The topic of work/life balance has been coming up more and more lately. Since the startup culture first arose, and 60-80 hour workweeks became the new industry standard, most people haven’t been able to take the downtime necessary to let their brains recharge and focus on things outside of work. A 24/7 work lifestyle is all too common in the startup world, and it’s been spreading into the corporate world as well, largely through the use of email during post-work hours.
Most people don’t see it as a big issue if they check their email here and there, or catch up on emails only when they get home from work. But these late-night emails aren’t helping them balance their work/life commitments. And this lack of downtime has been plaguing corporate and startup culture for the last couple of decades. There is some type of FOMO (fear of missing out) happening when employees can’t shut off their email and leave it until the next morning when they come into work. Whether it’s a last-minute schedule change or harmless work banter that everyone will be talking about in the morning, they want to stay in the loop.
As a result, work/life balance is not happening, and it has definite consequences. Whether you’re an employee, a manager, or in the HR department, you can manage your work/life balance more effectively by getting rid of email creep.
One of the things that I’ve noticed among employees is the different email expectations that they set from early on. Some respond instantly to emails, some check emails at all times of the day, but others check it on a routine schedule (i.e. once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once before they go home).
When I email someone on a regular basis, I notice how and when they respond, and I set my email expectations for them accordingly. Everyone can do this, and setting the expectation of not emailing at night should be a priority if you want to maintain a decent work/life balance. Of course, depending on the industry you work in, some emails cannot wait. But for most employees, just about everything can wait until the next morning, and you can make it clear to your employers that if someone needs to contact you urgently in the evening, they need to call you or contact you some other way. If you really want to obtain a better work/life balance, you should delete your work email from your phone and make a personal commitment not to answer it during after work hours.
Employees can only set the correct expectations in the first place if managers are willing to support a culture of work/life balance. This really speaks to the company’s bottom line because a better work/life balance is going to keep your employees happier and healthier, and will help you avoid high turnover rates. Working 60-hour weeks and also going home each evening to work even more create a burnout environment, and employees will end up hating their jobs if this is the case.
You can’t always be on the clock 24/7; it’s impossible to sustain. It makes for a difficult life, causes stress, and employees will begin to resent the company they work for. Emails, although they seem small, are one of those constant reminders that you’re on the clock all day, every day; and no one wants that. Managers need to set the correct expectation that employees aren’t required to check email after 5 or 6 pm, and they if an emergency comes up they will be notified a different way. They will find that employees coming in each morning after a real break overnight are happier, certainly healthier, and tend to be more engaged and productive.
At the same time, managers are employees and should set the same expectations for themselves. Take the plunge and delete your work email off your phone so you can practice a better work/life balance in your own life. There’s a whole world out there, and taking the time to relax with family and friends can be more beneficial than you can imagine, both in the office and out.