I recently had my hip replaced and was under a very strict regimen for recovery. My surgeon said, walk five minutes every hour, do not go outside for four weeks, sit down this way, stand up that way, no email or text, and get plenty of rest.
I anticipated the walking and sitting regime, but I didn’t understand the technology cease fire. I knew the first few days I would be speaking a language only understood by aliens, so that made sense. Since I am a bundle of energy, I was sure my “bounce back” would be five days max and then back to my life, my work, and my technology. Really?
After surgery I did exactly as I was told, and it had advantages. I have new bionic body parts, connected with new/old friends, meditated, read, wrote, and minimized technology interference…I unplugged. When I started to connect with clients, I worked in small windows of time and was amazed at the rapid results I achieved with creativity, focus and a clear thought process. This got me thinking, what if we unplugged in organizations and sent a message that this was valued for work/life balance.
Wikipedia defines unplug as “stop using electronic devices, especially for relaxation or to reduce stress.”
A recent Forbes article outlined why restricting our use of gadgets in the evening hours is a smart move. Just imagine you get a tense email or text from your boss, co-worker, or customer late in the evening, is sleep likely? Probably not. You may be likely to toss and turn regarding this work-related issue and then be so drained you will not be productive or creative the following work day.
Another compelling reason, the frequency with which people check their social media-providing gadgets is just the right amount to get the brain’s addiction centers engaged. The Internet may be the newest “substance” to be a candidate for a mental health disorder. According to the Korean government, about two million citizens are addicted to the Internet to the extent that it interferes with their ability to function as normal participants in society. The government is taking several steps to wean citizens off the Internet, including setting up addiction help centers.
Does such a fate await us? A New York City Councilman has proposed The Right to Unplug bill which would prohibit private-sector employers from requiring their employees to access work-related electronic communications outside of their usual work hours. This is modeled after a similar law in France and if passed, would make New York City the first American city to enact such a law. The bill, which was introduced on March 22, 2018, would make it illegal for employers with more than 10 employees to require employees to access work-related electronic communications. Additionally, the bill would require employers to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic devices for sending or receiving work-related electronic communications. The bill also proposes penalties for employers who fail to comply with its provisions.
You are probably shaking your head or saying YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! This may sound like a crazy outcome, but the real question is why we have gotten to the point where this type of law is necessary? Electronic communications (text, email, etc.) have blurred the boundaries between work and home. The unspoken expectation or message we may be sending is that the business is more important than “your life”. When we reach out all evening or weekend to obtain answers to questions that could potentially wait until the next “workday” we communicate you must be available 24/7. Will there be critical issues that arise in the workplace and necessitate after hours communication? Yes, of course! However, these do not occur every day of the week and if they do occur, there may be a fundamental issue with business operations. Lest we forget that after-hours communication also has pay consideration for non-exempt employees and may result in unreported time or overtime wages.
What can a business owner/leader do to communicate needs and identify boundaries? When you hire a new employee communicate that there may be “critical” topics that necessitate working or connecting after hours. Then, inquire about the employee’s availability and/or commitments. Here is an example of this type of conversation. An employee tells you they pick up their child and spends time from 5pm-8pm fixing dinner, doing homework, preparing a bath, or just having fun. Once the child is in bed, they may do some work on the computer from 8pm – 10pm and may see a note from you at that time. That is a clear boundary and informs expectations for the employer.
Drawing a line between work and home benefits both parties; the employee will be coming back to work happier, relaxed, recharged, and more productive. If you repeatedly cross a boundary you impact commitment, engagement, and retention and may push the employee over the edge into another job.
Instead, create an environment that encourages focus, productivity, and achievement of goals.
My very “hip” experience proved that results are directly related to time, focus, and desire. Being unplugged started as an impossibility and became a gift and learning experience.