For company leaders, this brings forth an interesting quandary: While a little wiggle room in the schedules of your reports can help promote work/life balance and employee retention, how can managers still maintain and model their own personal boundaries in a world of 24/7 digital access?
THE CONS OF CONSTANT CONNECTION
The digital tools of today’s workplaces, no matter what the industry, include a range of apps and online features that help maximize connection and accessibility. From specific tools designed to increase collaboration—like the Millennial-friendly workplace messaging app Slack—to the ubiquity of cell phone use to stay in touch via text, it’s simply never been easier for employees to access their direct supervisor or manager. Which begs the question: what happens to managers’ work/life balance when the demands of the job are constantly within arm’s reach?
For starters, recent research suggests that, while actual interaction with fellow humans via digital platforms can create positive feelings, the interruption of smartphone notifications cause a “negative impact on affective states of users.” If managers are expected to turn all notification settings to “on” at all times, that means experiencing a wave of potentially negative feelings that can distract from the task at hand. And that’s not all: Another study notes that constant digital interruptions can also lead to increased inattention and hyperactivity. Sound like someone to whom you’d like to report?
Finally, it appears that being continually “on” and available can negatively impact managers’ job satisfaction ratings. As reported recently in Forbes, an experiment in which employees were forced to create predictable “off” periods in which they weren’t responding to emails or calls resulted in a 23 percent increase in overall job satisfaction for participants. The flipside, of course, is that job satisfaction is at risk of going down, or flatlining, when an employee can’t free up any time away from the demands of constant responsiveness.
TIPS FOR THRIVING IN A 24/7 WORLD
Today’s managers must make a choice: either go back to the Luddite days and forget all about the ways technology can benefit the communication process, or get a handle on how to really set limits around availability. The latter requires a mindful, consistent approach, but when accomplished helps managers achieve the best of both worlds—efficient communication without being on call 24/7.
1. Identify Your Team Members’ Working Styles
Self-awareness can go a long way toward preventing a case of workaholism. Spend time reflecting on your own work style tendencies, and discuss them with your team. If you find that some of your reports are apt to embrace “boundaryless” work styles, you’ll need to navigate with them on setting limits. Have employees on your team who are rigid about leaving work at the exact same time every day? You’ll need to have a different conversation with them about upcoming deadlines if they require scheduling flexibility. Don’t make assumptions. Instead open up the conversation so that your reports take ownership around how they will approach their work/life balance—and respect yours, too!
2. Set Clear Expectations for Communication
Making yourself available to your reports is one of the keys to good management. But be sure to provide clarity on how and when communication should happen. If schedules allow, establish in person, one-on-one supervisory time with each of your reports. Use a shared document to record notes from these meetings, and encourage your team members to jot down questions or areas of concern in between your sessions. This will allow for ongoing communication, while also prompting your staff to consider if their questions need immediate answers. If your organization uses text to communicate, be clear about what is appropriate for text (and when), so that you avoid a buzzing pocketful of concerns that induce pressure to respond in the moment.
3. Stick to a Set Communication Channel
Model expectations around clear communication by responding to texts with texts, emails with emails, and so on. While it might feel easier in the moment for you respond to a reports’ email by shooting off a quick text, this approach can quickly backfire. Setting the expectation that communication channels are interchangeable can devolve into constant interruptions during your scheduled downtime.
4. Schedule “Off Time”
Creating blocks of time each day when you focus on specific projects and pay no attention to your devices or emails can lead to increased productivity and satisfaction. If you and your team don’t use shared calendars, consider moving to this type of system. It’s a great way for reports to see what your day really looks like, and carve out clear expectations that you are not always available. As a recent article in Fortune notes, employees with flexible schedules often need this kind mentorship on how to manage their time: 97 percent of respondents reported being offered flexibility in the workplace, but only 40 percent received guidance in how to manage it. Not only can this form of scheduling increase the independence and time management skills of your reports, but it will also help prevent a culture of constant work communication, which so often leads to burnout.
Taking advantage of flexible schedules and communications tools can lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction. But it’s important for managers to stay mindful about when they should be in contact with direct reports, and when they should take time out to rest and recharge. What works for you and your team? Share your thoughts on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.