by Gundy Kaupins
As seen in the Idaho Statesman Business Insider on June 27, 2012
Amanda had no real family time. Her work team was calling her 24/7 on one issue or another. The stress of getting that text message or phone call from work meant that a quiet movie night with family could be ruined at any time. Something needed to be done to get away from the workaholic existence.
Leslie Perlow, who wrote “Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work,” shows how to increase productivity and family time by reducing the time with your phone.
According to Perlow, the goal of a work team or organization should be to create predictable time off, or PTO, from smartphones, text messages and any other mobile ways of communication through work. PTO could be anything from a day or night off each week to certain hours of a day off that everyone on the team agrees will work. For success, PTO needs to be doable, valued, strongly encouraged through team member communication, experimentally analyzed to see what team member schedules work and don’t work, and passionately supported by team and organizational leaders.
PTO could mean that there are no communications between team members from 5 p.m. Tuesday until 11 a.m. Wednesday. In a 24/7 world, this could give team members time to catch up with family matters, tend to their gardens, exercise and get some extra needed rest.
Perlow experimented with this PTO idea at the Boston Consulting Group. The plan boosted productivity and improved family life. She experimented with one team, and it spread to about 900 other work teams in 30 countries within the organization.
Work-life balance has been an increasingly important topic as cellphones and computers have become more available at work and at home. Taking the office home has become an increasing trend that interferes with family life with its relevant stress. A coordinated effort by work teams and even companies may be needed to head off constant communications that affect home life. In the end, the work life may be more productive.
Reducing the tyranny of smartphones at home is only part of the solution to improving the work-life balance. Some other ideas employers can use include:
• Considering flex time that allows employees, for example, to arrive early (6 a.m.) and leave early (3 p.m.) to avoid traffic.
• Compressed work weeks that can, for example, allow employees to work four 12-hour shifts one week and three 12-hour shifts the next. This could lead to more days off during the week to tend to family business.
• Splitting one full-time job into two part-time jobs to accommodate parents who cannot be full-time workers.
• Incorporating personal leave into the work schedule to accommodate parents who periodically have personal emergencies with kids.
The PTO, flex time, compressed work weeks, part-time work and personal leave plans may sound costly at first, because they increase uncertainty in work schedules and take employees away from work. But the employees who are at work may be much more productive, because they have a company that recognizes that employees are more than people hired to do a task in a company. They also have families and lives that contribute to their productivity.
GUNDARS KAUPINS Professor in the management department at Boise State University College of Business and Economics