Have you ever received a battery-operated gift only to discover you didn’t have the batteries required to make it work? If so, you understand the initial excitement that came with the gift and the corresponding disappointment of realizing that without the energy source, the gift was completely useless.
So you run out and purchase the batteries, and your new gift comes to life. Almost magically the device is now working wonders, just as intended. But those batteries last only so long, and slowly, the effectiveness of the gift diminishes, until one day it won’t even turn on. Time for some new batteries.
We’re not much different than that electronic gift. Without energy, we can be rendered completely useless. And if we don’t recharge our batteries, our effectiveness will diminish just like our electronic device. In today’s 24/7 world, we’re constantly on the go and continually connected. We’re being barraged with information and responding to it around the clock. When do you have time to recharge your batteries?
I have colleagues who have told me they are overwhelmed and exhausted from being constantly connected to work, yet they can’t separate themselves from their smartphones. As a result, work follows them home every night. E-mails come in at all hours of the night, and they read and respond to them. Their coworkers call them at home, and they answer the phone to discuss work. Text messages come in with questions about current projects, and they can’t help but reply. Anything less would be rude, right?
And it doesn’t stop there. You go on vacation and the work e-mails, texts, and calls follow you. Let me remind you of the definition of vacation: “a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel.” The definition calls for a “suspension of work,” yet do we ever really stop working? If not, it’s not a vacation.
The problem is that unless you’re asleep, you’re never really away from work. So, I ask again, when do you have time to recharge your batteries? What do you do for yourself that really helps you regain your focus and your edge? How do you put work aside for an extended period of time so you can come back to it refreshed?
Companies provide employees with vacation time for a reason. Many would argue that they REALLY don’t want people to use it, but the smart companies certainly do. They understand that all work and no play does more than make Jack a dull boy—it also leads to lower productivity and burnout.
As a manager, you have a dilemma. Your employees are working hard. Maybe they absolutely love what they do. So they take their work home with them every night. How do you make sure they get the time they need to recharge their batteries? How do you “make” them turn off their phones and leave e-mail alone while they’re on vacation? How do you get them to put work aside so they can spend time with their family and friends?
It’s a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do. You can’t be with everyone who works with you around the clock to police their activities. You can’t force someone to turn off her phone at night or prevent her from reading her work e-mails after hours. And in many cases, you may not want to. But you must remember that if you can’t help your people put work aside for a while, they’re going to run out of energy just like that electronic device will eventually drain its batteries.
I can’t tell you I have the solution to this problem—I don’t. But I can tell you it’s a really important issue that you must be aware of. I think it starts with open dialogue with the people who work for you. The best first step is to give your people “permission” to leave work at work. That means telling them it’s OK not to respond to every e-mail or text or answer every call they receive after hours. It means letting them know it’s OK for them to have a life outside of work. And it means encouraging them to suspend their work when they’re on vacation. Because you know that if they do all those things, they likely will be a more productive contributor over a longer period of time.