Posted on Winning the Talent War: September 4, 2007 at 8:36 AM.
An on-again, off-again player, I attended my first tennis clinic of the summer this last weekend. I was taken aback by the BlackBerry addled behavior which newly seems de rigeur courtside.
Between each drill at least two of the five participating players would scurry off to sidelines, rummage in a sports bag, pull out a BlackBerry and check their email. In 50% of cases this was then followed by a furtive phone call. The tennis pro rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath but seemed to have learnt to tolerate these goings-on. Along with tennis whites telephone etiquette seems to have gone out the window.
So what's the deal here?
Have the demands of our professional lives become so extreme that it's impossible to be "off line" for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning in August?
Or are these pressures self-inflicted? Have we become addicted to our canny communication devices because they allow us to feel indispensable? Imagining that "they need me/cannot cope without me" can be powerfully seductive.
Whatever the drivers—whether they are external or internal—new research points to the downside of our always-on always-in-touch culture.
Email overload can be a serious time-waster. A recent survey we conducted at the Center for Work Life Policy demonstrates that 37% of emails received by executives are either redundant or irrelevant—and consume several hours of prime time per week.
Researchers at Kings' College London University have found that, across the board, communication overload causes a professional's IQ to drop 10 percentage points. It damages a worker's performance by reducing mental sharpness. The drop in IQ is more significant among men than women.
IT consultant Linda Stone has shown how "continuous partial attention" can be seriously dysfunctional. When a professional is bombarded by multiple information streams it becomes hard to sustain focus. Innovation and creativity suffer—as does the quality of decision making. How good can your feedback be when your words of wisdom are sandwiched between intense backhand drills?
Employers are beginning to grasp the inefficiencies wrought by the contemporary glut of communication—and some are experimenting with reining it in. BP has instituted "eMailAdvantage"—a program that cuts back on unnecessary emails. And Intel is piloting a program that gives managers and engineers chunks of "Quiet Time"—a period of the day when they won't be interrupted and thus will be able to focus on work that requires concentration.