Thanks to digital technology, most workers are ‘always-on,’ to the extent that they’re responding to emails at night and on the weekend. At first glance, this trend seems like a plus—workers have the resources that they need to stay on top of their projects and remain connected with teams.
The downside? There’s a strong potential for burnout. There’s a fine line between ‘always on’ and ‘overworking.’ As human beings, workers need time to decompress from their stressful workdays. They need exercise and recreation, time with family, and plenty of sleep.
At this year’s SxSW festival, BetterWorks head of products Ciara Peter encouraged companies to recognize the shift in ‘work-life balance’ to ‘work-life integration.’ Her theory aligns well with trends in workstyle over the years: Your most dedicated workers will be ‘on’ beyond their regular working hours, and it’s up to management to provide team members with the tools that they need to self-regulate.
Here are 3 ways that companies can position their employees for successful work-life integration:
1. EMPOWER TEAM MEMBERS WITH FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULES
Between mandatory time at the office, doctors’ appointments and kids’ schedules, employees are pulled in multiple — often competing — directions. A fixed work schedule makes these conflicting priorities even more challenging.
Adopting the notion of work-life integration can prevent burnout by allowing employees the space that they need to set their own work schedules. Employees are in the best position to recognize when they need downtime or space from their work. The freedom to self-regulate—without pressure—will help workers stay on track.
Don’t make team members request time off to visit the doctor or pick up their kids from school. Instead, focus team communications around specific project milestones. If team members aren’t hitting their targets, then there’s a problem—otherwise, let them be.
2. ASK MANAGERS TO BE MINDFUL ABOUT EMAIL TIMING
It can be nerve-wracking to receive an ‘urgent request’ from your boss at midnight, even if the challenge can wait until the next day. Rather than stressing out employees before they go to bed, managers should take the time to re-evaluate what types of emails they’re sending and at what hour of the day.
Best practice? To avoid stressing out your employees, you may want to avoid sending emails until the next morning. A tool like Boomerang can help by allowing you to schedule emails in advance.
3. ENCOURAGE TEAM MEMBERS TO SAY ‘NO’
Enthusiastic, hard-working employees tend to take on lots of new projects. But far too often, employees hesitate to turn down projects if they are already swamped with work, for fear of repercussion. Driven by guilt, high-performers will jump to say ‘yes’ — and then secretly regret the decision when they’re putting in 70+ hour workweeks.
That’s why it’s important to learn to say ‘no.’
Managers should create a space in which team members feel comfortable turning down assignments. Make it clear that employees need to self-regulate the work that you’re putting on the table, and that it can always get re-assigned. Before assigning tasks, managers should always let team members know that they have the right to decline an assignment. Or at the very least, start a dialogue.
‘Work-life balance’ is an obsolete concept. Managers need to embrace the new world of work-life integration and give team members the tools that they need to stay healthy and productive. The key is flexibility—for workers to self-direct their own schedules, areas of ownership, and routines.
For employees to feel comfortable turning down assignments, they’ll need to know that the work will be handled adequately by other team members. Here’s how you can build that kind of work environment.