Are You Going to Answer That?

In today’s business world, growing technology and access to all things mobile are reshaping perceptions of the term “full-time” employee … and even “part-time” in some cases. In fact, the work hours of Nine to Five are likely only ever muttered when referring to the 1980s comedy film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Now, many work professionals alike, from junior employees to C-level executives are accessible to their employers/employees 24/7.

Gallup research reveals that:

  • 96% of all full-time U.S. workers have access to a computer, smartphone or tablet.
  • 86% of full-time employees use a smartphone or tablet.
  • One-third of full-time employees frequently check emails outside of their normal working hours.
  • Two-thirds of Americans report that the amount of work they do outside of normal working hours has increased a little to a lot because of mobile technology advances over the last decade.

ctd-answer-thatWith the ability to stay connected to co-workers 24/7, it’s not surprising that many managers end up, knowingly or unknowingly, overloading their employees with excessive amounts of work, expecting unreasonable deadlines due to oversight of assigning the work during “off” hours and interrupting personal plans by contacting co-workers after hours by email, phone or text. What’s more, these managers may not even realize that they themselves have become an “always on” employee, as described in the Harvard Business Review, “Managing the High-Intensity Workplace.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, sociologists have coined a term for these “always on” professionals who make themselves available 24/7 — “ideal workers: people totally dedicated to their jobs and always on call.”

Of course, you might think that this is exactly what most employers want. The “ideal worker” who will go above and beyond, and then some, even at the risk of interfering with their health, personal life, family obligations and community responsibilities. But consider what Assistant Professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business Erin Reid shared with the Huffington Post. She said, “Our research shows that being always available is actually dysfunctional for everyone at some level.”

In Gallup’s research, the analysts found that over three-quarters of full-time American employees report that the ability to use mobile technology outside normal working hours is a somewhat to very positive development. What’s more, the research also revealed that one-third of full-time employees frequently check email outside of work hours, and that they are 17 percent more likely to report better overall lives compared to those that never check email outside of work. Gallup reports, “Similarly, workers who spend seven or more hours checking their email outside of work during a typical week are more likely to rate their overall lives highly than those who report zero hours of this activity.”

A Manager’s Solution
So is mobile technology really at fault for this unhealthy work ethic our society has created? We think not!

As more research from Gallup and Harvard reveals, employees’ work/life balance comes down to the relationship that they have with their managers, the expectations that their managers set for them, and the professional behavior that their managers model.

To help reign in the unhealthy 24/7-work mentality, check out Harvard Business Review’s three suggestions for focusing on developing “engaged employees” vs. “ideal workers:”

  1. Create your own multifaceted identity by cultivating your own non-work identities (i.e., a civic self, an athletic self, a family-oriented self, etc.).
  2. Minimize time-based rewards, like praising a consultant for a happy client that extends their partnership with your team vs. congratulating a consultant on reaching the “high-five” status with the client.
  3. Protect your employees’ personal lives by insisting on required vacations, regular leaves and reasonable work hours.

A Little More on Employee Engagement
While we strongly advocate for managers to nourish and grow “engaged employees,” we also applaud accounting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s suggestion to take even bigger steps to build an “irresistible workplace.” In a Deloitte published blog article titled Becoming Irresistible: A New Model for Employee Engagement, the company shares five elements that it considers are critical to fostering employees who are engaged, motivated and strike a good work/life balance: Meaningful WorkHands-on ManagementPositive Work EnvironmentGrowth Opportunity and Trust in Management. Some of Deloitte’s 20 recommended strategies for sustaining these five elements include a flexible work environment, transparency and honesty, continuous investment in people, autonomy, small and empowered teams, coaching, time for slack and investing in management development.

Do you have some tips for managers who want to help their employees feel more balanced and happy in their careers? Share your thoughts with us! We would love to hear your ideas!