From work email and texts to that Slack message from your boss, technology has become entwined with our lives. For workers, tech tools can both help and hurt, making work-hours more flexible but also never-ending.
Workers may want to disconnect when they’re with family or on vacation, but not all are convinced they can. Experts in staffing, technology and psychology say if you don’t disconnect, you risk experiencing burnout. And that wouldn’t be good for you, or your company.
With the tight labor market, more employers are being flexible about how and where people work. While providing the tools that provide access to work, employers also need to be respectful of their employees’ time off, recruiters say.
“Everybody’s trying to seek that balance between professional life and personal life,” said Matthew Bourdeau, Florida manager for the Robert Half International staffing firm in South Florida. But with today’s technology access, “you’re switched on from the moment you wake up till the moment you go to bed.”
Striking a good work-life balance has been a hot topic, most recently drawing headlines in New York City. The Big Apple is considering a bill that would bar employers from requiring employees to check and respond to non-emergency emails, texts and other electronic communications sent outside of regular work hours, or retaliating against them if they don’t.
As a manager, “you want to make sure workers are able to disconnect, otherwise it leads to burnout,” Bordeau said. He said that job seekers today are asking about work-life balance at a company before they take a new opportunity.
Workers also need to monitor their addiction to mobile phones and other technology that allows access to email and other communications, experts say.
Robert Half International recently asked 2,800 IT managers and workers across the country if they could adhere to an after-work email ban. In the survey, three-quarters of the Miami-area technology managers believed they would be able to disconnect.
But of IT workers surveyed, only 40 percent of them said they could completely disconnect.
Donna Kimmel, chief people officer at Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix Systems, which develops “work-anywhere” technology tools, said while technology has “transformed every aspect of our personal lives … technology can be a double-edged sword.”
Technology can fuel collaboration and lead to faster outcomes, it also “can distract, make us less productive, and in some cases overwhelm us,” she said.
But if used correctly, tools used to connect to work also can free us, Kimmel said. Perhaps you want to take a vacation in May, but there’s a meeting on your calendar you can’t miss. With today’s virtual meeting tools, many workers can arrange to tune into that meeting and still take vacation, she says, as one example.
Kimmel said she makes sure she takes a meaningful vacation each year — advice from one of her former bosses. “Take care of yourself and you’ll be better able to take care of business at your company,” she wrote in Citrix blog post about her 2017 trip to Africa.
After 14 days of seeing “gorillas in the mountains of Rwanda to elephants and impalas on the Serengeti,” she came back with “new energy and fresh perspectives,” Kimmel said.
But to fully disconnect from work, communication with your manager is key, she said.
Sometimes people who are supposed to be on vacation, or taking other time off, keep on working out of guilt. If you communicate well with your manager, she said, “you can let go of that sense of guilt.”
Kimmel admits that even on a vacation or family trip, she brings along her mobile phone and laptop to do “quick checks” of her work email.
But the checks are infrequent, because the agreement among her team members is to contact one another only if there’s a crisis, she said.
E. Carol Webster, a clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale who specializes in workplace issues, said one might think workers are more relaxed now that the job market has improved.
During the recession, workers were frightened of missing even an email from their boss, she said.
“How dare you didn’t get on it — the minute I sent you the message,” says Webster, mimicking what some told her when they failed to respond to their boss. “They just want their bosses off their back, and their colleagues, too.”
Webster says it’s up to top management to show by example that “this is a healthy workplace environment” and it is “important to de-stress and refresh.”
But if that’s not happening at your job, workers can take their own preventive measures to avoid burnout.
When off work at night or on a weekend, “cut off automatic notifications and any sound associated, so you can have an evening of peace and enjoy your loved ones,” Webster suggests.
Also limit social media such as Facebook or Twitter to off-work hours, to separate personal life from work life. “Enjoy it at the end of the day,” she says.