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After putting the kids to bed, my wife and I often have a quick light supper and then jump on the phone – my wife managing her team in Singapore or India, and I with a client in Australia.

We are not alone.

As the business world connects globally, all of us are increasingly being pulled into an always on, 24/7 workday. We are getting overwhelmed because we can no longer switch off work to be at home, or vice versa.

I got a chance to gather insights from Josh Bersin, who heads Bersin, the research arm of Deloitte Consulting. Here is what he shared.

1. What are the some of the facts and examples you have come across that illustrate how acute this issue of a disengaged workforce is?
I recently met with a series of pharmaceutical companies, global banks, software companies, telecoms, and manufacturers in Australia, New York and the Midwest, and all are telling me that in the area of life sciences, IT, software engineering, and customer service their turnover rates are much higher than they anticipated and it is very difficult to compete for top talent. One of the companies I spoke with told me an area of their business has a turnover rate of over 100% (i.e., every employee leaves within a year), and that their high stress performance management process and lack of development and coaching is costing them tens of millions of dollars per year. In the banking industry, people just “don’t want to join financial service” so many of the employers are trying to dramatically change their employment brand to show high-potential young recruits that they are meaningful places to work.

2. What about the trend toward a more overwhelmed workforce? What data or illustrative examples can you share?
Every employer I talk with wants to talk about this. Deloitte has a whole initiative called “Big Firm Small Feel” to empower project teams to create flexible working conditions for the entire team, which has resulted in a highly engaged workforce in its consulting organization.

3. What would you think are the key (or better yet exhaustive set of) drivers of this “overwhelm”? For example, it seems we have more data, a longer workday because of the 24/7 nature of work driven by globalization, and shorter allowed response times – though I’d love to see any data or support for this.
We have learned in speaking with many of our clients that there are several factors causing this effect:  A) Proliferation of email and communications caused by mobile devices, creating expectations for “instant response” to any message, B) global work teams that schedule calls and meetings off hours and any time of day or night, C) conference calls and other group meetings that have too many people, and D) lack of support and usage of internal social and collaboration tools, making it hard for people to find documents and tools. Our latest research on internal content management found that more than two-thirds of employees find it difficult to find documents online and search for the source to get them directly from the author (Source: Bersin & Associates High-Impact Learning Practices®).

For our Human Capital Trends report, we asked employers about their practices to help employees manage their time and project workload at work, and only 4% told us they have a robust solution in this area. Research by Julian Birkenshaw and Jordan Cohen in the Harvard Business Review found that 41% of office workers’ time is wasted in “nonessential” tasks and that 15% of this time can be reduced through better management of electronic tasks (source).

4. [To be redundant but more explicitly], have you seen any data to support, or have any examples to support, the idea that people must make decisions more quickly than before or that things are moving more quickly today than, say, five to 10 years ago?
Neurologist Larry Rosen found that office employees only focus on a single task for 7 minutes, after which they change windows or check social media. He also found that TV programs change scenes 30% more frequently than they did 4 years ago.

5. What are a few things that companies are doing to successfully adapt? Where do you see this going?
Several forward-thinking companies deliver mindfulness classes to all their leaders. At Deloitte, for example, we have open offices to help people unplug and spend more time face-to-face to relax and collaborate and also offer “quiet rooms” at select office locations to help employees unplug and rejuvenate. In addition, Deloitte encourages managers not to send emails over the weekend.

6. Are there any other sources or experts you would suggest I research to understand how overwhelm, speed, disengagement, and related trends are evolving?
Two additional resources you can consider are Thrive by Arianna Huffington and CEO of Great Places to Work Institute by China Gorman.

photo credit: icopythat via photopin cc

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