Assess your employees’ workloads
In order to know how to most effectively help your employees disconnect from work, it’s important to know just how “connected” they are in the first place.
A helpful way to gauge how much your employees might be working after hours is to distribute an anonymous survey. In the survey, you might include questions about the typical hours employees are working, roadblocks keeping them from logging off on time, what their ideal hours would be and how you, as a manager, can better support them so they can achieve a better work/life balance.
Aside from using a survey, it’s also important to keep an eye on how many tasks your employees are juggling at a time and how that might impact their ability to unplug from work as needed.
Encourage an open dialogue
Once you have a better idea of how much your employees may be overworking, give them the space to discuss the results with you, either one-on-one or as a team, depending on what fits your workplace’s dynamic best.
Share any common themes you noticed in the survey results or from discussing work/life balance concerns with the team outside of the survey.
Determine any changes you can make as a team in order to better accommodate everyone’s schedules and give employees the proper time they need to unwind.
Acknowledge that you know how hard your employees are working, that you respect their time and that you genuinely want them to have full, meaningful lives outside of work. This reassurance may help your employees gain the confidence to unplug from technology as appropriate so they can recharge and feel better.
Create guidelines for how to unplug
It can also be helpful to set some ground rules to help employees learn how to disconnect in a way that doesn’t disrupt the productivity of the team as a whole. These are just some examples of the types of guidelines you might provide.
Set expectations for response times after hours
Let employees know that if they receive an email or message after a certain time, they aren’t expected to respond until the start of their next work day. This means that if other employees are catching up on work or working different hours, employees who are finished for the day aren’t expected to be online beyond their normal work day. This kind of understanding is especially important for companies with employees working across various time zones.
Creating a culture where an immediate response isn’t always expected can help employees learn how to better communicate during hours when they overlap with their coworkers and respect boundaries when members of the team have signed off for the day.
Make tasks clear and achievable
Help employees set goals for the amount of work they’re expected to achieve in a set amount of time. Include check-ins throughout projects so you can help employees reassess how much time to spend on tasks and adjust deadlines so they can take the proper time to unplug as needed.
It may also be helpful to create resources and how-to guides for employees to reference as they complete common tasks. Maintaining easy-to-navigate documentation of work processes helps employees stay on task so they can finish their work in an efficient manner and disconnect when they’re finished.
You might also consider using project management tools that allow all collaborators on a project to see when tasks have been completed and have access to the documents in one centralized place. This kind of organization and project management can minimize the need for after-hours communication and help keep all team members on-task.
Respect weekends and vacation time
Make it clear that being off the clock means being off the computer and phone too. Set the cultural norm that employees shouldn’t be contacting coworkers taking paid time off or during weekends or holidays. To help enforce this, consider creating a shared calendar so everyone’s vacation time is always visible to the team. Also, you might encourage employees to make use of out-of-office messages so their coworkers are reminded that they won’t get a speedy reply.
Life happens. Make it clear to employees that you understand they may need to take time from work to handle personal issues now and then. Whether it’s taking a few hours to attend a doctor’s appointment, allowing parents to start the work day slightly later so they can take their children to school or providing time for bereaved employees to be with their loved ones and heal, showing employees that you respect them empowers them to take time to disconnect when they need it most. As a result, you’re more likely to have employees who want to stay with your company for the long run. A little respect can go a very long way.
Learn how to disconnect yourself
A simple yet effective way to teach employees how to unplug is to model it yourself. Consider signing off or leaving the office first (making it known that your employees should feel free to sign off too) at a reasonable hour. By showing you’re willing to separate your work life and personal time, your employees may feel empowered to do the same.
While you always want to be present for your employees when they need you, be communicative about when issues can wait. For example, if an employee comes to you with a problem they’re looking to solve and it’s toward the end of the work day, let them know you’ll schedule time with them the following day so you can tackle it together.
It’s important to create a culture where employees can understand what is truly urgent and what can wait so they’re confident about when it’s appropriate for them to unplug.
Keep checking in
Learning how to disconnect is likely to be an ongoing process for you and your employees. Make sure to create a two-way conversation with your team so you can better understand how their flexibility needs might grow or change with time.
Continue asking your employees about their workloads and requesting feedback about improving processes to better optimize their time at work so they can unplug from technology as needed. Do your best to reinforce the guidelines and boundaries that help your employees disconnect so, over time, those guidelines become more baked into the workplace’s operations as a whole.
As workplace culture continues to evolve, it’s important for managers to listen to their employees and provide guidance about how to disconnect in order to create healthier cultures and more successful businesses.