If the lights in the office seem to be going off earlier than you’re used to, it’s not your imagination, but it’s certainly not because people have less work to do. Companies continue to ask more of their employees, so people are coming up with new ways to meet those expectations, which often means not knowing when to shut down for the day.
Notebooks and smartphones have made it easier for people to access their work data from virtually anywhere. Perhaps they’ve made it too easy. With the boundaries between work and home blurring, increasing numbers of people are getting burnt out—which not only affects their productivity at work, but also their health.
While companies are most likely profiting from the extra hours their employees are putting in, at what point does enabling them to do so begin to impact the company in a negative way? It’s impossible to tell people when they can and can’t work, but studies are showing that companies are at least trying to create a better work/life balance for their employees by instilling certain expectations.
One such expectation is instructing workers to stop checking their email after work hours and on weekends. A tall task, for sure, but even addressing your concern for these habits might be enough for workers to pause before they fire up their work notebooks on a Saturday afternoon.
So, what’s the best way to truly walk away from work when you step out of the office each night? It’s often hard to tell your employees to forget about their work after hours, but here are a few tricks you can suggest to them to ensure that their work stays in the office and away from home.
Keep it clean
It’s easy to let your inbox pile up with emails, but when you’re staring down at all of those unanswered requests, it’s often hard to resist the urge to make a dent while you’re at home. If you keep your inbox lean and mean from the beginning—filing away the emails that don’t need to be answered right away, and flagging important emails that can wait until you’re back in the office—you’ll shorten your to-do list.
Sometimes it’s as simple as separating your emails into different categories. One category can be for emails that don’t need a response, another category could be for emails that need to be forwarded or acted upon. This way, you can look at your inbox from a less daunting angle and maybe you won’t be as compelled to work late into the night.
This one is a catch twenty-two, but try to get a head start on the to-do items that you won’t be able to put off forever. Of course, if you had ample time to work ahead, then you obviously wouldn’t need to work after-hours or on the weekend. What working ahead really means is that maybe you put in an extra hour or two while you’re in the office, so you don’t have to work when you’re out of the office. After all, this is what work/life balance is all about. Of course, nobody wants you to spend all of your time in the office, but they also don’t want you working when you’re supposed to be at home with your family and friends. An extra hour in the office every once in a while could have a dramatic effect on whether or you not you have the desire (or need) to log on when you get home.
Take a breather
If all else fails, don’t feel guilty about taking what is commonly known as a “mental health day.” This is time set aside for you to completely check out of the office and take a day to do something fun for yourself, gather your thoughts or catch up on sleep. But in order for a mental health day to be successful, you need to rid yourself of the distractions of work. That means no checking your work emails and no answering voicemails.
How you ease back into work is almost as important as the break itself. It won’t do you any good to dive headfirst back into your old habits. The best suggestion is to plan out your first day and week back in the office—decide what has to be taken care of right away, and decide what can wait. Most importantly, remember that it’s okay to go home early and leave your work where it belongs—in the office.
Taking time away from not only work, but the technology that connects you to work, can improve your health, happiness and productivity.
Reminder: HP is closed for the holidays from December 21, 2012 until January 2, 2013. 367 Addison Avenue will be back to provide you with great SMB-focused content after the break.