Don’t be That Boss! Encourage your Workers to Disconnect
I ask this question because with today’s technology, our expectations are still evolving. I am old enough to remember receiving my first company Blackberry and my boss demanding that I pick up the phone or respond to texts and emails within five minutes, regardless of the day or time. She was dead serious. I didn’t work for her for very long.
More recently, one of my executive clients wanted to write up an employee because she took three hours to respond to his text on a Sunday. On a Sunday. When I asked him if it was an urgent client matter that only that employee could handle, he said it didn’t matter. The employee was disrespectful to him (not the client) by not responding right away. Really? Who was the disrespectful one here?
Unless you run a medical service that literally handles life or death issues or a business that requires an on-call team (think plumbing or HVAC), there’s very little that can’t wait until the next work day. Otherwise, it’s just a loyalty test to boost your fragile ego, and these kinds of loyalty tests are a sure way to chase away your best employees.
No, you say. It’s about client satisfaction. What would happen if you explained to your client that you valued your employee’s personal time and would make sure they address the issue during regular business hours? Are you afraid to say that to the client? A good friend of mine, Nancy Hetrick, a consultant to entrepreneurs and owner of Smarter Divorce Solutions, teaches that you train your clients how to treat you. If you set strong boundaries from the start, most clients respect them. For those who don’t, you deal with them case by case. They may be worth special handling—or they may not be. That’s for you to decide.
As of this writing, the United States has not enacted any “right to disconnect” Federal policies. However, France and Spain have both introduced these kinds of laws because employers and policymakers in these countries consider the blurring between work and personal time a health and safety issue. French policymakers adopted a right-to-disconnect law to address rising stress levels among employees who check work emails after hours (HR Magazine, SHRM.org, Fall 2019). If workers are on call 24/7, when do they have a chance to regenerate? This is the law of diminishing returns in action. Burned out employees are neither efficient nor effective.
If you have a U.S. business, you don’t have to wait for the law to do the smart thing. It’s not just a safety issue. It’s an issue of trust, and if you’re smart, you can use disconnect policies as a perk. When considering a position, today’s employees focus not just on salary, but on their quality of life, the organization’s culture, and their ability to grow and develop on the job. I tell my executive clients to set their own boundaries for a healthier work-life balance and stick to them. If we owners are setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, why should we get upset if our employees do the same? If we show trust and loyalty to our employees by respecting their work-life boundaries, they will show us loyalty and hard work in return.
For those exceptions when you have to contact your employees outside of business hours—and they should be very rare exceptions, unless that’s the nature of your business—make sure you state that policy clearly in your handbook so your employees know what to expect. And be fair about it. Don’t call the same person every time—spread the duties around. And if you can take care of the issue yourself, then by all means do so. This will earn your team’s trust and loyalty. If communication outside work hours is the nature of the business, however, you have to explain that up front and in your handbook as well.
With this as with many work issues, I advise you to follow the golden rule. Treat people—and employees are people, sometimes we forget that—as you want to be treated yourself. Employees are a business owner’s largest investment and most important asset and resource. Treat them fairly and with respect. If you help them avoid burnout, you will reduce attrition, and that goes right to the bottom line—in a good way.
We hear about “Personal Empowerment” everywhere these days. Self-help books. Internet discussion boards. Day-time talk shows. Lunch conversations. We hear about it so much, it’s lost its zing. But don’t let the popularity of the term blind us to the transformative power of the concept. At its core, Personal Empowerment means living life to your fullest capacity. It means using your voice, your actions and your power to reach your full potential. It means taking back the power you unknowingly–or knowingly—give away to others.
We give away our power every day without thinking. To our kids. To our spouses. To our parents. To appetite. To fear. When you reclaim your power,you increase your self-confidence and your self-respect. You call the shots. You get back on track. Reclaiming your personal power is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for success. An entire new world opens at your feet.
The first step to empowerment is self-awareness. Know thyself, said the ancient Greeks, and that’s a good place to start. Know your personal needs, beliefs and values. Look deep within yourself. Make detailed lists and be honest. Do you like to socialize, or be by yourself? Is owning your own home important, or do you want to hit the road at a moment’s notice? Do you want to pay it forward? Do not accept surface answers – truly assess what you need, believe and value. If you’re not living your beliefs and values, how can you do so? With a list like this, you lay the foundation for reclaiming your power.
The next step is to reprogram your inner dialogue. Let’s face it, that voice in our head is our harshest critic. We need to redirect the way we speak to ourselves. “You’re short. You’re lazy. You never should have dropped out of college.” Negative self-talk is another way of giving up power. Reprogramming how we think about ourselves can be challenging,but with practice, you can become your biggest fan. Make a list of your strengths and pat yourself on the back. Write down your accomplishments – even if the only one that day was getting out of bed. Save positive emails; watch happy movies; talk with friends; laugh! Attract the positive back into your life and take your power back. Don’t give that power to Negative Nelly! It’s your power! Own it.
Visualization is a great tool. Surround yourself with positive images. A “Rocky” poster. Merida (from “Brave”). A rock climber making her way up a sheer cliff wall. These images will remind you where your power lies. Within. Surround yourself with what reminds you of your needs, values, beliefs, and strengths, and make these positive and attainable. Have fun and be creative. Music can be powerful motivator. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Kelly Clarkson sings. Lip synch to your favorite songs. Play air guitar. Dance.
Finally, to reclaim your power, you need to own your actions. Set goals that fulfill your needs, beliefs and values and take daily steps towards those goals. Setting goals can be tricky, though. You don’t want to structure for failure; structure for success. Though you should have big, hit-it-out-of-the-park goals, you should also break them into the smallersteps that will get you there. Attainable goals will help you feel more confident and accomplished. If you want to lose weight, walk for ten minutes at lunch. If you want to write your memoir, do a paragraph at a time. Steps like these become habits before you know it. Ten minutes becomes fifteen minutes becomes an hour. A paragraph becomes a page becomes a chapter. Structure for success.
As you move down your new path to power, you will try new things. Stretch yourself and learn from them. Some will work and you will feel empowered. You get the new job; you paint that painting (or bathroom); you cook that soufflé. Some things will not work out,and that is ok. (The violin – I don’t think so–but maybe for you). Trust yourself! Love yourself! Be your own best friend and be your own hero. Reclaiming your power will not happen overnight; it’s a lifelong journey. But once you start that journey, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get started. But then you’ll say to yourself, that’s just negative self-talk. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and headed in the right direction.