Smartphone stress: Are you a victim of 'always on' culture?

Couple ignoring each other on phones Kevin Holesh (left) was so worried by his antisocial iPhone addiction he created an app to monitor his usage

You're on holiday but surreptitiously check your work emails the moment you wake up.

Technology of Business

You get anxious if there's no wi-fi in the hotel or mobile phone signal up the mountain.

You fret if your phone is getting low on power, and you secretly worry things will go wrong at work if you're not there.

These are the typical signs of "always on" stress induced by smartphone addiction.

For some people, portable connected devices have liberated them from the constraints of the nine-to-five. Flexible working has given them more autonomy over their working lives and enabled them to spend more time with their friends and families.

For many others though, smartphones have become tyrants in our pockets, never allowing us to switch off, relax and recharge our batteries.

And a number of commentators are becoming increasingly concerned about the syndrome.

Work/life balance

Pittsburgh-based developer Kevin Holesh was so worried about how much he was ignoring his family and friends in favour of his iPhone he developed an app - Moment - to monitor his usage.

The app enables users to see how much time they're spending on the device and set up warnings if self-imposed usage limits are breached.

"Moment's goal is to promote balance in your life," his website explains. "Some time on your phone, some time off of it enjoying your loving family and friends around you."

Man checking phone while in bed Many of us check our smartphones first thing in the morning and last thing at night

And some employers are acknowledging that getting the work-life balance right isn't so easy. We need help.

For example, German car maker Daimler recently introduced an email auto-delete option for its holidaying employees, in recognition that they may not have the willpower to switch off from work.

'Always stressed'

Dr Christine Grant, an occupational psychologist at Coventry University's Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, told the BBC: "The negative impacts of this 'always on' culture are that your mind is never resting, you're not giving your body time to recover, so you're always stressed.

"And the more tired and stressed we get, the more mistakes we make. Physical and mental health can suffer."

The fact that we can stay connected to the workplace wherever we are in the world is feeding deep-seated insecurities, she argues.

"There is a massive anxiety about relinquishing control," she says. "In my research I found a number of people who were burnt out because they were travelling with technology all the time, no matter what time zone they were in."

Stressed woman A growing number of workers are suffering from 'always on' stress, experts say

Women in particular were susceptible to doing a full day in the office, coming home to make tea and look after the kids, then putting in a late shift before going to bed.

"This triple shifting can have quite an impact on health," says Dr Grant.

Dr Alasdair Emslie, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, agrees, saying: "Every year about 400,000 people in the UK report work-related stress at a level they believe is making them ill.

"Changes in technology are one contributory factor, particularly if this makes employees feel they are unable to cope with increased demands or have less control in handling their workload."

Decision paralysis

According to telecoms regulator Ofcom, 61% of UK adults now say they own a smartphone, while household take-up of tablet computers has almost doubled over the past year to 44%.

Since 2010 our daily total media consumption has risen from 8 hours 48 minutes to more than 11 hours, says Ofcom, largely thanks to the rise of smartphones.

We now consume media for more hours than we sleep.

And as the number of connected smartphones is increasing, so is the amount of data at our disposal.

This is leading to a sort of decision paralysis, argues Michael Rendell, partner for consulting firm PwC's global human capital business.

People checking phones on Singapore train Singaporean psychiatrists are pushing for internet addiction to be formally recognised as a disorder

"It is creating more stress in the workplace because people are having to embrace a broader range of data and communications and it's difficult to manage them all.

"It actually makes it more difficult to make decisions and many are becoming less productive because they're overwhelmed by it all and feel they can never escape the office."

PwC's report, The Future of Work - a journey to 2022, involved interviews with 50,000 workers around the world.

According to Mr Rendell, "the UK workforce is not more productive than it was even though we have all this connectivity and all this data".

Tim Forer, a barrister with employment law specialist Blake Morgan, agrees, saying: "Why haven't wages kept up with inflation? It's because we have more people doing less work.

"We think checking emails is work when a lot of the time it isn't productive work."

Working day?

The blurring of the line dividing work and leisure brought about by technology isn't just a health and safety issue for employees, however.

There are potentially serious consequences for companies, too.

"Under the European Working Time Directive there is a 48-hour limit to the working week and you're meant to have an 11-hour break every 24-hour period," says Mr Forer.

"But if you're checking texts and emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night, it's pretty easy to bust those limits.

"This jeopardises companies' duty of care towards their employees," he argues.

Woman checking phone in shower If you check your work emails even when taking a shower, you may have a problem...

And never having down-time also puts extra pressure on corporate IT departments, believes SolarWinds, an IT management software company.

Staff are more reliant on work apps but becoming increasingly intolerant when things go wrong.

According to its research more than half of workers feel they are expected to work faster and hit deadlines sooner as a result of this new connectedness, while nearly half believe their employers now expect them to be available any time, anywhere.

Managing the load

Of course, mobile phone and other technology companies argue that mobile connectivity is entirely beneficial, not harmful, and many younger people, office workers, and self-employed would agree.

"Smartphones and tablets... enable agile and flexible working which benefits both employers and employees alike," says Graham Long, vice president of enterprise business team at Samsung UK.

While Chris Kozup, senior director at Aruba Networks says: "From a study we have conducted with The Future Laboratory, we found that this idea of being 'always on' and connected is actually helping workers manage their work/life balance."

The key is making this new flexibility work for you and being disciplined about your smartphone usage.

So if you're getting ready to hit the beach, set up those "out of office" email alerts, switch off your phone and put it out of reach when you go to bed, and take to heart Dr Grant's advice: "You're rarely the only who can resolve an issue."

More on This Story

Technology of Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    15:39: US consumer confidence
    Walmart store

    The nasty winter weather knocked US consumer confidence in February, with the University of Michigan index slipping to 95.4 from an 11-year high of 98.1 last month. But before we get too worried, confidence levels remain at the highest level in eight years.

     
  2.  
    15:27: Greek bailout
    Klaus Regling

    Klaus Regling, head of the European Financial Stability Facility (the eurozone bailout fund to you and me), says the four-month loan extension for Greece will "build on the considerable progress achieved in Greece so far - thanks to the huge efforts of the Greek people".

     
  3.  
    15:14: Oil prices
    Texas oil well

    Oil has gone off the boil a bit of late, but the difference between the price per barrel of Brent and US crude is now $12 - the widest spread since January 2014. The lower price for American oil ($49.12 versus $62.32 a barrel) is due to large reserves and too few customers.

     
  4.  
    14:57: Volkswagen results
    VW Beetle Dune

    It's been a bumpy ride for Volkswagen today, with shares down as much as 6% earlier, despite reporting record operating profits of €12.7bn for 2014. Finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch is cautious on prospects for Europe's biggest car maker: "There is no guarantee that 2015 will be a successful year, either for the industry or for VW."

     
  5.  
    14:39: Wall Street
    Wall Street

    US markets have opened flat on Friday after GDP was revised down to 2.2% for the last three months of 2014. The Dow Jones shed 9 points to 18,205, the S&P 500 was down less than 2 points to 2,108 and the Nasdaq was off 4.6 points to 4,983.

     
  6.  
    14:28: Lloyds Banking Group Joe Lynam BBC Business Reporter
    Lloyds sign

    Another interesting detail from the bank's press conference today: 49 employees were paid more than €1m (£726,900). Lloyds reports the euro figure in accordance with European Banking Authority rules. What we don't know is just how many were paid more than £1m.

     
  7.  
    14:15: Airbus soars
    A320

    The weak euro has helped Airbus, Europe's largest aerospace group, beat expectations with a 54% rise in operating profits for 2014 to €4bn, on sales 5% higher at €60.7bn. The company plans to increase production of its popular A320 plane, but make fewer of the widebody A330 model.

     
  8.  
    14:03: Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good afternoon and thanks to Ian Pollock and Tom Espiner for this morning's coverage. We're live until 1800 GMT with the rest of the day's business news and views.

     
  9.  
    13:49: US economy

    It seems the US economy may have slowed down in the last three months of last year. Revised official figures show that the US economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2%. But that was less than the 2.6% rate first estimated in January. And it was also less than the 5% rate recorded in the third quarter of last year - which had been the strongest for 11 years.

    Petrol station in the US
     
  10.  
    13:45: Lloyds Banking Group

    BBC reporter Joe Lynam reports from the bank's news conference. When asked about his tax affairs, the bank's chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio said they were private but he declares all of his Lloyds income to HMRC - ie not to any overseas authorities.

     
  11.  
    13:28: Tuition fees BBC Radio 4
    Protesting students

    Paul Johnson of the IFS also explained that higher paid graduates would be the beneficiaries of Labour's proposed policy: "There is a small help there for poorer students, through an increase in the maintenance grant, but the £3bn a year reduction in the cost of student loans actually doesn't help the poorer half of graduates," he said. "Half of graduates will not be earning enough to be paying back any less under the Labour policy than the current policy, so the group to whom the £3bn is going are the higher earning half of graduates."

     
  12.  
    13:18: Tuition fees BBC Radio 4

    Labour says it will cut student fees, and pay for it by curtailing the tax relief on pension contributions made by the higher paid. Paul Johnson, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), tells the World at One that this was very clearly a tax increase for some. "The top 1% of income tax payers will be affected most - it won't affect many people, but it will affect them a lot."

     
  13.  
    13:15: TalkTalk hack
    Memory chips

    Are you a TalkTalk customer? You should receive an email warning you that scammers have managed to steal account numbers and names from the company's computers. TalkTalk said the scammers had used the stolen data to trick people into handing over banking details.

     
  14.  
    13:11: Greece bailout

    The eurozone has formally agreed to extend Greece's bailout by four months. The European Financial Stability Facility (the eurozone bailout fund) said: "Following this decision, €1.8bn that is still available under the MFFA [the loan agreement] can be disbursed to Greece until 30 June 2015."

     
  15.  
    12:58: Greek economy shrinks
    Attalos arcade in Athens

    Greece's economy shrank by 0.4% in last quarter of 2014 compared with the previous quarter, the official Elstat statistics service has said. The figure has been revised from a first estimate, earlier this month, of a 0.2% shrinkage. That means the Greek economy grew by 1.2% in the past year.

     
  16.  
    12:50: Platinum mining tax
    Chris Griffith

    Business Update on World Service with Russell Padmore has reported on why the world's big mining companies are at loggerheads with the government of Zimbabwe over a new 15% tax on exports of platinum. Impala Platinum is considering closing its Mimosa mine, a joint venture with Aquarius, because the tax could make the operation unprofitable. Chris Griffith, the chief executive of Anglo-American Platinum says: "We continue to engage with the government of Zimbabwe and we are hoping we can turn this around." Listen to Business Update on audioboom.

     
  17.  
    12:39: Greece bailout
    Yanis Varoufakis

    The Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has given this assessment of the latest eurozone deal (which has been approved by the German parliament) to Antenna TV in Greece. "The deal was a fig leaf to conclude the eurogroup and dispense with the fiscal agreement," he said. "We are proud of the level of vagueness," he added. Apparently this vagueness was deliberate "otherwise it would not be approved by parliaments."

     
  18.  
    12:28: Pension changes
    Calculator

    What sort of things does the FCA want pension firms to warn their customers about, when those people think of using their pension pots? Among the issues are the health of the customer, any tax implications of the customer's decision, the effects (if any) on their means-tested benefits, and the possibility that the customer might fall prey to an investment scam.

     
  19.  
    Via Twitter Robert Peston BBC economics editor

    tweets: Labour to cut maximum pension pots, annual contributions & tax relief for £150k+ earners to cover £3.1bn cost of student fee cut

     
  20.  
    12:08: Pension changes

    From 6 April people will have much more freedom to do as they wish with their accumulated pension savings. Now the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told firms in the pension "industry" that they must give their customers personal risk warnings, tailored to each individual, when people retire.

     
  21.  
    11:46: Via Twitter Duncan Weldon Economics correspondent, BBC Newsnight

    tweets: Disposable income per person by region. Can't look at this without thinking: 'the Rhine is kinda important'.

    Europe
     
  22.  
    11:34: House prices
    Image of ONS website

    Want to know how much homes cost in your neck of the woods? The ONS (Office for National Statistics) has recently published this interactive map of house prices for very small areas in England and Wales. You can play with it to your heart's content.

     
  23.  
    11:24: Stamp prices

    They are going to cost more. First and second class stamps will go up by 1p, to 63p and 54p respectively. It happens on 30 March. Large letters will also cost more too. First class ones will be 2p more expensive at 95p and second class ones will cost 1p more at 74p.

    Stamps
     
  24.  
    11:10: Glasgow Rangers
    Rangers fans

    This is embarrassing for the very troubled football club. It has just issued an announcement to stock market investors clarifying no fewer than six previous announcements. Most relate to the stewardship of Newcastle United by Derek Llambias, who is now running Rangers.

     
  25.  
    11:01: Via Twitter Dave Lee BBC technology reporter

    tweets: TalkTalk confirms customer account data stolen; Taking legal action against third-party it says was weak link

     
  26.  
    10:56: Greece bailout

    Andreas Scheuer, a senior conservative who backed extending the current bailout, said that "everyone has a feeling that isn't just positive." He said: "We will have to rely on the Greek government delivering now," adding that "this is one of the last chances we are giving Greece."

     
  27.  
    10:50: House prices
    Homes in Newcastle

    Delving into the Land Registry stats is a fascinating exercise. Average house prices in London hit a peak last August at £462,000, and have been hovering a bit below that point ever since. By contrast, the average home in the north east of England (the cheapest area) costs just £100,000.

     
  28.  
    10:40: Greece bailout
    German Finance Minister Schaeuble

    German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said: "We have to bring Greece into a situation that finance markets trust them again, and that Greece can act without any support, on its own again. It is called competitiveness. And for Greece, there is a longer road to go than for any other European country."

     
  29.  
    10:32: Greece bailout
    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble addresses a session of the Bundestag

    The German parliament has voted 542-32 to back Greece's bailout extension.

     
  30.  
    10:29: Via Twitter Gavin Hewitt BBC Europe editor

    tweets: As expected the German Parliament supports the extension of the Greece bail-out. #Greece

     
  31.  
    10:25: Ferries
    Ferry

    Meanwhile, we're sure you're very keen to hear about ferries. Industry body Discover Ferries has said one million more people travelled on ferries in Britain in 2014, up from around 38 million in 2013.

     
  32.  
    10:02: British Gas price cut
    British Gas van

    British Gas is cutting its gas prices by 5% today, as announced in January. Competitor E.On was the first of the big six energy suppliers to announce a price reduction in January, which it did with immediate effect, with price cuts in the month rounded off by EDF.

     
  33.  
    09:50: Lloyds Banking Group
    Michael Hewson

    Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, says he sees the glass as being "half full" rather than "half empty" for Lloyds. The dividend of 0.75p per share was slightly less than expected - the markets were expecting a penny, he says. And PPI is an "ongoing sore" for the firm. Yet "the direction of travel does appear to be fairly positive", he says. "Loan growth is up 17% year-on-year, and impairments are down."

     
  34.  
    09:42: House prices
    For Sale sign

    The latest figures from the Land Registry represent a continued slowdown in the annual rate of house price inflation. That rate was 7% in December, and January's figure is the fifth monthly decline in a row.

     
  35.  
    09:32: House prices
    For Sale signs

    The Land Registry (for England & Wales) says house prices saw an annual price increase of 6.7%, with prices up 1.3% since December. That left the average house price at £179,492.

     
  36.  
    09:27: Lloyds Banking Group

    Is anyone worth £11m, Mr Horta-Osorio is asked? "It is not up to me to judge that, I think it is important to focus on pay for performance," he replies. "It is the fact that the share price tripled in these three years, that's what makes the [incentive] plan have a much higher value," he explains.

     
  37.  
    09:21: Cash Isa

    Who is offering the best short-term cash Isa at the moment? According to the website Savers Friend it is the Yorkshire bank, paying 2.1% for its fixed-rate, two-year, Isa.

     
  38.  
    09:09: Lloyds Banking Group
    Antonio Horta-Osorio

    Mr Antonio Horta-Osorio says he is "really pleased" his bank has resumed dividend payments: "We went from a very, very negative position in terms of profitability to a position where we generated £7.8bn of underlying profitability, [and] we generated £1.8bn of pre-tax profit," he tells BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed.

     
  39.  
    09:00: Rightmove
    Houses

    It's fascinating to see just how much money you can make running a website that dominates its market. Rightmove's total income for the year was £167m. Of that £96m went to the company as after-tax profit. No wonder the recently launched Onthemarket.com wants to have some of that business.

     
  40.  
    08:50: IAG - Aer Lingus
    Aer Lingus plane tailfins

    On the potential IAG takeover of Aer Lingus, IAG chief executive Willie Walsh tells BBC News that the firm doesn't foresee "many if any competition issues" from the EU competition commission. "We remain very excited about an acquisition. We think Aer Lingus is a good company, and we think Aer Lingus can be a significantly better company as part of IAG," he says.

     
  41.  
    08:40: FTSE 100 market update
    FTSE 100

    The FTSE 100 has opened up slightly, gaining 2 points to stand at 6952. It's not a shock to see that IAG, which saw operating profits nearly double in 2014, has risen over 4%, while shares in engineering firm Meggitt moved downward, falling 1.72%.

     
  42.  
    08:39: William Hill
    Gambling machine

    Annual pre-tax profits fell at the betting business; down 9% to £234m. Shareholders still received a rise in their dividends though, up 5%.

     
  43.  
    08:20: Rightmove
    Houses

    The property website is yet another business rewarding its investors handsomely. Shareholders' dividends will rise by 25% on the back of a 26% rise in pre-tax profits to £122m.

     
  44.  
    08:04: IAG - Willie Walsh BBC News Channel
    Willie Walsh

    IAG chief executive Willie Walsh points out the turnaround in Spanish airline Iberia, which was a drag on IAG from 2011 until the summer. "These are fantastic results, particularly the performance in Iberia, which I think has been a concern for a lot of people over the past few years", he tells BBC News. Iberia made an operating profit of €50m in 2014 compared to an operating loss of €166m the year before.

     
  45.  
    07:48: Lloyds Banking Group

    The bank has now written to owners of 2.7 million past PPI policies inviting them to lodge a claim. That is one reason why it is expecting a further 600,000 fresh claims this coming year.

     
  46.  
    07:42: Lloyds Banking Group
    Lloyds logo

    How much in total has the PPI scandal cost the bank in the past few years? An truly extraordinary £12bn. Not all of that is compensation. The administrative costs of sorting out the payments have been expensive too.

     
  47.  
    07:30: IAG results
    British Airways planes

    IAG raised its 2015 profit forecast by over 20% to 2.2bn euros for 2015, compared to the 1.8 billion euros it had said it was targeting. It says it has been helped by lower fuel costs. It expects to increase its capacity as well.

     
  48.  
    07:27: Lloyds Banking Group

    The bank has had to set aside another £2.2bn to cover the continued cost of repaying customers who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). That was on top of the £3.1bn the year before.

     
  49.  
    07:21: Lloyds Banking Group
    Antonio Horta-Osorio

    The massive payment to chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio includes £1m in basic pay and an £800,000 bonus. The rest of the £11m comes from the payout of a "long term incentive plan" which gives him shares in the bank as a reward for steering it out of near insolvency.

     
  50.  
    07:19: IAG results

    Meanwhile, IAG's operating profit for the year to 31 December 2014 is £1.03bn, a 95.3% jump on the previous year.

     
  51.  
    07:15: Via Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC business editor

    tweets: Breaking: Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio total remuneration package will total £11m after shares rise by 193% since 2012.

     
  52.  
    07:10: IAG results

    British Airways owner IAG made a profit before tax from continuing operations of £828m, it says.

     
  53.  
    07:06: Lloyds Banking Group

    The dividend will be 0.75p per share, totalling £535m, which will go to three million shareholders. And that means £130m goes to the government.

     
  54.  
    07:02: Lloyds Banking Group

    The annual results are out. It has announced pre-tax profits of £1.8bn - up from £415m a year ago - and will indeed resume paying a dividend to shareholders.

     
  55.  
    06:50: Lloyds Banking Group BBC Radio 4

    William Wright of capital markets think-tank New Financial tells the Today programme that it was turning out to be a turbulent week for banks: "We've seen continued tax scandals at HSBC, continued restructuring at RBS, all change at the top of Standard Chartered - next week no doubt with Barclays we are going to see more restructuring."

     
  56.  
    06:41: Rising rents
    Houses

    Demand for rental properties is still driving up rents in the private sector. So says Sequence, a network of 300 letting agencies. It reckons that the average monthly rent outside London rose by 5% in the past year - and in London by 7%. "Large cities in particular are seeing a lot of activity as employment increases," it says.

     
  57.  
    06:28: Lloyds Banking Group Radio 5 live
    Lloyds Bank bank branch

    Lloyds is expected to announce profits of around £2bn, but banking analyst Alex Potter tells Wake Up to Money that the dividend resuming is the real indicator for a return to health. "Actually, an awful lot of [investment] funds haven't been able to buy Lloyds shares at all while they haven't been paying a dividend, so, actually just the allowance of those potential shareholders onto the [share] register again is going to be a pretty good thing."

     
  58.  
    06:19: Pension tax relief

    Will Labour suggest cutting pension tax relief for high earners? It seems this may be proposed by Ed Miliband when he speaks later today on how Labour might cut university tuition fees.

     
  59.  
    06:09: IAG results Radio 5 live
    British Airways plane

    We should look forward to hearing strong results for British Airways owner IAG, according to aviation consultant John Strickland. "We should expect to hear a big jump in profitability", he says on Wake up to Money, because the firm is "in a very solid state".

     
  60.  
    06:00: Ian Pollock Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning. It's Friday. Always a good day as far as I'm concerned. Oh, and the Land Registry's house price figures for England and Wales will be out later this morning.

     
  61.  
    06:00: Good morning Tom Espiner Business reporter

    Some interesting stories coming up today. Expect full year results from Lloyds Banking Group, which is expected to resume paying a dividend to shareholders for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008. British Airways owner IAG is to post its full year results too.

     

Features

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.