Strange bedfellows: Study finds many managers sleep with their phones

The Globe and Mail

(Stock photo | Thinkstock/Stock photo | Thinkstock)

If you’re looking for a book title that captures the frazzled, anxious life of executives who are too worried about work to ever unplug, you probably couldn’t do better than Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow’s new book, Sleeping With Your Smartphone.

In a survey of 1, 600 managers, Prof. Perlow found that 26 per cent brought their smart phones to bed with them when it was time to hit the sack.

Story continues below ad

The majority of those glued to their phones brought the devices to bed out of fear that they might miss an important call or work e-mail. But, 44 per cent of respondents claimed they brought their smartphones to bed because they use them only as alarms.

“Our lives are all about being either on, or on call,” Prof. Perlow recently told Technologyreview.com. “That is the fundamental interesting question: What is work these days? How do you define it? Is it work when you’re at the beach thinking you have to check your e-mail?”

Her research seems to show that some people need their iPhones in bed with them like kids need a stuffed animal or a blankie. And while most smartphone users would admit to having a hard time unplugging, it does seem managers have an even harder time. In the same poll, Prof. Perlow found that 70 per cent of executives admitted to checking their smartphone every day within an hour of getting up; more than half (56 per cent) checked it within an hour of going to bed, and roughly the same number admitted to checking it on weekends (48 per cent) and while on vacation (51 per cent).

Beyond looking at this trend, Prof. Perlow’s book aims to explain how to unplug – it’s subtitle, after all, is “How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work.” In an article for the Harvard Business Review, she suggests a few tips to break what she calls the “cycle of responsiveness.” Those tips include – and this is just depressing – “Experience the joy of turning off. Many of us don’t know what that actually feels like and are not so sure we even want it – but trust me, you will find it beneficial!”

She also suggests groups should work together to agree to shut down, at least for some small window of time.

“Agree on a shared unit of predictable time off that you will each strive to achieve – each week (e.g., an afternoon or evening off, e-mail blackouts, uninterrupted periods of work time). Make sure it is something that is doable but a stretch – don’t make it easy or it won’t have a profound impact. It must also be the same for everyone in the group to avoid any incentive to cheat or point fingers.”

Or maybe just tell your colleagues you’re not available when you leave work. But that’s the point, isn’t – so many of us never really leave work, what with that BlackBerry at our hip, or next to us on the pillow.

Are you guilty of laying down with your smartphone at night?

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn