Don’t be That Boss! Encourage your Workers to Disconnect
What are your expectations of your employees outside work hours? In other words, in the regular course of business, do you expect to communicate with them when they are not working?
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.