Recently I was in a video conference with around 20 other attendees. It was run by the organisers of a fast-growth technology company’s global summit. All attendees had been selected to present at the summit and the call’s purpose was to learn about presentation strategies.
At this point, I need to confess something: The organisers had actually told me I didn’t need to attend this meeting, as it was only for first-time speakers. Despite this, something compelled me to hop on the call, for fear that I might miss some gem of wisdom.
The meeting was booked for two hours and, at the 20-minute mark, I decided to surreptitiously drop off the call. I had realised, even as an organisational psychologist who is well versed in FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), I had given in to its siren song. And I needed to reclaim the rest of the one hour and 40 minutes I could potentially lose.
FOMO is rife in most offices. We expect to be copied in every email that might possibly relate to our projects or our team, we accept meeting invitations that we don’t really need to attend, and we unhappily glance at the huge number of ‘likes’ everyone else’s LinkedIn posts seem to attract.
By missing out on a call, email or meeting, we worry that we won’t gain that critical piece of information needed to make our project a success. We worry we will miss that moment to shine in our boss’s eyes. And by giving in to FOMO, we waste not just enormous amounts of emotional energy, but time, too.
According to Social Comparison Theory, we are hardwired to compare ourselves with others. But when it comes to FOMO, the specific type of comparison we make is an ‘upward comparison’, where our target is someone who is seemingly doing much better than us. By contrast, our career is always going to be doomed to failure.
FOMO leads to all sorts of problems. It leads to living your life by someone else’s standards. Does it matter that your colleague received over 300 ‘likes’ on their blog post? In the grand scheme of things, not at all. FOMO increases our anxiety level.
Research from the University of Toledo found a strong relationship between FOMO, anxiety and depression in those who use their smartphone excessively. Assistant Professor Darlene McLaughlin, from the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, states that FOMO instils anxiety and depression and can lead to a mental health diagnosis.
And FOMO decreases our self-esteem. Research led by Professor Andrew K Przybylski at the University of Essex found that FOMO was associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. And in research conducted into time spent on Facebook, spending more time on Facebook each week led to people believing that others were happier and had better lives than themselves.
Because we are constantly making upward comparisons with those who seem to have their lives and careers together, we can’t help but look bad in comparison.
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