Is your job encroaching into your nights and weekends? Do you feel like you’re constantly on call? The traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle has given way to a 24/7 work culture for many Americans. Seventy percent of employees check their work email at home in the evenings, 54 percent check their work email when they’re home sick, and 44 percent check their work email daily while they’re on vacation.
Unfortunately, job burnout is all too common in our always-on culture. Twenty-three percent of employees say they’re often or always burnt out on the job, and an additional 44 percent say they’re burnt out sometimes. Working around the clock is exhausting. Ultimately, it can end up costing you and your employer. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ready to learn how to put work away when the work day’s over? Keep reading to discover how to create a healthy boundary between your work and your life, which may improve your health, well-being, and job performance.
The power of down time
The majority (83 percent) of employees say their jobs are stressful. Fortunately, it’s possible to remain healthy and happy while doing stressful work. The key is to regularly take time off to rest, recover, and relax.
But with the rise of mobile devices, laptops, emailing, and text messaging, people don’t unplug from work the way they used to. Working after hours or checking work email before bed may seem like no big deal. But it may take a bigger toll than you think. In a study of 24,000 workers in 31 European countries, people who worked beyond their normal work hours were more likely to experience musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and psychological ailments. Just thinking about having to check work email after hours leaves workers feeling anxious and emotionally exhausted, according to a study conducted at Colorado State University.
Workers who are randomly assigned to limit checking their email to three times a day experience significantly lower daily stress levels than when they’re allowed to check email whenever they want, according to another study.
People need to disconnect from work periodically throughout the day, for several hours at the end of each day, and for a day or two each week to fully recover from the stress of work. We need enough time to sleep at least seven hours per night, get plenty of physical activity, spend quality time with family and friends, and perhaps pursue an enjoyable hobby.
If your job crowds out your personal life, it’s time to assess why. Unplugging when you’re away from work may dramatically improve your wellbeing. Research suggests regular downtime boosts immunity, restores mental energy, increases creativity, and even improves job performance.
Get clear on your employer’s expectations
Some fields, including medicine, law, and politics, are known for long, demanding hours. Startup companies are notorious for non-traditional schedules that blur work with personal time. Familiarize yourself with the norms in your profession. Your employer may expect you to be on call sometimes if you work in a demanding field.
But don’t assume your boss expects you to toil around the clock because everyone else at your office does. Have a frank conversation with her about your company’s expectations for evening and weekend work. Sometimes a culture of overwork develops unconsciously at a company. Ask your boss whether she expects you to respond to emails in the evenings, on weekends, and when you’re on vacation.
If your employer requires after-hours work, explain that you need time to recharge outside of work and tell her about the benefits for you and the company. See if you can find compromises. For example, you may agree to respond to urgent or emergency messages before a certain hour on some evenings. Or you may arrange to work for a predetermined time on a weekend day. No matter what you agree to, at least you’ll understand your employer’s expectations and have clear boundaries set for when you work and when you don’t.
If your company’s work expectations aren’t compatible with your health or happiness, you may want to consider looking for a similar job at a company that promotes a better work-life balance or explore a new field that allows you more personal time.
Set boundaries with yourself
Your boss or company may not be entirely to blame for work invading your personal time. It’s not easy to disconnect from work, especially if you love your job. It may require discipline to set new work habits. The following tips can help you maintain a healthy boundary between work and your personal life.
- Make a to-do list for the next day at the end of each workday. This will help you stop ruminating about work at home.
- Take work email off your personal phone.
- If you need a cell phone for work, ask your employer to provide you with one and only use it for work.
- Turn on an email autoresponder when you’re away from your office. State when you’ll be back to check and respond to emails.
- If you must check work email at home, check it only at a predetermined time.
- Don’t reply to any work emails, text messages, or phone calls that can wait until the next workday.
- Stay home when you’re sick, and don’t check your work email.
- Learn to say no, at least sometimes, to requests for extra or after-hours work. Memorize a polite go-to phrase, such as, “That won’t work for me this time.”
- Prioritize unwinding and decompressing after work. Socialize, read, engage in a hobby, go for a walk, tune into a favorite show, play a game, or just relax.
- If talking about work is taking over your evenings, establish a cut-off time and discuss other topics after that.
Ready, set, recharge
These days, it’s all too easy to shoot off a work email between bites of dinner or take your laptop to bed with you. But working around the clock robs you of your health and well-being and steals time from your family and friends. Ultimately, it also diminishes your job performance. Learn to leave your work at work, and you’ll improve your quality of life and return to your job each morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.