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How confident are you that you can unplug from work each day?
Unplugging from work means enjoying time off and not thinking about work. This allows you to focus and enjoy responsibilities and activities outside of work. It also means that when it’s time to sleep, you’re not thinking or worrying about work.
Unplugging from work has benefits for both employee and employer:
- The employee gets a mental and physical break from work to charge his/her battery and engage in activities that are personally fulfilling.
- The employer gets employees who come to work feeling rested and ready to put in a productive day. Research from Kansas State University suggests that employees who are able to unplug from work have lower stress levels. Unplugging can have a positive impact on their ability to solve problems and it promotes employee engagement.
This microskill focuses on benefits and tips for unplugging from work each day.
Here’s the rub: Most know that unplugging from work at the end of our scheduled workday is good for us. So why do so many struggle with doing it, relaxing and enjoying a weekend, or taking a vacation?
It would be naive to think the reason that many people fail to unplug from work each day is a fear of falling behind in work or a perception that there’s an expectation to respond to e-mail and to work after core work hours.
Those things are drivers, but they may not be the only reasons. For some, work is an escape, because life outside of work is not how they would like it. Work is an easy excuse that takes away a person’s focus and energy versus facing or dealing with life outside of work.
When work is purposeful, rewarding and psychologically safe, it’s good for our mental health. However, if work is the only thing we have, it can become all-consuming. Consequences can range from missed opportunities that later in life result in personal regret, to pushing oneself too hard, leading to increased risk for burnout, or creating a compulsion that becomes a work addiction.
Each of us is ultimately accountable for our life decisions. Benefits for unplugging from work include improved personal relationships outside of work, lower stress and better quality of sleep. One study found that reducing computer use was related to improved mental health.
If we’re struggling with unplugging from work, we need to be clear about the reason. Is it our perception of what’s expected, or is it because we’d rather work than do anything else?
Once we acknowledge the reason we’re not unplugging, it’s up to us to decide whether we really want to do it. Being told unplugging is good for us won’t be enough; we must want to unplug.
- Action: Humans seldom change unless we’re experiencing some level of discomfort and decide that we want to change.
- Self-evaluate: If you’re struggling with unplugging and want to unplug, the first step is to evaluate the negatives for not unplugging and the positives for unplugging. Once you build your pros-and-cons list, decide whether you’re prepared to move from thinking about changing your behaviour to changing it.
- Devise your unplugging game plan: What’s your biggest barrier to unplugging? Is it externally driven (e.g., cultural expectation) or internally (e.g., you make work a priority over everything else)? Once you’re clear on the barrier, it’s time to brainstorm options. Discuss your situation with a trusted friend, family member, mental-health professional or, if you feel safe, your manager. The goal is to create options. In the end, it may be as simple as deciding to stop work each day at 6 p.m., put all technical devices and computers away, and not engage until the next workday.
- Implement your plan: Evaluate each day how well you did, using the lead-in question asked in this article. The higher your confidence level, the more you’ll know you’re able to unplug, and the more you’re able to unplug, the more you’ll benefit.
Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.