Five Tips to Redraw the Line Between Work and Home

Can we unplug after 6:00 pm?

Smart phones are this generation’s portable offices. Office hours have blurred, faded, and almost completely disappeared. It’s not uncommon for someone to have a client, boss, or co-worker call after 10:00 pm with an “urgent” request. Even teachers get messages, texts, e mails from students and parents all hours of the day.

Everybody’s online.

Everybody’s connected.

And we’ve fallen into a whirlpool of endless communication. We can see this in social media and popular culture – how the private has become public and vice-versa.

The Washington Post reported in February that France is considering passing a law that allows people to ignore work emails and other work-related messages at home.

As much as we’d all like to giggle about how “soft” the French are with their 35-hour work week and mandatory month-long vacation, this division between home and work isn’t such a bad idea. They’re calling it the “right to disconnect.”

On a broader spectrum, it’s the right to have a life outside of work. It’s the right to be with family, enjoy a meal, and keep the office at the office. France’s Labor Minister, Myriam El Khomri got the idea from human resources director of Orange, Bruno Mettling, who claims, “Professionals who find the right balance between private and work life perform far better in their job than those who arrive shattered."

This idea is retro and radical, to say the least. We’re considering that we should put a time on work and go back to Mad Men days when the only worry you had after hours was how you wanted your martini made? Would that be so bad?

The trend is flexible hours and work-from-home. This has enabled millions of people to work who, otherwise, might not be able to. This isn’t so bad, either. But a backlash of the flex hours is the no hours, no boundaries, work-on-command tendency.

We’re not France, but as leaders, managers (frontline and top), employers and employees it’s worth considering drawing the line between work and home and respecting those spaces. With the exception of select professions that pretty much invade an individual’s life, setting boundaries between work and home can be beneficial for the employee and the employer.

Here are five tips to re-draw the line between work and home:

1. Turn off phones during meals: As tempting as it may be to have the phone out on the table, turn it off. We’re not Pavlov’s dog and don’t need to answer to the bell. AND, as an employer, look at the time. Does that call need to be made right now?
2. Prioritize: Sometimes “urgent” messages are more habit than urgent. How fast do you need to have your employee get back to you? Also, consider why you’re still sitting in the office at 7:30 pm making phone calls.
3. Set a company communication policy: EG: All e-mails from management should be addressed within one working day. There will be exceptions with an upcoming project or urgent deadline. But don’t make the exceptions the rule. One working day to respond to an e-mail is reasonable.
4. Communicate your personal policy: If, after 6:00 pm, you don’t listen to voice mail, make sure your co-workers, employees and employer know. Be assertive “I will answer your texts, messages, or return your call in the morning.”
5. WORK at work: If you don’t want work mixing in your home life, then you have to respect the same boundaries at work. This doesn’t mean you need to chain yourself to the desk. No social media. No online shopping. Set your work and home boundaries and make the lines clear in both arenas.

How much work do you do at home? At work? How much do you mix home and work? Perhaps if we all unplugged after 6:00 we’d be more refreshed for the next day.

The French have been responsible for some of the world’s greatest inventions: photography, cinema, and croissants just to name a few. They might be onto something here.

It’s worth considering.

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