By Joshua Baez, Engagement Manager at Heinz Marketing
We’re all busy. There’s no denying that. And in our line of work (that work being marketing, and even more specifically, agency marketing), being busy just comes with the job. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first of the month or last of the month. Whether it’s the start or end of a quarter. Whether it’s morning, noon, or night. Because no matter what time it is, there are always more emails to send; more ads to design; more strategies to write; more production schedules to check; more this and more that and more this and more that and— well, before you know it, the workday’s over and it’s time to go home.
Well, not really.
Because, as many of us are all too familiar with, even though you’re home, you’re definitely still working.
Technology just makes working from home so dang easy. No matter where you are, you’re always connected. Either by phone or by computer or by tablet — there’s always a way for you to get back online after you’ve left the office. But while the ability to be online, at the ready, at any moment may be convenient, does it actually do us all any good?
According to a study conducted by Virginia Tech, reported by Forbes, “people who felt simply the expectation of having to answer work emails during non-work hours were more anxious, and reported more relationship stress and poorer health.” And “while the participants themselves didn’t necessarily report poorer relationship quality, their significant others did—which suggests that pressure to be available can affect the people one lives with, too.”
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to maintain a work-life balance. I told myself that when I leave work, that’s it — I’m done — and my evenings are my evenings. But recently, I’ve been breaking that rule. Recently, as soon as I get home (say around 6pm), I open my laptop back up, and as I prepare my dinner, I continue to check and respond to emails, revise strategy briefs, review copy, and continue to work, work, work.
“Research shows that ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries.’”
I concede — there are instances where the work just needs to get done. You’re working to a deadline and you just have to do it. But what about the rest of the time? What about when you’re sitting at home answering emails well into the night? When you’re sacrificing time for yourself to get a document sent to someone who definitely won’t even have time to read it until well into the next morning? When you’re taking time away from either yourself or those around you because you “just need to send one last email.”
Sound familiar? Well, then that begs the question: Where do you draw the line between work and play?
For some, this separation may be dealt with through legislation. In March 2018, according to Fast Company, “Brooklyn Council member Rafael Espinal proposed a new law that could make it illegal for employers in New York City to require their employees to check their email accounts outside of official working hours.” But Espinal isn’t alone in his thinking. In January 2017, France, for example, put into effect “a new labor law that gives employees the ‘right to disconnect’ from email, smartphones, and other electronic devices once their working day has ended.” Some French firms even go as far as to “shut down their email systems overnight.”
While a legislative approach to striking a work-life balance seems a bit much, it brings into full view just how serious the issue of working after-hours can be. Even if not communicated directly, the expectation to be “always-on” is one that can have detrimental effects not just on the individual, but on the company as a whole. Loss of creativity, burnout, anxiety, lack of motivation — according to the Harvard Business Review, “being ‘always-on’ hurts results.”
“When employees are constantly monitoring their email after work hours — whether this is due to a fear of missing something from you, or because they are addicted to their devices — they are missing out on essential down time that brains need… To deliver our best at work, we require downtime.
Time away produces new ideas and fresh insights. But your employees can never disconnect when they’re always reaching for their devices to see if you’ve emailed. Creativity, inspiration, and motivation are your competitive advantage, but they are also depletable resources that need to be recharged.”
So, in lieu of a legislative “Right to Disconnect,” what can employees and executives alike do to bend the work-life balance curve towards more favorable outcomes?
After-Hours Tips For Leaders and Executives
- Be upfront about the expectations of the job
As the authors of the Virginia Tech survey write, it’s important for managers, directors, and other leadership to be be upfront and honest with applicants in the hiring process about the demands of their jobs. Don’t hide the fact that they’re expected to be on-call after hours. Instead, let them know from the start so they can either choose to continue or decide whether or not the job is right for them.
- Tell your employees it’s okay that they’re not always-on
While this may depend on the job, you should try to communicate to your employees that it’s okay that they’re not always-on, especially when there’s likely little need for them to be answering emails at 11pm. While this isn’t an excuse for them to fall behind, coach them so that they’re getting their work done at work, and that they’re disconnecting after they’ve gotten home.
- Set the precedent yourself
Lead by example. If you don’t want your employees working well into the night and weekends, then you shouldn’t be either. Besides, all that does is stress them out thinking they have to provide a response (regardless of whether or not you say they need to reply). Show them that it’s okay to disconnect — that the world will still stand in the morning even though they never sent that last email the night before.
After-Hours Tips For Yourself
- Don’t put off tasks for after you get home
One of the most common phrases I hear from my coworkers is “I’ll finish this when I get home.” But to maintain a work-life balance, I believe we need to be better about truly keeping things separated. Besides, any document that hasn’t been written or reviewed by 5pm can surely wait a few more hours to be worked on in the morning. If it’s not so urgent that it needs to be completed ASAP, it’s not so urgent that it needs to be worked on after you get home.
- Snooze or disable work notifications on your mobile device after 5pm
While technology makes it easy to be available whenever and wherever, it needs its limits. For those of you with work tools on your phones, turn off your notifications after a specified time. That way, even if an email does come through, you’re not tempted to read it or reply to it. Give yourself a break and snooze those notifications.
- Set yourself up for success the next day
Before you leave work, make a to-do list for yourself to tackle the next day. Write down all your tasks, prioritize them, and then, leave. Leave the list on your desk, walk out the door, and go home. Now, when you get into work the next day, you’ll have your tasks already figured out, and you’ll know exactly what to work on first.
The right to disconnect is one that might be talked about in a majority of organizations, but it’s rarely enforced. Workers work, go home, and work some more, and while that kind of lifestyle may work out for some, it’s certainly not one that’s meant for everyone.
You deserve time for yourself. You deserve time to unwind, to relax, to catch up on your favorite Netflix show. You deserve time to disconnect.
Try it. This February, I challenge you to go home and disconnect from work. When you get home, don’t read any emails (and don’t reply either), don’t answer messages, don’t work on any tasks — just go home and take some time for yourself. Disconnect from work and regain your work-life balance.