Designers Mind: Working FOMO

25th April 2023

Designers Mind contributor Kael Gillam questions the ‘always on’ mindset, and examines why some may struggle to switch off outside of working hours.

In the working world, is there such a thing as being too consistent? This question came up in a recent discussion with the DM team and made us wonder about the amount of effort and commitment we put into our working lives. Some would argue that it is praiseworthy to check your emails on holiday, always say yes to last-minute requests, and work over your lunch hour. Surely, you might argue, that attitude and those actions embody consistency, commitment, and hard work at their finest. If you’re always contactable, you’re consistent. If you’re always caught up on your emails, you’re consistent. But we need to dig into this a bit deeper; where do your ‘working hours’ end and your free time begin when you’re ‘always on’?

I’ve had this conversation with colleagues both more and less experienced than I am, and there just simply isn’t a consensus as to why people are drawn to being ‘on’. Some feel that there is a ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), if they aren’t in some way still connected to the office. What if something happens to the presentation while I’m away? What if the client calls and the next team members won’t deal with it well? There’s two ways to look at this mindset; a lack of trust or a lack of control. When we don’t trust in our team members’ capabilities, then we will constantly fret about whether something can be dealt with ‘correctly’ in case of our absence. And when we are bad at delegating and refuse to allow others to take on shared responsibility for tasks in our absence, we will constantly fret about whether something will be taken out of our control and sent askew by an uninformed colleague. Both are disparaging to our colleagues; in this model we believe that we are such an integral part of the team that our absence will rock the boat and send everything into chaos.

While we are of course important members of our workplaces, relinquishing control and trusting in others is an integral part of being a good teammate. With good handovers or briefings, and making our colleagues feel like a valued part of the project(s), then we can feel more confident in being able to ‘let go’ and put trust in their abilities while we’re unavailable. A teammate that is only ever given information piecemeal, and/or is then micromanaged in undertaking unrelated tasks, will not feel confident in their duties and thus be unable to make informed decisions in the absence of their project leader. A teammate that is included in meeting minutes, has indirect contact with the client or lead designer, and has a full overview of a project will feel more ownership and have more confidence when decisions need to be made. Equally, when they’re better informed, they will be more confident in responding to difficult or ambiguous situations with ‘I don’t know’, and allowing a question to sit until they have an answer.

Along with trust and control, the ‘fear of missing out’ can come from a lack of desire to detach from the mentality of the workplace. Some people are really driven by the fast-paced nature of the workplace, and thrive on the low-level (not the high-level!) stress that comes along with making important decisions and communicating our creative endeavours. There is that buzz that comes along with a good presentation, a successful client meeting, a deadline being met and sent out. There is also the joy that we derive from our interactions with our colleagues; sharing those successes and failures together can be intimate and special experiences. More simply, the time spent with our colleagues can foster a general sense of kinship in the day-to-day of office life, which is likely quite different from the relationships we would form outside of the pressure cooker of our profession. When we’re not in the office, either virtually or in person, we may feel like we miss out on these bonding moments and feel the need to be kept up to date so that we don’t feel as though we’ve missed out on important social moments.

On the other side of the hesitance to detach is the possibility that the very intense and ever-changing work environment may feel more comfortable and easier to navigate than our home lives. This can manifest in many ways for an individual, and might be very difficult to explain to colleagues or managers when we make the choice to tip our normal balance in the favour of more work. I have been there myself; in turbulent times in my home life, I have thrown all of myself into my projects and my commitments at the office. There is perhaps a somewhat tongue in cheek phrase that goes ‘would you rather the chaos you know or the chaos you don’t’? I chose the chaos I knew, working 60-hour weeks and answering calls from my manager during my holiday time because I was more passionate about my working life than my home life. These circumstances are so much harder to navigate, and need sympathy and time to help our teammates find their own equilibrium again.

‘Letting go’ is often a trust exercise built over a long period of time, and one that we can all equally improve upon to free up our minds of anxiousness and clutter. Sometimes it is trust in ourselves that there is resilience built into the team, and we can prop each other up and fill in the gaps when someone is away. Sometimes it is trust in our colleagues that when we delegate tasks, that their result will be just as satisfactory as what we may have envisioned ourselves doing on our own. These traits and habits are difficult for some but very easy for others; identifying where the hesitance comes from is key in ‘letting go’. If being ‘on’ makes us feel fulfilled and included, rather than anxious and worried, then we have the balance right. But when the fear is all-consuming, and keeps us from the things that bring us joy and relaxation, then we need to step back and assess.

In all these scenarios, we need to find our own individual balance in where our priorities lie and what brings us satisfaction and fulfilment. There is no such thing as ‘work-life balance’, for the record; have we written that before? Forgive us if we have. The balance is between activity and rest, and will never be the same between two people. Be kind to yourself and spend time thinking about your balance when you’re outside of your working hours, and how much more you want to be able to detach at the end of the day. Letting go is also a way of holding on.

Image: Unsplash