The Art of Disconnecting

Can you really ignore that late-night work email? At some Best Companies, the answer is an emphatic yes.

When employees at animal health products company Zoetis head home for the weekend, there’s one thing they don’t worry about: dealing with an email from the boss. CEO Juan Ramón Alaix has vowed not to send or respond to anything but an emergency message from Friday night through Sunday—and expects managers to follow his lead.

“It’s important to know how to make the most of technology without it intruding into your life,” says Roxanne Lagano, executive vice president and chief of human resources at the Florham Park, NJ–based company. She says Alaix’s declaration has had the desired effect of trickling down into every department of the company. “Unless it’s some sort of crisis, we really don’t email or make work calls over the weekend.” After all, she says, “we don’t want people to burn out.”

It’s hard to envision many CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies actively encouraging workers to shut off their laptops. But Zoetis, a newly named Working Mother 100 Best Company, is part of a growing movement to decrease electronic intrusions into evenings and weekends. For companies like this one, it’s more than a feel-good gesture, it’s a bottom-line necessity; as the volume of email rises and seeps into every hour of the day, the additional stress and loss of downtime can have a serious impact on worker productivity.

“The use of smartphones to stay connected to work 24/7 is so common that it’s now considered the new normal”.  J.Deal.

Jennifer J. Deal, PhD, a research scientist  authored a 2013 study on the subject for the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego. That survey of 483 executives, managers and other professionals found that smartphone-toting workers actually log 72-hour workweeks when all the late-night and weekend emailing is factored in.

It’s little wonder, then, that “many professionals say they are worn out, feeling they are kept on an electronic leash by their organization,” says Dr. Deal. Another recent study, by software company neverfail, found that 83 percent of professional staffers report checking email during non-work hours, and 66 percent say they use their devices while on vacation.

Of course, the argument can cut both ways: The Web, texting and email have certainly made flexible work easier. Still, few anticipated the degree to which technology would take over our every waking minute—and experts say it will only get worse. By next year, we’ll be sending and receiving 22 percent more emails than we did just three years ago, according to the Radicati Group, a market research firm.

To rein in the trend, many best companies—including Merck, Deloitte, the Advisory Board Company and Janssen North America (a division of Johnson & Johnson)—are implementing policies or guidance on off-hours use of work-issued smartphones and laptops.

Janssen, for one, is tackling the topic as part of a new initiative to foster better work life balance, says Sharon Labbate, senior director of human resources for the pharmaceutical company. Janssen has a policy of email-free weekends, which means workers refrain from sending non-critical business messages from 8 p.m. Friday until 6 p.m. Sunday.

“We see that getting people away from their electronic devices and their computers is really providing them with the opportunity to recharge,” says Labbate. Setting firm boundaries over the weekend “allows them to have that recovery break and ultimately allows them to come back on Monday refreshed.”

The mum of Olivia, 10, Julia, 8, and Peter, 5, Labbate says she understands both sides of the issue: Employees may want to catch up on emails during weekends or at night once the kids are in bed. But rather than send messages on weekends, she says, she follows Janssen’s practice of using a delay-send mode so they go out the next business day. That way, staffers don’t feel pressured to prove they’re burning the midnight oil as well.

The Advisory Board Company, a technology, research and consulting firm based in Washington, DC, has an email-free weekend at least once a year— typically on Labor Day or the Fourth of July—in order to encourage staffers to think twice before blasting out electronic interruptions during off-hours.

That sits well with Cara Weiman, a managing director and mum of Sylvie, 13, Lena, 11, and Theo, 9. She herself keeps co-workers apprised of when it’s okay to contact her and when she’ll be unreachable. Simple techniques like using the “out of office” message clearly stating when you’ll be able to respond to an email are invaluable, she says. Other strategies she likes: Don’t copy too many people on your emails, and use the office’s shared calendar to let colleagues know when you’re on duty.

Weiman, who works a part-time schedule at the Advisory Board Company, says it’s critical to get the support of top management in turning off the email spigot. “By creating things like the email-free weekend, our CEO, Robert Musslewhite, is focused on the fact that email was becoming a burden as much as a tool,” she says. “If you’re going to encourage people to take the time to recharge, the example has to be set from the top down.”

By: Barbara Peterson

Source: Working Mother 


Mum’s from the Top 10 Best Companies tell their story

Technology creates a 24/7 connection to work, but mums at the Top 10 Best Companies say that making a conscious effort to disconnect is essential to becoming happier and healthier. See what mums at the top 10 have to say Top 10 Best Companies: Work Life Unplugged.

Photo via flickr: Sarah Laval