When you hear “work-life balance,” what comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, it’s less about the work and more about the life—that is, a life that includes things other than work.
Work is a massive part of life for many of us. But it’s not the only part. We also have personal lives, family members and friends we care about, interests outside of work, and so on. And when we start to feel like our job is taking over other parts of our lives, we start feeling burned out—or even stressed out and depressed.
That is why it’s so important for employers to help employees achieve work-life balance.
This means creating an office culture that supports employees’ efforts to achieve this balance–one where there are clear expectations about what happens during working hours and what happens outside those hours. People need a workplace where there are clear consequences for violating those expectations and where people feel free to take time off when they need to without worrying about whether they’ll be penalized for doing so.
The Rise of Working “Off the Clock”
Working from home has become the new normal, with many full-time employees working remotely for at least part of the time. In fact, some companies are encouraging their employees to work remotely regularly or as much as possible.
And while these arrangements are great for productivity and employee satisfaction, they also present new challenges around work-life balance, the biggest of them being how to manage emails and other communications while still fitting in personal time with family and friends.
Many companies have tried to address this issue by instituting “out of office” messages or limiting email access outside of business hours—but these don’t always work as well as they should. Often, employees will simply ignore these policies and continue sending emails on weekends or at night anyway.
After-hours emailing has become the norm in many offices. A study that involved over 3 million workers worldwide concluded that after-hours emails prolonged the typical working day by 48.5 minutes. This is a problem because workers often assume that they’re expected to respond to after-hours emails because they don’t want their colleagues to think they aren’t doing their jobs or are ignoring them.
The Case Against Emailing After Hours
There are many reasons why after-hours emailing is terrible for everyone involved. Some of them include:
It distracts from family life and personal time. Just as you wouldn’t want your spouse or children checking their phones at the dinner table, you shouldn’t expect people in your office to do so either.
Contributes to Burnout
It contributes to burnout and exhaustion for those who are on call 24/7 or responding to emails before bedtime (especially if they’re not getting enough sleep).
Creates Unrealistic Expectations
It creates an expectation that employees should respond immediately—even if they’re not being paid overtime or compensated in any way for doing so (which is illegal under federal law).
Emailing after hours is an insidious habit. It can be easy to justify: You’re just checking in, it’ll only take a minute, and you can get it done faster than if you wait until tomorrow.
But the reality is that emailing after hours creates a sense of urgency and stress that doesn’t go away when you go home. This may lead to anticipatory stress, which is when you worry about what might be in your inbox when you return to work. This can have a negative effect on your sleep quality, overall well-being, and even physical health.
Sleep loss can impair cognitive function, cause physical and mental health problems, increase stress levels and decrease productivity at work—all of which can make you an unpleasant coworker.
Promoting Better Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is one of the most important factors that employees consider when deciding whether to accept a job offer. But many organizations still expect their employees to be available outside of core business hours.
Those expectations can make it harder for managers and employees alike to strike a good work-life balance—which is why companies need to promote work-life balance in all aspects of their businesses, from how they hire new employees to how they encourage team collaboration and productivity. Here are some ways your company can promote work-life balance:
Model Behavior That Encourages Work-Life Balance
If your organization wants its employees to take time off after hours and spend time with loved ones, then the company itself must model this behavior. This means no after-hours emails or work texts—or at least setting clear expectations about when people can expect responses from their managers and colleagues.
In order for employees to take advantage of flexible schedules or telecommuting options, they need a clear understanding of what’s expected of them—including when and how often they should check email outside of normal business hours.
To ensure that your staff understands what is expected, make sure your company has clear communication policies detailing email etiquette and expectations around responding.
Don’t Be the Person Who Emails After Hours
It can be tempting to send business emails late at night when you’re behind on your workload or need to send an important update right away. But consider how it looks to your employees who may need to stay late or come in early because of their own workloads.
Even if it doesn’t affect them directly, they could see your late emails as an example of unfair treatment and feel resentful toward their employer overall—not exactly what you want from someone who just put in a twelve-hour day at the office.
Employee engagement is higher when HR managers demonstrate that they value work-life balance themselves by setting electronic communication etiquette.
If possible, limit your availability outside of regular business hours—especially on weekends and holidays. Set office hours and stick to them so employees know when they can expect you to respond during off-hours.
This can also help reduce stress levels among your staff members who may be feeling anxious about responding within specified time frames while on vacation or traveling for work purposes.
Don’t Expect Employees to Respond to Emails After Hours
This is one of the biggest complaints about working at a company that doesn’t respect its employees’ time outside of work. If you must send emails late at night or on the weekends, make sure they are important enough to justify the intrusion into personal time.
Let employees know it’s okay not to be available all the time. Make sure your employee handbook includes specific policies about after-hours availability and make sure managers understand them as well.
When employees know they won’t be punished for not responding to an email after hours, they will feel less stressed about setting boundaries between work and home life—which is good for everyone.
Take Full Advantage of PTO
One of the best ways to promote a healthy work-life balance is by making sure employees take full advantage of their paid time off (PTO). If employees aren’t using their PTO, then they’re not getting the time away from work they need to unwind and recharge.
Encourage employees to use their PTO in a way that makes sense for them. Some people might want to schedule vacations months in advance; others might prefer a more spontaneous approach—whatever works best for them is fine as long as they’re taking time off from work when they need it most.
Use Follow-Up Messages Wisely
If you send an email asking someone to complete a task or provide information by a certain deadline, don’t send follow-up messages every few hours if they don’t respond right away. This can make employees feel like they’re under constant pressure to respond immediately and may even cause them to avoid checking emails altogether after hours because they know it will only cause stress.
Instead, give people some breathing room to get back to you when convenient for them (ideally within 24 hours). For more tips about online communications, check out our guide on Internet Etiquette Workplace Communications.
The Final Word
Work-life balance is a hot topic in today’s office. As employees grow more connected despite many working remotely, it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the office when workday hours are over.
To promote work-life balance in the workplace, employers should take the right steps to encourage their employees to take time off from work and nix after-hours emailing. By taking courses such as Email Essentials and Finding Work-Life Balance, you can help your organization create a healthier, happier, and more productive workplace.
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