24/7 Availability - More Harm Than Good?

From managing our schedules to tracking what we eat, it’s hard to remember life before iPhone's. But for all the good they’ve done in easing the burden of everyday tasks, these mini computers have a lot to answer for when it comes to our health.

Gone are the days when having a nine to five actually meant working between the hours of nine and five. Smartphones, tablets and high-speed broadband have created an inescapable “always on” culture with the potential to infiltrate – and in some cases devastate – our private lives.

Because work is no longer restricted to a single location, our bosses now accompany us to dinner, ride with us on the bus and linger in the background as we spend time with our family and friends. Unsurprisingly, this breakdown in boundaries between the office and the home is having a profound impact on the stress levels of modern professionals.

Studies show that even the possibility of having to handle out-of-hours queries negatively affects our ability to recover from work. Because of its relationship with cortisol production, prolonged periods of job-related stress can impact a whole range of bodily functions. High blood pressure, weight gain, decreased immunity and headaches are just some of the side effects of stress. These issues are worsened still when highly stressed individuals neglect healthful activities like eating well and exercising.

Unfortunately, the impact of work-induced pressure doesn’t end there. Not being able to disconnect from the office has been linked to the rise in mental health issues. While studying the relationship between technology and psychological wellbeing, researchers at the University of Gothenburg learned that people who are constantly available via phone are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders and depression than those who keep a healthy distance between themselves and their devices.

While many of us believe subscribing to a 24/7 lifestyle is now an essential part of achieving success, studies have consistently shown that people who can separate their professional and personal lives actually perform better at work than those who are always switched on. Dedicating time to non-work related activities can boost cognitive function, aid problem-solving and stimulate creative thinking, all of which are valued by contemporary employers.

Having reached a point in history where life is all too often perceived as a burden to the ambitious, it’s time to re-establish the space which once existed between work and play. In doing so we can create a healthier, more balanced society where efficiency and wellbeing can coexist for the betterment of all.