chaos on                 minute, then they
          a broader organizational level.                                             wrote another word to
                                                                                      describe how they felt.
          At Xerox, for example, an in-house study recently showed
          productivity was compromised by irrelevant email. They're now               Feedback was
          trying to regain an hour of work time by reducing internal junk             generally positive. One

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          "Companies that pay attention to this, it's possible for them to            went from "tired" to
          be on the forefront of what it will take to succeed," says                  "better" and another
          Menzies.                                                                    from "tired" to
                                                                                      "aware." But
          "If we can learn to live more in touch with what the body                   stress-reduction is
          needs in the workplace, we can be more in touch with what                   clearly a personal
          the body needs in the world.                                                thing. Another editor
                                                                                      started out "anxious"
          "We can be more politically engaged in the environmental                    and finished the same
          movement, the drinking water problem, the global warming                    way.
          issue," she adds.
                                                                                      Still, they invited me
          "The ramifications of addressing the need for balance in the                back. That was
          workplace is really a commitment to the wellness of the                     gratifying. I felt valued
          planet."                                                                    for what I can offer –
                                                                                      not just as an
                                                                                      employee, but as a
                                                                                      person. And that's
                                                                                      what a healthy
                                                                                      workplace is all about.

                                                                                      From Daphne Gordon

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