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How Serious Is Telepressure?

Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.

Telepressure, or a fixation with checking and quickly responding to messages, is a serious issue that workers need to be more aware of.

Telepressure, or a fixation with checking and quickly responding to messages, is a serious issue that workers need to be more aware of.

What’s Telepressure?

The millennial generation has too often been associated with being unfocused and having a poor attention span. Social media apps and modern marketing devices have preyed on this perceived weakness, each app and device fighting for a person’s very limited cognitive resources. Mobiles phones have turned into this external appendix for a person’s physical existence, and we can easily blame these devices and the “always-on” environment they’ve created for a phenomenon called telepressure.

Telepressure was a term coined by Larissa Barber and Alecia Santuzzi in 2015, which means “a fixation with checking and quickly responding to messages.” When world technology finally caught up to a point where anyone could send messages to one another, and these could then be instantly received and replied to by another person, that was probably when telepressure started becoming a thing. There likely wasn’t much of it during the age of faxing and leaving messages on someone’s landline—it’s likelier that much of it came with the advent of mobile phones.

But “detoxing” from the overuse of phones and communications devices isn’t very hard to do—you just need to put your phone away or go “off-grid” for some time. You could enroll yourself into a retreat of some sort where electronic devices weren’t allowed in case the addiction became too problematic. But it’s the detoxing from your phone in a professional setting that’s actually more problematic. Telepressure that arises because of work demands, I argue, is far more serious than ordinary, personal-relationships type of telepressure.

Before instant messaging became mainstream, specifically within organizations, there was “too much email” going around. And before the invention of email, some companies report that there were too many office memos being printed and sent out for employees to read. When instant messaging became more available and was adopted by organizations, the volume of emails going around significantly decreased. But at what cost?

Because instant messages (IMs) were so easy to send, the number of IMs far exceeded any volume of emails one used to send out. As communications became easier and more seamless to send out, there was more and more of it. The problem of too many memos simply became too many emails and now, too many IMs—being pinged on Slack or Teams all day.

Concerning Data on Workplace Instant Messaging

How often do you check your devices in case anyone from work has sent a message? Or worse, how often have you been forcibly taken out of what you have been doing because your boss requires you to keep the messaging app open throughout the day?

An instant messaging work tool such as Slack has done its duty by reducing both the number of emails and time spent in meetings—by 32% and 23% respectively (kommandotech.com)—but has it made the problem of telepressure worse?

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According to Slack’s website, paid users spend more than 9 hours per working day connected to Slack, including spending 90 minutes of those actively using Slack. On average, employees at large organizations each send more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a number that comes around to 40 messages a day per person.

It doesn’t sound too bad, but if you work with a team of just four people, that number comes out to 160 messages sent per day—and averaged out, that’s 20 messages expected to be sent every hour. And you wonder why people get anxiety attacks when their phone buzzes or they hear a “ding” from their laptop speakers.

Should You Respond to Messages or Calls While You’re on Vacation?

If you work somewhere in Europe, when you’re on vacation, you’re really on vacation. Why is it that in the United States, people who are on vacation still try to find a small pocket of time to scan email or respond to messages? Work culture varies from one organization to another, and on a bigger picture, it also differs from one country to another.

Regardless of which country you work in or the organization that employs you, it is ultimately your decision whether to be more responsive or available and by how much. If your current job demands that you be available and on-call all the time, especially if it’s a requirement that totally slipped your mind during the onboarding phase, then perhaps your current job just isn’t right for you. Indeed, it sucks that it has to be that way, but Western work culture is at a point today where either telepressure is both a tolerated work condition and an expected one.

Why the Subject of Work-Life Balance Needs to Be Addressed

The subject of work-life balance needs to be addressed. So many job boards show companies hiring for a position advertising that the role will offer more “work-life balance,” when in reality, it’s simply wishful thinking.

What does it really mean for a company to offer work-life balance? My belief is that instead of advertising it as a catch-all benefit, companies should make an effort to be more transparent on what the job really demands from a person.

And by that, I mean that the job postings should expand any declaration of work-life balance to say something like, “the employee would be pinged on the instant messaging tool all day, but is guaranteed full weekends off with no pressure to check emails.” This example is probably too long to put on a job board, and it may end up scaring off qualified candidates. But hey, if a company is straightforward with what it needs from its workers, wouldn’t that create more trust?

Should the Government Step in to Create Policies Around Telepressure?

Some lawmakers around the world have already stepped in and addressed the issue of telepressure in the workplace. In France, for example, if you work for a company that employs 50 workers or more, you can’t send an email to an employee after typical working hours. “The Right to Disconnect” movement includes the right not to be checking messages and taking calls, especially after work hours.

Is it time for lawmakers around the world to set strict telepressure policies to be followed by both private and public employers? Or would something that restricted employers from communicating with their employees quickly and efficiently be going overboard?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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