Are you an after-hours Blackberry addict? Do you expect your employees to be e-mail addict, too? How much to keep in contact with office calls and e-mail in the evenings and over weekends may be a matter of personal choice (or business necessity) for founders, but for employees when they can switch off can be a nerve-wracking gray area, points out Cali Williams Yost, CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, on Fast Company recently.
Unless you're in the psychic mind-reading business, the only way your employees are going to know how available you expect them to be is by close observation of the example you set and a stressful dose of guesswork. Unless you explicitly tell them, of course. After all, conscientious, promotion-minded workers probably won't ask if they can chuck their phone in their bag and forget about it at home, as they won't want to come off as a slacker. Williams Yost writes:
Leaders fail to clarify their personal preferences for staying connected to work with technology, and don’t share their expectations of the responsiveness with their direct reports. This leads to misguided assumptions that can wreak havoc on the work-life balance of their employees. And most leaders have no idea any of this is happening.
Luckily, there is a quick, easy and perhaps best of all, free fix to this problem. By simply specifying your exact expectations, you remove the unpleasant cloud of doubt that can get in the way of workers' peace of mind and drive them towards burnout. Williams Yost suggests you,
Have a meeting, state the parameters clearly, and then be consistent. People watch the behavior of leaders like a hawk. If there’s even a whiff of inconsistency between what you told them and how you actually behave, they will go back to assuming they need to follow your technology schedule. So if you state, "You don’t need to respond to e-mails at night; I'll call you if anything is urgent," don't penalize someone who missed an important issue because they didn’t answer an e-mail, but were never called.
Check out the complete Fast Company piece for more tips on what to consider when setting your policy and on how to revise if your needs change. There are other resources available for founders and bosses determined to tackle this issue as well. An analysis of data on how plugged in, mobile workers are coping with work demands by Dr. Carolyn Axtell of the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield offers advice for companies hoping to help workers avoid burnout. Among her tips:
- Control. The more workers get to decide how to manage their off-job time, the better so, for example, if you have a massive project looming that will require work outside the usual nine-to-five, try to give employees as long a lead time as possible to allow them to meet that deadline in a way that works best for them.
- Tools. Companies should also "ensure that employees have the right resources to do their job and have the necessary support to overcome obstacles," says the analysis. If your employees need a gadget, training or a team happy hour to blow off steam, provide it.
- Boundaries. Like Williams, Axtell suggests managers explicitly encourage workers to set firm boundaries and find time to recharge. Bosses should, "encourage employees to maintain a boundary between home and work and not work excessive hours."
How do you help your staff maintain work-life boundaries and avoid burnout?