January 05, 2016

Unplugging from Work

Credit: ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Happy New Year! I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful Christmas and a special holiday season. I also hope you were able to unplug from work. Were you?

A CareerBuilder survey taken in July found some disturbing news. Almost one in five people acknowledged that they had no ability to unplug from the office. Almost one in five people said they had a tough time enjoying other activities because they were thinking about work. Almost one in four people admit to checking work emails during activities with family and friends. Almost one in four people said work is the last thing they think about before they go to bed. Almost two in five people said work is the first thing they think about when they awake. Now I’ll admit that after my alarm goes off Monday through Friday, I often strategize my work to-do list in the shower, but other than that, what is wrong with these people?

As the old adage goes, no one on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” I don’t know about you, but I work to live. I do not live to work. I enjoy and get fulfillment out of my job, but if I could be at the beach with my family or at the game with my friends, I would!

There have always been "workaholics," but thanks to good old technology, now it’s even harder to separate work and life. An article on Time's Money.com states that the Center for Creative Leadership found smartphone users spend an average of five hours on work emails each weekend, and a Glassdoor poll found more than 60% of people work during a vacation.

Look, I’m not advocating to slack off or not work hard, but I am advocating to work when you work and play when you play. I am advocating for building a moat between work and life. I am advocating for looking at things in terms of life/work balance and not work/life balance.

I once had a supervisor articulate that time off did not mean less work; it simply meant rearranging when you did the work. I’ve found that to be true, and a good way to look at vacation. Get all of your stuff done that has to be done before you go, work ahead as much as you can so you won’t be drowning when you come back, and then tell your boss and co-workers you’re gone and actually fall off the grid!

Let’s face it, though, despite your best efforts to leave everything tied up in a bow, something is probably going to hit the fan while you’re out. Who is going to address the issue? You if you don’t leave other people’s names, phone numbers, and emails who can pinch-hit for you on your auto response emails or your voicemail. And just say when you’re going to be back versus some line about periodically checking emails. Cut the cord!

There may also be times where you have to protect yourself if you are truly going to disconnect. If you get a text from a co-worker at an ungodly hour, don’t respond immediately unless you really have to. If someone emails you on the weekend and you happen to be working, don’t reply immediately unless it’s absolutely necessary. This can be a bit trickier, but if a client or customer starts trying to do business after hours, you may need to consider waiting to respond until normal business hours to really establish a boundary. If you always jump when the open sign is off, you are setting expectations that don’t allow you to ever unplug. Remember, if you give a mouse a cookie (or a co-worker or client an unnecessary response while on vacation), he or she is probably going to want a glass of milk!

Finally, if you are a smartphone user, may I make a recommendation? Turn off the “Badge App Icon” for your email under “Settings” and then “Notifications.” This will get rid of that evil little box that tells you how many unread emails you have. It’s liberating – trust me!

Occasionally I work at night, once in a blue moon I work some during a weekend, and ever so rarely I send a work text or a work email while on vacation, but for the most part, I unplug. There is a point where productivity and quality will suffer if you work enough hours. If you’re rested, you’ve had a little fun, your spouse is happy, you’ve spent some time with your family, and you have a few friends, you’ll actually be a better employee. I bet you’ll be a happier person, too!


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