Suzanne Lucas

Does Work-Life Balance Mean Disconnecting from Work While at Home?

Twenty years ago, work-life balance meant leaving the office at 5 p.m. Now, the office can come with you everywhere — and it often does. The majority of workers — 70% — work remotely at least once a week. And that means work-life balance can feel more elusive than ever.

If you want your employees to strike an excellent balance and not join the 20% of employees who get burned out at work, take the lead. Here are some ways to ensure your entire business (you included) can achieve a healthy balance.

Should You Have an After-Hours Policy?

The answer to this isn’t cut and dried, and much of the answer depends on what type of work you do. If you run a doctor’s office, of course, you need policies and procedures for out-of-office emergencies. If you run an accounting firm that keeps strict business hours, you may not need this kind of policy.

Evaluate options for promoting balance. You might reserve text messaging for true after-hours emergencies and require that all other communications come via email. This policy could help separate the urgent from the routine.

A blanket ban on after-hours emails (as France has done) can actually cause problems for some employees. People with flexible schedules, for instance, may prefer to do a couple of hours of work after the kids are asleep and come in later in the morning.

Of course, any policy that you implement needs to indicate payment for nonexempt (overtime eligible) employees. They must be paid for all work over a few minutes. The government uses the term “de minimis” to describe such work. So, if a nonexempt employee is answering a bunch of emails every night, they need to add that time to their timecard.

Exempt employees can work around the clock without incurring legal issues. This will, however, lead to burnout. You want people to have a chance to rest.

How Should You Implement Your Policy?

If you decide to make a specific policy, then present it to your staff and get their buy-in. Above all, don’t make a policy that you won’t stick to. If you say “no messages after business hours” and then send out emails yourself, your staff will believe that you expect them to respond.

Instead, you can write a policy that no one is required to respond to messages after hours. Then, if you do send a message, reinforce the policy: “Can you get back to me on this tomorrow? No need to answer immediately.” Don’t reward people who respond immediately or punish those who wait.

Whatever your policy reads on paper, it’s only valid as long as the senior management follows it. If you put away your laptop when you go on vacation, your staff will as well. If you say you’re going to the beach but call into every meeting and text people multiple times during the day, that will become the expectation across the board.

Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Many after-hours policies are simply word-of-mouth, and new hires often don’t know what to expect. They may assume that they should respond to every business text immediately or put in a couple hours of work on vacation. Don’t make people have to figure it out by watching how others behave. Be clear from the start: Write an official policy and communicate it during onboarding.

Some businesses and industries do have the expectation that clients come first, regardless of what you’re doing in your off hours. If that’s the case, let people know at the interview stage. If everything can wait until morning, let people know that as well.

A well-thought-out policy helps your people do their best. However you design your policy to ensure a healthy work-life balance for your staff, make setting a good example a priority, and back it up with clear communication.

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