Work overload, 24/7 availability, stretched work weeks, and overflowing in-boxes are overwhelming most professionals and managers. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be the less stressed out exception. You can Lead, rather than Follow or Wallow.

Controlling Technology for Balance - Jim ClemmerLinda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University was recently interviewed in The Globe & Mail about her latest research findings. She and Chris Higgins of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario just completed the third in their once per decade look at Canada’s workforce. As research is clearly showing in other industrialized countries around the world, they’ve found that we’ve moved into a period of “intensification, the idea that there is too much to handle — too much at work, too much at home, too much total.”

They’ve found that “technology is taking over” with expectations that “employees will be available 24/7, and will respond 24/7… in our latest study, we asked how much time people spent on work-related e-mails during a work day and a non-work day, and found it’s almost four hours during work days and just over another two hours on work-related e-mail during non-work days.”

It’s so easy to blame today’s technology, the boss’s expectations, or organizational cultures. But that’s a cop out. Wallowing and Following managers look out the window for the cause of their time and workload squeeze. Leading means looking in the mirror to Find the Courage to Stretch our Comfort Zone.

Linda Duxbury hits on one of the central challenges of these crazy-busy times:

“We have to start having a dialogue on what is the appropriate use of this technology, and then we have to start calling people on their bad behavior because it doesn’t have the positive impact that is often thought. From our research, for example, a boss who checks his BlackBerry while in a meeting or talking to a subordinate is not seen as important or overworked, but as someone who can’t get their act straight and who cares more about the unknown person at the other end of the device than the people who he or she is supposed to be managing.”

Linda and Chris’ findings are consistent with the extensive ten year research study done by management professors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal. In their Harvard Business Review article “Beware the Busy Manager” they report “fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.”

A few years later they followed up with an even stronger article filled with practical, how-to Leading advice. In Reclaim Your Job they summarize a big leadership gap: “What gets in the way of managers’ success is something much more personal — a deep uncertainty about acting according to their own best judgment. Rather than doing what they really need to do to advance the company’s fortunes — and their own careers — they spin their wheels doing what they presume everyone else wants them to do.”

Linda Duxbury reports that their research found somewhat higher than 10 percent of the people in their study were taking control of their technology and workloads and not controlled by them:

“Our data from other research shows that most individuals get this technology with the intention that they will separate work and family — they will not use it in family time. The 24 people in that longitudinal study all held good intentions at the start. But nine months later only four of them were actually successful at imposing limits. When we asked them why things changed, they told us it’s because of the constant pressure and expectation from their boss, colleagues, and clients that they will be always available. No dialogue was taking place with the boss, colleagues or clients on what reasonable expectations might be.”

Both sets of studies show that way too many professionals and managers allow themselves to be boxed in by their jobs. But in the exact same organizations with the same cultures, resource shortages, workforce shortfalls, demanding customers, and senior manager expectations, a minority of strong leaders have developed ways to take control of their jobs — and their lives. Does your email in-box and workload show that you’re Leading, Following, or Wallowing?

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