DeKALB – Ben Kastler briefly glanced at his cellphone while shopping for groceries at Hy-Vee in DeKalb.
Kastler, an assistant athletic trainer at Northern Illinois University, said he checks his phone every five to ten minutes for personal and work messages. He said a lot of athletes email or text him with questions about health care guidelines whether he is at work or home.
“If I don’t have my phone on me, I kind of feel naked,” said Kastler, adding that he feels as if he is not providing the best care for his athletes if he doesn’t respond to digital messages sooner rather than later.
To define an urge to quickly respond to digital messages whether at work or home, NIU researchers Larissa Barber and Alecia Santuzzi came up with a term last year: workplace telepressure. More recently, they published research defining it as separate from workaholism and work engagement.
Workplace telepressure has become commonplace in today’s digital age, Barber said, and it can negatively affect people’s sleep, quality of work and attention span.
“If I’m in DeKalb or if I’m out of town visiting friends or on vacation, my phone is part of me still,” Kastler said.
Whether your boss or co-worker is texting when your phone buzzes at 8 p.m. or you’re making work-related calls from home, Barber said the message-based technology has become the new norm for many office employees in the United States.
Bridget Carlson, marketing manager at Castle Bank in DeKalb, said she has two phones, one personal and one for work. She feels like she is always connected.
“It turned into lifestyle more than anything,” Carlson said about her job where she manages social media. “It’s like you are representing the company 24 hours [a day].”
Carlson said she checks her phone every couple of hours when she is off work, but it doesn’t affect her lifestyle in a negative way.
However, Barber said those who tend to multitask sometimes don’t notice how a seemingly flexible work environment can lead to a “vicious cycle of responsiveness.”
“I don’t think that fundamentally this is different than any other communication strategy where if you don’t have very clear cues or agreements on how to interact with someone, then you are going to run into problems,” she said. “I think that this is much like any other communication strategy, we just don’t think about it because it’s so ubiquitous. We start treating the message-based technology like face-to-face interactions.”
Some bosses, however, encourage their employees to respond to digital messages within a certain time frame rather than immediately.
To counteract work-life interference among her employees, Sycamore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Treml said she encourages her staff to sift through emails at specific times while they are at work.
“I think it’s about focusing on the task at hand and leaving other hours of the day with uninterrupted work,” she said.
As do others, Treml admitted it’s tough to kick a habit to respond to digital messages in nonwork hours when one sees them on the phone or computer.
“I certainly don’t expect my employees to do it,” she said.
Barber, who would like to continue exploring the phenomenon in broader terms, said she hopes to raise awareness of the problem of message-based communication interference with people’s private lives and have them talk about it more explicitly to their supervisors.
“Here you are, an employee, trying to impress your boss, maybe in an unstable job market where you are afraid you might lose your job or you have to respond quickly to get a promotion, those perceptions may or may not be accurate,” she said. “You think you need to respond within five minutes [and] your supervisor is perfectly happy if you respond by the end of the day or maybe in two days.”