More Than One Reason to Take a Break From Your Phone

Do your kids ever get your undivided attention, or are you reading emails, texting, and posting an update on Facebook while they are telling you about their day? It’s hard to disconnect in this over-connected world, and people with families may tend to suffer the most. Kids – and their parents – may find that improving well-being and happiness might be as easy as turning off your phone one night per week, according to a new study commissioned by the Australian recruitment firm Randstad and conducted by Harvard Business School.

The tough question is: can you do it? The initial study showed that companies who banned their employees from checking their BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other digital devices for even one evening each week experienced improved productivity and performance from their employees when they were on the job. But a follow-up study showed that most of us are incapable of taking that break and check on work with our digital devices every night. At least 25 percent of the participants in the study slept with their device at the bedside table.

Digital Devices, Cell Phones

While many employees resisted the idea of night off, those who did turn off their device one night a week experienced greater happiness, more job satisfaction, and better work-life balance. The change was remarkable: over a three-year period, 59 percent of those who refrained from using digital devices for one night per week agreed with the statement, “I am happy to begin work in the morning”

Of importance to parents especially is that those involved in the study who participated in the one night off reported having more time to spend with their families. They also made social plans, while before they would either cancel plans or not make plans at all.

For employers, the one-night-off directive led to much more reliable work. Those who were “on” devices the most – at work, available, monitoring work in case something came up – had more unpredictable work. The research coordinator, Professor Leslie Perlow, explained, “By being constantly connected to work, they seemed to be reinforcing and worse, amplifying the very pressures that caused them to need to be available.” One night off per week appeared to be enough to break the cycle of stress.

More than half of the people participating in the study regularly blend their work life and their home life. More than half reported taking care of work-related responsibilities in their off time as well as receiving work-related calls and emails outside of regular office hours. Fred van der Tang, the CEO of Randstad, said, “If not carefully managed, technology can have a detrimental effect. The speed at which portable devices and mobile Wi-Fi have redefined the modern workforce is remarkable, but organizations need to be careful to ensure any new expectations placed on employees as a result are balanced with appropriate concessions.”

4 thoughts on “More Than One Reason to Take a Break From Your Phone”

  1. It’s ironic that people who were checking on work on their cell phones the most turned in more unreliable work. I think this speaks to the fact that taking a mental break from work- even if it’s one night a week, can do wonders mental health-wise and work-wise. It’s also interesting to me as a parent to know that people who took some time off from their phones had more time for their families. My kids are so often connected to their phones that I think if I modeled a mini technology break for them, they might be more apt to disconnect also.

  2. I agree with what’s stated above by Will: kids might be more likely to take their eyes off their phones if their parents did so as well. I recently went out to dinner and was shocked to see a family with two young children, the parents of whom were texting on their cell phones at dinner. I think that if people expect kids to value family time, then adults have to as well. It also makes sense to me that people who disconnected for one night a week reported feeling happier, as using a cell phone is a very solitary activity, but spending time with other people makes you feel social and connected, and therefore (in my mind) happier.


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