Do you find it difficult to switch off after work? Are you bringing work stress into your home? In these times of easy connectivity where we can check our emails, complete online tasks and communicate instantly no matter the time or location, it can be so easy to slip back in to work mode after we have arrived home. I believe we need to be more careful to draw a line in the sand and selfishly protect our family time.
The increasing expectation that we will check our work emails late in the evening and respond to customers, colleagues and the boss at that time is worrying to me. I for one don’t want to be composing emails late at night. Inevitably I am tired and have less time to devote to wording something correctly, often resulting in misunderstandings and even upset the next day at work. Quite apart from that, I believe that my after hours time should be my own to do with as I please, not be a continuation of the work day simply because it is possible to make it so.
I was in a restaurant recently and overheard a conversation between two men. One was telling the other that he had not taken a vacation in 6 years. I am willing to bet that he works much of his weekend and a significant part of the evening too. I don’t know about you but I know that if I am always ‘on’ and never able to switch off my work brain, I am far less productive over time. I wondered whether the man’s company thought it was getting value for money from him given that he had not made any time to care for himself and regularly recharge the batteries.
A colleague was recently telling me about a company which is denying its staff access to work email after a set time each day. At first I thought that was a strange thing to do but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Why would they do it? They actually want their employees to stop working when they get home, relax and have some down time. What benefit does this give a company? Surely if a company’s workers are wanting to do more work after hours, it would be a bonus? Wouldn’t that mean more productivity for the company resulting in a bigger bottom line? Perhaps not. Perhaps these companies are realising that workers who never have down time are more stressed and less productive in the long run.
Stress can lead to a number of physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive symptoms.
If I were running a company and my workers were suffering from frequent illness, feeling overwhelmed, avoiding their responsibilities and constantly worrying, I would be concerned. I like to think that I would encourage work life balance and perhaps I would even consider restricting access to work after hours in order to make that happen.
So, if your work is starting to encroach on your family time, what can you do about it?
1) Determine a switch off time. The best way to do this is to complete your required tasks at the workplace and take nothing home with you. If this is simply not possible for you for whatever reason, then you need to designate a finish time for yourself. It is up to you to stick to it but there are ways that you can make this happen which I explain below.
2) Make it as difficult as possible for yourself to be tempted back into the work zone by switching off or restricting access to electronic devices that connect you to your work. If you are often tempted to ‘just quickly check’ your work emails, disconnect them from your phone. If you sometimes feel as if you will ‘just do a little bit’ of that paperwork, leave it on your desk so you can’t be tempted.
Of course you may choose to take work home and that’s OK if that’s your plan but I strongly recommend avoiding that as much as possible. Your brain needs some down time, your family need some attention and the work can usually wait.
If you are someone who finds it difficult to switch off after work, try a couple of my favourite stress busting ideas below.
1) Go for a walk. Before or after dinner, whatever works.
2) Take a long bath. I love to have a good book with me or listen to a podcast. I need something to help me switch my brain off and make me think about something else.
3) Read a good book.
4) Play a game with the family. Outdoor physical games or indoor board games work well.
5) Treat yourself. Don’t go overboard but the occasional chocolate, wine or soppy TV show can work wonders.
I believe that it is important to ensure there is balance between work and play, responsibilities to our employer and responsibilities to our families, time spent looking after others and time spent looking after ourselves.
I would love to hear some of the ways you switch off after work in the comments below.