Donald Trump notoriously sends out his tweets early in the mornings and reports on sleeping for only 3-4 hours at night. Naturally, Trump is not the only one, as plenty of success stories about ‘short sleepers’ can be found. What is the message of these stories? Or, to put it differently, are these stories telling us anything?
I would argue that they do. Not only the minimum sleep routines, but also the late-night e-mails and weekend phone calls that so many managers engage in may create expectations towards productivity and what is accepted work culture. Indeed, as stated in a relevant HBR article, late-night e-mails can be hurtful to teams, as they create an ‘always on’ culture. Be it the desire to please the manager and be noticed, poor self-management skills, or heightened dutifulness, managerial ‘always on’ practices also ‘infect’ employees, which is debilitating for results in the end. It is probably hard to argue that proper rest, ‘switching off’, and general work-life balance are important ingredients for well-being and success, right?!
Hence, how about returning to the ‘good old’ rules of not taking any work home, leaving the office at the right time, and sending out e-mails or making calls only during official working hours? Or doesI this sound somewhat outdated?!
In the case of multicultural corporations, the presence of business travel, cross-border communication or virtual teams already challenges the notion of common working hours. Other than that, there is an ongoing trend towards more flexible work arrangements, which also raises questions over rigid working hours. For example, in many cases telework can be done out of the office and at any time, which leaves the individual with little control over work-life balance.
Thus, on one hand, regulating work-life balance seems practically challenging and counterproductive for allowing flexibility. At the time, work-life balance is (still) important. According to a Guardian article, flexible working policies can unintentionally encourage the same ‘always on’ mode as the examples of late e-mails and sleep deprived management that I brought up earlier.
Hence, the important question is how to support work-life balance even with flexible work arrangements? I would suggest that the solution lies in shifting the work-life balance discussion from ‘there is working time, and then there is non-working time’ to discussions about the skills of ‘switching on and off’, irrespective of the chosen time. Often we work longer and rest poorly because we are not fully attentive during work, and we are still hooked by work matters during times of rest. As a result, I totally agree with Maura Thomas’s suggestion to ‘ditch the phrase “time management” for the more relevant “attention management”. Attention management implies that employees could be taught to achieve full attention, single-tasking and deep engagement to increase their work productivity. Moreover, employees could be educated on the importance of being present in the moment (or being mindful), so that even a short lunch break or walk from one meeting to another can serve as refreshing and restful moments. Finally, I would suggest that communication about work culture plays its role too. As long as we emphasize the universal ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ about work arrangements, we undermine the opportunities to find what works best for each one of us.