The Occasional Need to Unplug and UnwindOctober 1, 2016

October 1, 2016

The Occasional Need to Unplug and Unwind

897_4749209Jorgensen,Niki-Insperity-110x140Niki Jorgensen is a manager of HR Services for Insperity — a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 30 years. The company provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. Insperity Business Performance Advisors offer one of the most comprehensive suite of products and services available in the marketplace. Insperity delivers administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity through its premier Workforce Optimization solution and much more.  Insperity operates in 60 offices throughout the United States.

Do you remember how smartphones, text messages and tablets were supposed to make our lives easier?

In many ways they have. We can now respond to emails from 40,000 feet. Instant notifications allow us to become immediately aware of an email from an important company leader or client. And thanks to mobile technology, many of us can do almost 100 percent of our jobs while out of the office, even while on summer vacation.

However, there’s an obvious downside to all of this convenience. Years ago, we had well-defined borders between our work time and our personal time. Now that line has been blurred — if not erased entirely.

“Employees who fail to disconnect from work often pay a large price.”

A few months ago, French lawmakers decided to launch a counteroffensive to halt the encroachment of work on employees’ personal lives. They did so by approving measures that would force some companies to establish official hours when workers are not supposed to receive or send office emails.

It is difficult to believe such a measure could pass in the United States. And for many occupations, including travel and meeting planning, the thought of unplugging daily may sound like a career-defining decision. However, France’s recent effort to improve work-life balance serves as a good reminder that the unwillingness to disconnect, decompress and de-stress will likely become a major health issue if we fail to react.

Here is the reality: Employees who fail to disconnect from work often pay a large price. Long periods of stress can cause sleeplessness. Work-related anxiety also has been linked to heart disease and obesity. Over a period of months and years, work-induced stress often leads to burnout, low morale and depression.

Following are a few tips to achieve a better work-life balance and help reduce stress while maintaining a reputation as a dedicated employee.

Create a Healthy Culture Through Communication

An unhealthy form of peer pressure can develop within companies, which may lead employees to believe that they are required to respond to work items at all hours of the day. Worse yet, a culture of shame sometimes emerges when employees are slow to respond to after-hours communications. Companies should communicate to staff that encroaching on colleagues’ personal lives is not the badge of a hard worker. Businesses should consider guidelines to ensure mobile communications remain effective by proactively confronting the unnecessary use of immediate communication in non-immediate situations.

The Critical Role of Managers

Individual employees are certainly responsible for their own behavior. However, managers also bear some responsibility in combating stress and burnout. Company supervisors should make sure all employees know what is expected of them when it comes to responding to after-hours calls, texts and emails. In some companies, being available for emergencies is simply part of the job. However, everyone needs a break. Consider an on-call system so that each employee has time away from the electronic leash of cell phones or pagers.

Managers also should recognize they can be part of the problem. When the boss sends out an after-hours email or text message, many employees assume it requires immediate action, even when the topic is not inherently urgent. This is why setting some ground rules is crucial. Managers should inform employees that unless otherwise noted, after-hours emails do not require immediate attention.

Software and Other Solutions

One way to reduce the flow of after-hours emails is through purchasing or encouraging the use of software solutions. Many email programs allow employees and managers to delay the delivery of non-urgent items until business hours resume. Another idea is to develop a system — such as common email subject line phrases — that clearly expresses the level of importance of after-hours communications. These types of solutions help remove any confusion about the urgency of an email sent during off-hours.

It is unlikely that cell phones and instant notifications will go away anytime soon. It also is fair to say that workplace email legislation will not likely receive wide support across the United States. This is why companies must act now to recognize and respond to the need for employees to unplug and unwind. We should all make disconnecting a daily habit. C&IT

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