Digital info drowning workers

By Steve Hart

Thirty per cent of Kiwi respondents to a global workplace survey say they are expected to be on call 24/7. Photo / Thinkstock
Thirty per cent of Kiwi respondents to a global workplace survey say they are expected to be on call 24/7. Photo / Thinkstock

One third of Kiwi employees ignore demanding devices, report shows.

Information overload is causing one third of the workforce to ignore emails and not answer their phone.

That's just one of the findings from the Randstad quarterly Workmonitor that reveals 30 per cent of those surveyed are sent more information every day than they can handle.

In New Zealand, 20 per cent of people who took part in the recruitment firm's survey are distracted by emails and the phone at work (the figure in Australia is 30 per cent) and 30 per cent of Kiwis receive more information than they can process (Australia: 33 per cent).

The survey shows that 33 per cent of Kiwis have times during the day when they ignore emails and the phone - presumably so they can knuckle down and complete the task at hand.

However, information overload here is nowhere near as bad as that experienced by people in countries such as India and Hong Kong (74 per cent each).

The survey also says four out of 10 people feel they fall short of their employer's expectations if they don't respond to an email or phone call immediately.

Although the Randstad report doesn't touch on the personal effects of this overload, a Harvard University report by Joseph Ruff does.

Ruff says technology such as tablets and smartphones have caused the exponential rate at which information is generated and sent out - some of it poorly written and confusing for the recipient.

"While there is no universally agreed-upon definition for information overload, most have experienced it and few have difficulty recognising it," says Ruff in his Information Overload report.

"Under the strain of information overload, it becomes difficult or impossible to fashion a learning organisation that is maximising its members' creativity and decision-making ability. Why are we not more alarmed by this serious problem?

"The causes of information overload will not disappear by themselves. They require thoughtful solutions."

Ruff says information overload can cause "very intelligent professionals" to feel anxious, stressed, unfocused, irritable, unable to sleep, overwhelmed by life and frustrated.

One of the reasons for this, he says, is that expectations related to response time have shrunk from a few days (snail mail time) to a few minutes - or even seconds in the case of email.

However, Ruff says the issue is not just related to the speed of communication - each person's ability to cope is a major factor in how they manage the information sent to them.

According to the Randstad survey, information overload at work is spilling into the home, as more people carry their work with them when they leave the office.

One startling statistic from the global report shows that 30 per cent of Kiwi respondents are expected to be on call 24/7 by their bosses. Fifty-nine per cent of Kiwis answer work-related phone calls after they clock off, while 56 per cent perform work-related chores during their private time.

Of all those Kiwis who took part in the survey, 16 per cent were given the use of a smartphone by their employer, while 39 per cent used their own.

Director of Randstad New Zealand, Paul Robinson, says the results of the survey reflect the current business environment and the growing trend of work/life blend - balance is out, blending is in.

"With the availability of smartphones and mobile Wi-Fi, it can be difficult to ever completely switch off and maintain a work/life balance," he says.

Looking at the wider job market, Robinson says the landscape remains challenging.

"Businesses in New Zealand have experienced an extremely challenging 12 months, and while we are now seeing a slow but gradual improvement in the labour market, I don't see a marked change until the second half of the year," he says.

Another trend the survey established is that people in work are not looking so hard for another job or a promotion as they were six months ago. The report's Workmonitor Mobility Index reveals Kiwis have taken their foot off the job-hunting accelerator.

Robinson says this slowdown in job-hunting activity is a direct result of uncertainty in the labour market. He expects job hunting to gather pace later this year.

"My advice to employers would be to look after your people before the job market opens up opportunities for them."

- NZ Herald

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