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Are we afraid of being offline?

If you never stray from your smartphone, you could suffer from FOBO

Are we afraid of being offline? If you never stray from your smartphone, you could suffer from FOBO

In recent years, we have become familiar with a long series of acronyms aimed at summarizing behaviors and contemporary trends that sometimes present a worrying snapshot of our lives today. After learning the meaning of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), JOMO (Joy of Missing Out), and FOSO (Fear of Starting Over), it's time for FOBO, literally Fear Of Being Offline. If you always carry your smartphone, check it obsessively every 5 minutes, keep it by your side even when you eat, never forget to take a last look at emails and social media before sleeping, and during a date you scrutinize that small screen more than the person in front of you, then you might suffer from this fear.

What is FOBO?

The fear of being offline describes the panic and anxiety that some people experience when they cannot access the Internet. Closely related to nomophobia, or the fear of not having your mobile phone available, FOBO is triggered by the possibility of missing something important if you're not connected. It's that shiver of terror you feel on vacation when you hear there's no Wi-Fi in the hotel, that sense of emptiness from not knowing the Instagram homepage by heart, or the stress that arises when your phone is about to die, silencing the beep of emails, notifications, and social updates.

@lindseycraven I. work. in. marketing. the work can wait. #burnoutrecovery #restisntearned #lifesimplified #burnout #corporatemillenial original sound - Lindsey

FOBO and Work: Could It Lead to Burnout?

In the workplace, the concept of FOBO takes on another connotation. It alludes to the desire to show that we are constantly productive and on top of things. Heaven forbid we miss a Slack message in the minute it takes to go to the bathroom, make a coffee, or collect the laundry. We feel obliged to be reachable 24/7 because we perceive every slight departure from the screen as a serious dereliction of duty. "Since we can always be reached, people tend to think that we must be," explains psychologist Ashley Hampton, emphasizing that when the dictate doesn’t come from outside, it comes from ourselves. "Sometimes people don't expect an immediate response; we think they do." The result is such a confusion of private and professional spaces that at best turns us all into workaholics, and at worst leads to burnout. Where does this behavior come from? From the lockdown experience.

@buddyjob_it Quanto è importante il work life balance? #BrielleAsero #worklifebalance #lavoro #orientamento suono originale - BuddyJob

More Doesn't Mean Better

As career coach Emily Button-Lyhman says: "During Covid, the boundaries between work and home became very blurred, and we got used to being reachable at all hours, so all colleagues increased their expectations about the workload." However, this has gone well beyond Covid. Since returning to the office, some employers expect the same levels of work and require their employees to be always available. Contributing to an idea of rest equating to weakness, we are constantly connected, yet this increased effort does not always correspond to better performance. In fact, this forced presenteeism often proves counterproductive. Neither healthy nor productive.

Work According to Gen Z

We shouldn't dedicate our entire lives to work. Gen Z seems to have understood this, preferring flexible employment and a lifestyle where professional success does not come at the expense of personal health and happiness. But this seems easier said than done. According to Silvia Mérida Expósito, psychologist at BluaU de Sanitas, it is the downside of the flexibility offered by technology that makes us always available: "In the society we live in, there is a certain social and work pressure to maintain constant productivity and availability. Currently, this expectation has been driven by technology, as it allows us to always be connected. The fear of being perceived as not committed to work can lead us to feel the need to justify the time we spend doing something outside of work; something that has become more common with teleworking."

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A Boundary Problem

What can we do to reclaim our free time and our mental health? Draw the most distinct boundaries possible between work and private life. Companies, for their part, should encourage a healthy work culture and acknowledge the importance of rest and leisure, which can actually make their employees happier, healthier, and more productive. They should learn to accept and actively encourage breaks and offline moments, not only during vacations but also during daily work. As long as the work assigned to us is done and completed on time, we shouldn't feel obliged to inform colleagues and bosses every time we are less than a meter away from the computer. When the workday is over, we should turn off email notifications, not answer calls, and leave deadlines and problems at the office. It's not easy, but with a little practice we could finally accept that the world won't explode over an unopened WhatsApp message.