Is “clocking out” a thing of the past?
by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg
Off duty: off-du-ty; adj. not engaged in or responsible for assigned work;
pertaining to or during a period when a person is not at work.
When does your workday begin? Perhaps you are an early bird and arrive in the office before the sun has fully risen. Maybe you’re someone who needs a slower-paced morning- enjoying a cup of coffee while catching up on world events. With the increased reliance on a mobile workforce and the “flexible schedule” being accepted as the new norm, there has been a dramatic shift in when professionals clock in and clock out.
In a recent survey, as many as 48% of employees are “required to read and respond to work-related emails when they are away from work.” This is a significant rise over the last 5 years, with no sign of slowing down. In fact, the increase is so alarming to some, states like New York are working to pass the “right-to-disconnect” bill making it unlawful for private companies to require staff to respond to email and other electronic correspondence once they’re off the clock. Similar regulations have been instituted in France in 2017.
The question we face is this: Just because we can be reached at the tap of a finger, anytime anywhere, does that mean should be? Some say ‘yes’. Lack of response to a Sunday night email could send your superiors the message that you are not fully committed to your job, that you aren’t willing to go the extra mile to help the company be at its best. Others argue that any company that expects your attention 24/7 does not respect your personal time and is not a company you want to work for.
Ideally, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Depending on your level within the company, you may not be able to “clock out.” Owners, Directors, Managers are always on-call because their input is needed in order for others to do their jobs. However, it is not unreasonable to set a few boundaries even if you are the Head Honcho.
5 TIMES IT’S OK TO GO RADIO SILENT
Nighttime and Weekends
Regardless of whether you work a traditional Monday to Friday or a 4/10, it is reasonable to expect an official end to your workday and week. (Didn’t we used to call that a ‘weekend’?) Unfortunately, ‘personal time’ lacks a clear definition in many companies. The result: employees are burned out. A recent study showed “that it’s not just doing a bit of work after hours that causes burnout. The true culprit is actually the constant worrying about off-hour email.” Therefore, it is up to managers to delineate the hours during which they expect their employees to be accessible- a defined “end of the day/week.” It is also important that employees comply with these expectations. Many times, managers feel it is appropriate to email after hours or on a weekend because you have responded in the past, unofficially sending the message that you are available. Define your day. Define your week. Stick to it.
Before your workday begins
Like after hours, before hours seem to be the new norm. How many of us are checking our email before our eyelids have fully peeled back? Morning hours are not working hours unless that is clearly defined by your manager. Some may prefer checking emails and messages before they set foot in the office in order to organize their day or know what they’re facing as soon as they exit the elevator. Again, this needs to be clearly outlined with management and you have to stay vigilant about maintaining those boundaries. If you are someone who can’t resist the temptation to constantly check your email, spend $5 on a traditional alarm clock and plug in your phone elsewhere during the night.
The line between professional and personal continues to blur with the ever-present connection through social media. Many businesses are adopting official policies regarding online relationships between employees or the company itself. However, it is up to you to create your own boundaries. Maintaining professional relationships on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn is a great option. This is the appropriate arena for making professional connections and sharing company messages such as hiring opportunities or recent successes. Friend requests sent by colleagues or corporate requests to share business-related information on personal platforms can reasonably be ignored.
“9% [of workers] say their bosses email them while they are on vacation.” This is unacceptable- regardless of your role in the company. Vacation and sick days are either accrued over time or are simply part of your overall compensation package. In fact, sick hours are required by law in many states. It is up to you to set those boundaries and take what is yours. Make sure the chain of command in your absence is clear. Remind your team that you will not be checking email while you are away. (Don’t forget to set your out of office auto-reply.) Most importantly, stick to your guns and truly take a well-deserved, well-earned vacation.
When someone else can manage the issue
Of course, you do not want to pass the buck and force someone else to work when they are off duty, but there will be times when someone else can respond to the email or solve the problem. Setting the tone that you will always respond first ensures you will be the person management emails first when a situation arises. Before you jump in to save the day, allow your colleagues the opportunity to rectify the situation or redirect the sender to someone more qualified.
The fluidity of the workday definition and the growth of technology have granted flexibility for workers. In some cases, this ensured a better work/life balance. In other cases, it has simply extended the reach of employers, allowing them to infiltrate your personal time and space. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash- like a dog.” Employers and employees must communicate accessibility expectations. Furthermore, both must play by those rules.