The Right to Disconnect

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Work-related burnout is a real issue. I speak with numerous business owners and, this may surprise you, but not all are trying to grow their bottom line. Some want more time out of their business and to gain more of a work-life balance.

Being caught on that hamster wheel myself I know how difficult it can be to get off. But the fundamental importance of putting some boundaries in place – to put some definition between work and home, to be present in both moments, is a self-perpetuating prophecy. But how do you create a clear line between office life and home life?

Technology in all its folly has been both a help and hinderance. The technological transformation we have made in such a short space of time (since the iPhone first came out in 2007) has been electric and dynamic. Notwithstanding, that has meant we are technically available 24/7 – there is no off switch. Emails are sent and there is an expectation that you will respond within a short space of time – you can always be reached regardless of where you are.

Having come from a corporate background, the ideals of working 9-5 (thanks Dolly Parton) have long been thrown out the window. There is an expectation that you are the first to arrive and the last one to leave. Really??? Yes!! But the reality – who is that productive?

Is corporate any different to being an entrepreneur in terms of time commitment? In truth, no – you generally end up working longer hours and every day – but the reward is you’ve seeing your passion and a vision coming to fruition.

In Dolly Parton’s own words (extract from lyrics to 9-5)

‘Cause it’s hustlin’ time, a whole new way to make a livin’

Gonna change your life, do somethin’ that gives it meanin’

With a website that is worthy of your dreamin’

Well you got dreams and you know they matter

Be your own boss, climb your own ladder

That moment’s getting closer by the day

And you’re in the same boat with a lotta your friends

Launching ideas you all believe in

The tide’s gonna turn, and it’s all gonna roll your way

Working 5 to 9, making something of your own now

And it feels so fine to build a business from your know-how

Gonna move ahead, and there’s nothing that you can’t do

When you listen to that little voice inside you

This is easier said than done right. Our identity becomes so entangled in what we do as opposed to who we are.

At our previous accounting firm (Balance Accounting Limited), about 11 years ago, we introduced the 4 ½ day week. We worked the same hours, but we finished at 1pm on a Friday. This meant that our team could arrange personal appointments, spend time with their children, catchup with general personal chores and tasks, friends over a long lunch or time just for them. Results? Our team had fewer sick days off, less time off for personal appointments and were more focused and productive whilst at work. Conclusion- healthy team players are more productive.

At NH+A we implemented flexible working hours and the 4-day week. Work needs to fit around people’s lives. As long as the work is being completed on time and being completed well, then it shouldn’t matter that the jobs are not completed in orthodox “normal business hours”.

Still working the same hours but having Fridays off means we can make it to our children’s events, can play around with days if we need a day off during the week for other personal events, can work in the evenings, can make it to the gym in the morning without doing the 5am class etc.

In fact, if you email me on a Friday, you will get my Out of Office which states that we are living into our Core Values and showcases Steve Jobs Final Essay.

We have a great focus on wellbeing at NH+A and one of our core values is BALANCE – placing individual and family needs first. Our own health and welfare are important in order for us to be of any value to our clients. We need to keep ourselves fit mentally and physically. We cannot obtain optimal performance if we are weak and suffering due to burnout.

However flexible working hours did mean we had to implement some clear boundaries to allow the separation of technology too.

Flexibility means managing expectations within our team and clients. We advise our clients about our Friday policy and we have a 24-hour email response protocol. For our team we recognize there are some who work well first thing in the morning – so sending emails at 6am works for them. Conversely, some prefer the latter evening and may send emails at 11pm. Internally we try to include a priority designation in the subject line of our emails so our team can understand the importance of the email and prioritize an urgent email over others received.

Another good tactic, (as I tend to send my emails late at night, when I remember (as it is so easy to quickly hit send) is to use the delay send function. So, when I do send those late-night emails to fit around my life as a business owner and mother, recipients don’t feel like they have to reply then and there. However, I will add it is mind-blowing the number of responses I do get at that time of night – validating the point that we aren’t switching off).

Globally, some businesses are turning off access to work emails and internal systems over the weekend, forcing employees to switch off. Whilst governments internationally are recognizing the morphing of work and private lives.

France has introduced the El Khomri Law in 2017 which encourages businesses to avoid any intrusion into employees’ private lives and required negotiations between companies and staff about when electronic communication devices could remain switched off.

This month a code of practice gives Irish workers the “right to disconnect” from work and not engage in electronic communications outside of their normal business hours. New Zealand’s stance? The NZ government is not looking to implement any rules around an employee’s right to disconnect.

All the things people need to build resilience are social interaction, regular exercise and entertainment. This is difficult to manifest if work lines are blurred. The irony is that our teams are just like our technology – if they are not switching off and recharging then they are less productive.

We have the opportunity and resources to embrace a productivity led work culture as opposed to a clock-watching culture. Whilst our government isn’t taking any action on the right to disconnect, we as business owners and leaders can show the way, change our work-related burnout culture, focus on wellbeing and engage our team in being present again.

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