Take the Thanksgiving Challenge: Disconnect to Connect

As part of my research on the impact of technology on conversation and relationships in the workplace, I recently came across an important term: telepressure. According to Larissa K. Barber and Alecia M. Santuzzi, professors at Northern Illinois University, and the authors of a study published this year in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, telepressure is, "the combination of the preoccupation and urge to immediately respond to work-related email messages." And it leads to individual and organizational ill-health.

Isn't it great when science catches up with common sense?

The authors write, "Workplace telepressure might have critical occupational health implications because it has the potential to prolong employee work stress both during designated work times and during nonwork hours." And as the World Health Organization found, the cost of stress to American businesses is as much as $300 billion per year.

I think it's safe to say that telepressure is bad for our personal and business bottom line.

But how to change the powerful tide of telepressure? We need to start at the top, by leaders modelling the right behaviors. In a recent Harvard Business Review survey of 19,000 employees, only 25% of respondents said that their leaders model sustainable work practices. What was even more interesting, was that the employees who work for those 25% of leaders were happier, healthier, and more engaged at work. It was a win-win for the employees and the company.

As I describe in my work on the Business Case for Conversation, a little disconnection goes a long way toward reducing stress, building strong relationships, and making a positive impact on the bottom line.


David Morken, Bandwidth co-founder and CEO, is a father of six. Because he values his time off, he wanted everyone at his company to be able enjoy their free time as well. "We offer meaningful work and a full life and those are not incompatible." How does he do it? He offers his nearly 400 employees guaranteed time to unplug in the form of a strictly enforced vacation embargo policy, which bars any contact with employees while they are off.

Fashion visionary Eileen Fisher encourages disconnection both during the day as well as after work hours. Before every meeting, someone rings a chime indicating a silent pause. This moment gives employees an opportunity to get off of auto-pilot and to bring a sense of clarity to the start of the meeting. According to Fisher, "It's hard to say what a difference it's made, but the feeling of connection is amazing." Fisher also offers yoga, pilates and mindfulness programs to her employees and has a no email policy on weekends to allow employees to re-charge.

REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke, made industry news (not to mention history) when he recently announced that 143 stores will be closed the day after Thanksgiving. Instead of participating in "Black Friday," Stritzke is launching a campaign with the hashtag #OptOutside, encouraging shoppers to spend some time outside, and share their experiences on social media. Brian Harrower, a store manager at the REI in Bloomington, MN., says that this year will be the first in his 25-year retail career that he will be able to be with friends and family on the Friday after Thanksgiving. He already has plans to organize an ice hockey tournament.


Businesses aren't the only ones that need some help managing the effects of telepressure. I know my family could use some help. Who couldn't? After all, telepressure is incredibly powerful. But so are the benefits of spending real time, in true connection, with the people we love. Or just happen to be sharing a day with.

Maybe we should all put a DEVICES HERE basket at the front door? Or next to the turkey. Whatever it takes.

Our entire lives will thank us.

I would love to hear some of your stories about how it goes. Email me at erica.keswin@opr-consult.com.

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