Ah, technology! What an amazing thing it is and continues to be. It has evolved so much in such a short time, and has completely transformed how we live and work. Technology is something that we rely on day in and day out in essentially all aspects of our lives. From phones, computers, tablets, TV, and even kitchen and household appliances, we touch technology all the time. With today’s technology, we can work from virtually anywhere, communicate with people at any time, in any location, and always be in touch, no matter the time of day or night. There is always an option for an app, a cloud-based system, or some other software at the touch of our fingers that can streamline our processes and make it easier for people to do their work remotely.
Here’s the thing though, just because technology gives us the ability to work from anywhere at any time, it doesn’t mean we should. If you’re a manager or a business owner, just because you have the ability to contact and reach out to employees at any time and when they are anywhere, doesn’t mean you should.
Because people are constantly connected, and we know that there is the ability to be accessible at any time, it creates undue pressure on employees to feel like they actually need to be connected and accessible when they really shouldn’t be. I was recently on a trip in New Orleans and was sitting on a tour bus when the person behind me began to complain about their boss. Naturally, as an HR person, my ears perked up, and I heard this person say “Geez, can’t I have just one day off! I know my supervisor has my cell phone number but that doesn’t mean she gets to text me when I’m on vacation. That’s supposed to be in my file for emergencies.” This woman was aggravated the rest of the trip and felt like she couldn’t disconnect and recharge. I’ve been there.
A research study from the University of Zurich (published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology) suggests that blurring boundaries between work and personal life can negatively impact people’s sense of well-being and lead to burnout and exhaustion.
Occupational health psychologists studied 1,916 employees to measure a person’s well-being, considering participants’ sense of physical and emotional exhaustion as well as their sense of balance between work and non-work.
The researchers found that employees who did not maintain clear boundaries between work and free time were less likely to participate in activities that could help them relax. They were therefore more exhausted and experienced a lower sense of balance and well-being in the different key aspects of their lives, resulting in reduced productivity and reduced creativity.
Here’s what you do to avoid that situation – stop contacting employees when they are off work! Whether it’s outside of their regular working schedule or if they are taking paid time off, don’t contact them. If you can’t help yourself and need to get the information off of your mind (which I totally get) here are some other options
Schedule your emails
If you need to send an employee an email, type it up and schedule to be sent when they are back at work – no matter if it is the next morning, or next week. I understand that work needs to continue and they may be copied on emails with other co-workers or clients. But if the email is just to that one person, and it isn’t urgent, or they’re not expecting it, it can wait. How many times do people come back from vacation and they say it wasn’t worth going away because of the overfull inbox they return to? Every time. We even heard one employee say it was easier to quit her job before she took a week away than deal with the re-entry at work! You can help change that in your company.
Remove texts as an option
Now that we all have phones in our pockets, the etiquette of when and who to text has definitely relaxed, and not for the better! Think of texts involving workplace matters for emergency only – and be real about what is an emergency. Many companies are turning to messaging and/or collaboration tools like the Slack app (we love Slack by the way!) – it keeps all of your work communication in an organized system, and allows for quick, text-like messages where an email would be too lengthy. Users don’t have to search their own personal text messages to find history of work conversations. And they may still choose to turn off their notifications, and can turn it back on during working hours.
Create a culture and work environment that supports time off and time away from work. Encourage people to disconnect and focus on things other than work when they aren’t there, and then have your leadership team model the behavior themselves. Notice and have a discussion when an employee has gone many months without a vacation, or always ends the year with extra days not taken. Have quarterly discussions with your team about vacation plans, so the business can stay staffed, but also so employees can be sure to schedule the breaks they’ve earned.
Here are some steps to follow when you’re not working and want to disconnect during your time off:
Set a plan with your coworkers Have an open conversation with your coworkers or support staff about what happens to your work load while you’re away, when you can be reached, and when you can not. If you prep them, chances are they’ll have your back.
Snooze/Turn off your notifications. For any communication tool that you use for work and that comes to your phone, find the option to snooze or turn off notifications so you aren’t distracted, or tempted to work.
Set your status to “off work”. In most communication tools like Slack, Skype email and any other tools that you use for work, you can set your status to “off work”, “vacation”, or “away”. That helps people remember that you are off of work and to respect your time away.
Embrace the “out of office” email While some businesses ask their employees to not use this feature (“We should always be available to answer our clients’ needs”), it is actually helpful for clients who may be emailing you. They get an informed, immediate response to their email, and if it is an urgent need, you can give them steps of who to contact in your absence, instead of the client blowing up your email multiple times.
Respecting time off and regular working hours will require everyone on your team to be aware, and hold back. But I promise, with regular practice, it will foster a much healthier work environment, improving employee retention, and even growing your business with that recharged brain power!