We all hear the stories: Companies that expect workers to pull all-nighters to finish a project, financial analysts that work 120 hours per week, bosses who expect employees to work weekends. But what are the repercussions of this modern-day hectic pace? Research data provides a strong correlation between work stressors -- such as incredibly long work hours -- and negative health outcomes, which may include a decrease in both output and quality of work, a rising number and rate of accidents, burnout, depression and a reduction of performance at optimum levels.
Teetering on the balance
We've all heard the expression "24/7 work week." There may be some of us who live by that code, and this trend continues to escalate. A hot-button issue in leadership meetings today is the demand for better work-life balance.
An unhealthy work-life balance is detrimental for companies, large and small, because of the resulting loss of employee productivity and loyalty. We now know this to be of widespread concern. Consider the media frenzy when recent report of a French "law" stated that workers must not answer emails past 6 p.m. in order to maintain a sense of separation between work and family/leisure time. (In fact, there was no new law passed but simply a labor agreement signed on April 1 by unions and employers in the high-tech and consulting field).
The attention this story received was telling, particularly since various news sites jumped on the story before understanding the details. But let's just assume, for the sake of discussion, that it was genuine. Although I'm not sure how easy it would be to enforce, the concept might be worth further discussion. The ruling would basically attempt to set parameters making respite from connectivity downtime mandatory. Major work emergencies and crisis communication aside, I think the French unions are trying to make a valid point.
Personally, I feel it is very healthy to take time off of our constant connectivity -- emails, texts and other forms of electronic communication -- in order to allow the brain to "decompress." It is also interesting to note that recently, we hear a common complaint from leaders and associates alike that our ubiquitous connectivity makes us long for a deeper more meaningful connection... to people. Our technology, although it enables us to connect, can also drive us apart from each other.
Leading by example
As leaders it is also good for the health of our employees if we take time to reconnect with ourselves and of course with the ones we love. A Kansas State University study shows that workers have a difficult time getting distance, mentally, from business matters if they stay connected beyond the workday -- and therefore cannot move into a more relaxed state during off-hours. We all need time for rest and renewal, and it is common sense that when we don't take that time, we become burned out and less effective -- in all aspects of our lives.
Anais Nin said, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." We all live in our own realities, but sometimes we need to take a step back. There is more to life than making your mark on the executive floor. Be aware of the larger, more "human" objectives in life -- including self-care and the well-being of others.
Why should you care?
Setting holistic goals for your personal, wellness and spiritual life can reenergize and therefore enable you to move beyond your own needs to support the needs of others. Taking care of yourself is about staying in touch with your own capacity to stay healthy and happy, to communicate well and to integrate and convey this same message of health and well-being to those around you. A major piece of the puzzle is a balanced lifestyle, spending time with loved ones, tuning into your emotions and taking time out for reflection.
Self-care is also important when it comes to motivating employees. You set a significant example for your associates, if you don't take good care of yourself. In our work doing 360-degree assessments with associates, we are often surprised to discover that these employees are concerned that their leaders do not have a healthy work-life balance. We have found, time and time again, that associates' well-being greatly improves when their bosses take good care of their health. From a purely financial perspective, research suggests that businesses can run into serious health care costs and raise company insurance rates if, as a whole, they have an unhealthy associate population.
Part of self-care is, of course, relieving the burden of stress. So give it a try and unplug. Your health may reward you handsomely, and, you just may discover an added benefit -- more of that rare and precious gift the French refer to as "joie de vivre."