How To Disconnect From an 'Always On' Work Culture

Starting to feel burnout from your 'always on' work culture? The initial results from ‘the great work from home experiment’ were very promising, with a third of managers reporting higher productivity levels. However, the data was missing one important factor — we had embraced an 'always on' work culture, forgetting the advantages of a work from home culture.

The increased productivity did not account for the fact that we began working, on average, an extra three hours a day. Or that over half of us (54%) are checking our devices more outside of work hours, felt more alone (24%), had gained weight (22%), and felt a decrease in our mental health (21%). In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the excessive use of devices and resulting sleep issues cause us to be less productive.  

Ensuring better work-life balance isn’t just good for employees’ health, it’s good business. It reduces stress and the likelihood of burnout, which costs the U.S. economy somewhere between $125 - $190 billion dollars a year. 

It’s also part of a very important work trend indicating that each new generation that enters the workforce values the importance of work-life balance more than the last.  Not just that, but several countries around the world have now started to create legislation around being contacted outside of work hours, or what the European Union has campaigned for as ‘the right to disconnect.’ 

So, what are the most effective work-life balance tips for an 'always on' work culture?

Set up ‘working hour’ settings for all apps

In what one Wall Street Journal writer described as ‘a masochistic need to please bosses’, many of us may feel that we can never be too far from our work devices. In fact, a 2016 study by The Academy of Management found employees rack up eight hours a week answering emails outside of work hours. 

How to tackle this element of 'always on' work culture:

If you’re unable to ignore your devices, at least cut the notifications. For example:

  • Google Calendar: ’Working Hours’ enables you to set defined work hours, automatically notifying eager meeting-makers that you’ll be off at that time. 
  • Apple: Customize your do not disturb settings to automatically trigger for work emails during evenings and weekends. 
  • Slack: Setting your local time will notify colleagues that you’re likely to be offline and set expectations of when you can reply. 
  • Wrike: Creating a work schedule will automatically inform colleagues (especially international ones) that you won’t be available during scheduled PTO or public holidays if you are tagged during that time. 

Find allies who value the importance of work-life balance

Trying to find your way out of a Friday evening meeting? Even if you’re client-facing, it’s unlikely that your clients (or indeed colleagues) want to meet at a time that they’re also winding down from the week — remember this. Fast Company recommends that you find and foster relationships with people in your network who also appreciate the value of keeping schedules within designated work hours. As the statistics suggest, an 'always on' work culture isn’t the most effective way of working for anyone.

Bear in mind the impact your personality type can have

Struggling with an 'always on' work culture while your manager seems to thrive? The Harvard Business Review suggests that your personality, specifically within the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, may have a role to play. For example: 

  • Creating time and space to switch off
    If you are extroverted, schedule regular, active breaks with others and leave your devices in a different room when you’re de-stressing. If you are introverted, try to limit online meetings and switch off in a quiet place where you can get absorbed in an activity.
  • Tackling information overload: 
    If you have sensing preferences, avoid getting lost in details and ask others for their take on a situation. Don’t obsess about getting things perfect. If you have intuition preferences, try to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Creating boundaries:
    If you have thinking preferences, consider your impact on others (particularly in relation to written communication). If you have feeling preferences, try to make sure that you’re not supporting others to the detriment of your own needs.
  • Striking the right work-life balance:
    If you have judging preferences, set boundaries with both yourself and others around when you’ll be available. Try to stay away from your work area during time off. If you have perceiving preferences, respect others’ boundaries by not emailing out of hours, and convert your to-do list into blocks of time.

Create strict boundaries for yourself 

The most effective way to avoid falling victim to 'always on' work culture is to treat working from home the same way you would treat working in an office. This includes everything from starting on time to wearing noise-canceling headphones to drown out distractions (just swap chatty colleagues for partners’ annoying meetings or screaming kids). 

Forbes recommends thinking of your home office as if it’s five miles away and removing your work equipment from sight at night in order to reinforce the importance of work-life balance. Wrike helps teams set healthy work boundaries by encouraging asynchronous communication and collaboration.

If you’re a manager, normalize taking PTO

The pressure of an 'always on' work culture can often come from the perceived expectations of a manager. If you’re a manager, it’s advised that you reinforce and encourage taking paid time off. Samar Ali, CEO of Millions of Conversations, explains: “I lead by example and make sure to announce when I'm taking time off, [...], and what I plan to do to unplug. If there is one thing I recommend to all executives and employees, it is to find balance.” 

Reinforce that you are genuinely excited for your employees to take a break by asking about their vacations in order to break the stigma.

Recognize the signs of burnout (and take action)

Hopefully, with the right work-life balance tips to target 'always on' work culture, you can avoid burnout from happening to you or your teammates. However, it’s important to always be on the lookout for it. The Mayo Clinic advises that there are three common symptoms: exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of satisfaction with your work. If you do experience burnout, some things that can help are:

  • A self-care day away from work
  • A therapy session (here are some free mental health support options)
  • Working with your team to agree on boundaries
  • Learning to say no to additional projects

As it’s now evident that working from home is set to make up at least some of our week into the future, setting boundaries at this stage is absolutely vital. With these tips in mind, we may finally be able to learn how to disconnect from an 'always on' culture before it costs both our economy and our health.

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