Meet Fred. We’ve hidden his face as Fred is a highly paid business executive. Fred arrived home from work late as usual, opened a bottle of red wine and sat down to reply to emails and plan tomorrows schedule.

 At 1am Fred crawled into bed, but was unable to sleep as the events of the day, the annoyances of the day and the missed opportunities, played on his mind.

It’s 3am and Fred has just been woken only an hour after falling asleep by the sound of an email arriving. Naturally, he can’t leave it till the morning. He is compelled to read it. Email is Fred’s addiction. He cannot ignore it. He will answer while driving, eating, even while watching his son play football on a Saturday.

Fred is so tired right now, he doesn’t even notice that his Blackberry has run out of charge, the screen is blank and his effort to answer the email will be wasted. Fred is unable to focus and attend to the task. His boss will be disappointed at work in the morning when he finds that Fred has not responded to this very important email.

In the morning, Fred drags himself out of bed, showers quickly, grabs a coffee and heads out the door without breakfast. No time for that. Arriving at work, he stops for another coffee and arrives at his first meeting with only seconds to spare. Fabulous! That will give him time to check emails again as others casually stroll into the room.

The meeting drones on for 2 hours, nothing is achieved (as usual) and people barely manage to stay awake. Fred is so adept at texting one handed that he can pretend to write meeting notes with his right hand and respond to emails with his left hand – all hidden on his lap. What a multi tasker! Fred is indeed a productive employee and he’s proud of it!

We’ve only just witnessed a small part of Fred’s day, yet it is very clear that any chance of Fred being productive and healthy at work is highly doubtful, if this pattern of behaviour is repeated over a period of time.

In his presentation “The Essence of Health: mind and brain”, Dr Craig Hassed from Monash University states; that prolonged stress leads to wear and tear on the body (allostatic load) and this can lead to impaired immunity, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also leads to loss of nerve cells in the brain, affecting learning and memory in the hippocampus and working memory and executive function in the Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC).

In Australia and other countries, there has been a rise in people developing diabetes and high blood pressure. The example of Fred highlights just a few of the contributing factors:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Long work hours
  • Stress
  • Sleep disturbance and not enough sleep.

Fred relies on technology to keep him constantly connected with the workplace and he has no work/life balance. Sadly, this is a growing cultural phenomenon. People working in organisations are expected to be available 24/7.

They read work email and are contactable even when on holiday. Expectations of working long hours and weekends are becoming the norm in many large corporates and smaller businesses. If people don’t comply, they are often deemed to be lazy or not up to the job.

There are organisations in Australia where people are well aware of these expectations and they agree to work in this way. I have spoken to some younger employees and they admit that they aim to make good money quickly and are willing to forgo a balanced life until late in their thirties.

For some of these people it all becomes too much and they realise they can’t keep up the pace for such a long period of time and they leave. For others, there is a huge cost in the harm done to personal relationships or not having time to form relationships.

From a health and neuroscience perspective, they aren’t aware of the long term dangers to their minds and bodies. Then again, that’s the nature of the young employees – they believe they are invincible and it won’t happen to them.

Organisationally, I wonder about the employer’s duty of care, the expectations of Leaders and doing whatever it takes to achieve business goals, at the expense of the physical and psychological health of their team.

Originally posted on: 24 January 2011
Last updated on: 18 February 2024

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Shelley Wilkins

Shelley Wilkins

Shelley has been involved in corporate learning since 1995 and has delivered programs to a number of high profile Australian and International organisations across a wide variety of industries. She is also the founder, Writer, Director and Facilitator for theatre@work. Shelley is passionate about developing trust based business relationships, building constructive cultures, developing learning strategies as well as the design and delivery of leadership development frameworks.

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