Helping employees unplug from the rigors of their workday

Of course, technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with goings-on in the office; as a result, some staffers may need a little help achieving the right work-life balance.

Of course, technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with goings-on in the office; as a result, some staffers may need a little help achieving the right work-life balance.

There was a time when leaving the office behind was more than a joke. But with electronics that beckon attention and multiple avenues to reach anyone, the office and its trappings are as close as employees allow them to be. The stereotypical work environment favors those who stay the latest and compose the late-night e-mail, letting clients know the job is never far from their mind.

A recent report from professional consulting and staffing firm Hudson found that nearly 25% of the 1,575 US workers surveyed planned to check in with work most days, if not every day, during their vacation. The number increases for managers (38%) and entrepreneurs (40%).

The report also found that 34% return to work with at least similar stress levels as when they left. Despite this occupational need to keep in touch, there are plenty of firms and principals that advocate unplugging from the work environment for multiple reasons: as a means to rejuvenate or devotion to family or religion, for example.

Those who do detach from the office find that it only requires a few adjustments to make it work.

"Do I worry that I'm missing something?" asks Richard Dukas, president of Dukas PR. "Sure, but I believe the benefits of unplugging and shutting down far outweigh the costs."

Dukas unplugs during holidays and the Jewish Sabbath, where observers do not use electricity in the period between Friday's and Saturday's dusk. He says this only really alters his routine during winter, when darkness descends earlier.

"I work a full day on a Friday nine months of the year," Dukas notes. "It's only the winter when I leave the office around 2:30pm on Friday and become incommunicado."

Dukas says such a commitment requires notifying your clients - and plenty of planning.

"The staff has to be well briefed, and clients have access to the contact numbers for everyone," he explains.

It also requires empowerment. Dukas says he leaves certain that his team can handle any crisis or opportunity that may come in his absence.

Once the Sabbath ends, Dukas usually checks e-mail, but he tries to refrain from replying until Monday.

"The weekend is my time to be with my family, unless there is a [work] emergency," he says.

Vickie Fite, deputy MD of MS&L's LA office and mother of triplets, also tunes out for her family.

"I'm disciplined about unplugging in my mornings and evenings," Fite says. "I don't take the briefcase home when I leave the office."

Like Dukas, Fite makes sure her clients know her situation. She maintains a strict schedule from 8:30 to 5:30, which she says makes her more productive during those times.

Fite says that the ability to unplug comes from having confidence that she can get everything done - and done well - during the workday.

"Some people leave work and always think they 'left the stove on,'" Fite says. "I know my management is not worrying about appearances - that I don't look like a weak employee if I leave at 5:30."

The ability to confidently embrace the need to unplug starts at the top, Fite says. "It's due to the political structure," she explains. "It [won't work] where there's backstabbing."

But she offers the caveat that she is always reachable for emergencies. "If it were really critical, they could always find me," Fite says.

Waggener Edstrom builds unplugging into its organizational structure. It ensures that clients are always addressed and staffers aren't overwhelmed after work hours by maintaining a rapid response team.

"The rapid response team handles many of the calls and delegates those requests, so [staffers] don't get hit with a barrage of lesser-priority calls," says Daniele Joudene, SVP of human resources at Wag Ed.

The agency also strives to make sure that its culture supports unplugging.

Cindy Raz, HR practices and initiatives manager, says Wag Ed keeps track of everyone's billed hours as well as the pace of projects they are working on. She says the agency will bring in freelance staff if necessary.

"We are in front of watching out for people who are at risk [of burning out]," Raz says. "The whole organization strives to encourage downtime."

Out-of-office checklist

  • Let your clients know your policies

  • Encourage and empower subordinates to make decisions in your stead

  • Push a message of personal responsibility when employees decide to unplug

  • Do not ignore client emergencies

  • Don't set a tone that you can unplug, but your employees can't

  • Create an environment where people are welcome to ask for help

  • Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Already registered?
    Sign in