Is Your Company Adding “Anticipatory Stress” to Employees’ Work-Life Balance with An Endless Workday Culture?

Endless Workday? Here's The Solution - #MindfulTechOur Superior Business Solutions customers are quality folks. I’ve met and spoken with a great many of you, and come away knowing you are considerate and fair-minded leaders in your companies and organizations. That’s precisely why I want to talk with you today about the “endless workday” corporate culture. I know you care about your employees, and you want to be appreciated by them, and you certainly want to help them enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

But you might be unconsciously doing just the opposite.

I came across an interesting piece of research recently that shines additional light on the issue, and for me, it changes the discussion a little bit.

The Endless Workday Isn’t Just About Time

In our #Mindful Tech series, I’ve talked frequently about how the 24/7 connection to work via email and smartphone is compromising employee’s personal and family time. The technology serves to create an endless workday. Tasks, projects and work-related conversations are as close as the electronic device in your pocket. And the tweaks, emails and discussions moving those projects along take away valuable family time, creating understandable resentment and possible costly loss of employees.

But this study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech, Lehigh and Colorado State universities, introduces another element which the authors call “anticipatory stress.” According to results gleaned from answers provided by nearly 300 respondents, it’s not the actual time spent doing office work at home that is the problem.

Not-So-Great Employee Expectation

It turns out that the real problem is the expectation on the part of employees that they need to be available to respond. Even if no emails or project responsibilities emerge on a given evening or weekend, the very fact that they might – and that the employee is expected to jump into action if they do – is what really creates the burnout and emotional exhaustion.

Understandably, it’s difficult to really disengage from the office and its concerns if, at any moment, something work-related could surface and require immediate attention. The proliferation today of corporate cultures that seem to promote an energetic “always on” and “whatever it takes” work ethic also, by definition, bring along a “never off” downside. Call it the old “Sword of Damacles” effect. (If you don’t know that one, look it up!) And your corporate culture might just be responsible for dangling that sword.

Are You and Your Company Accidentally Sending a Mixed Message?

When presented with this information, many supervisors will insist “I don’t expect them to drop everything and respond on evenings or weekends. I never said that.”  That’s probably true – and it’s really the real problem. They never said anything.

As a manager, you never really stop thinking about the business; you might find yourself sending emails whenever an important thought strikes you, just so you don’t forget. You may not intend for it to interrupt anyone’s night or weekend, you just want to make sure they have the information. Still, the “unwritten” message you are sending might feel very different to the recipient.

Your employee may think “Hmm, if my manager is working, maybe he thinks I should be, too. He knows it’s Sunday and wouldn’t have sent it unless he thinks it’s that important.”

The Solution to The Endless Workday? Set The Right Tone

So how can you eliminate that stress and help employees enjoy their personal lives? The authors of the study suggest several ways and they all involve communication. They encourage making the corporate policy very clear, perhaps even setting specific hours where email and work-related phone calls are “prohibited.”

In smaller workplaces, individual managers can simply make it a point to have the conversation with employees while being honest and sincere. For example, a simple “I may send things to your work email, but it’s just so you have them. I do not expect you to do anything or even read it until you are back in the office. If it’s a real emergency or unusual situation, I’ll say so. But that will be very rare.”, can certainly help clear up ambiguity.

What is your company culture on this issue? Do you have one – and would your employees answer the question the same way you do? I’m sure our clients have many different takes on this situation, and I’d love to hear what both management and employees feel about this situation. Give me a call or leave a comment below and share your experience. The situation is only going to get more confusing as technology advances, so if your company and your employees can get on the same page now, it will help the employees and your bottom line.

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