From Take Work to Make Work

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

For me, it started with e-mail on my laptop computer, progressed to cell phones, and then to text messages. When I accepted my first managerial position, I took work home with me and did it after my children were in bed. Yes, I worked long hours; yes I voluntarily took work home; yes I was a workaholic; but no, I did not seriously compromise my time with family at night, on weekends, and certainly not on vacation.

Then e-mail came along and my wife started taking pictures of me answering e-mail on my laptop during vacations. She tried to make sure she captured the pretty scenery around me. Next, came cell phones and she captured me doing e-mail “on the go’, which was followed by cell phone calls nights, weekends, and, of course, on vacations. Finally text messages came along, seeming to demand instantaneous replies. We, as a society, have evolved from an environment where people chose to take work home, to one where some external force is “making us” work at all hours in all locations, or feel guilty or worse yet, receive retribution.

According to a 2016 Adobe survey,  U.S. white collar workers send 19 work emails and read 29 emails on average over a weekend. Seventy-nine percent check work e-mail while on vacation and nearly 25% say they constantly check work e-mail on vacation. In January 2017, France enacted a law requiring companies with over 50 employees to establish hours when employees should not send or answer e-mails. In a move to better balance work and home-life, German automobile manufacturer Daimler has an auto-delete option for e-mails sent while a person is on vacation. The auto-delete is accompanied by an out-of-office response that states the e-mail is being deleted and giving an alternate contact.

As a leader, I always had a philosophy in organizations I led that family comes first. It was an unstated core value. And in these organizations, we treated each other like family and checked in with each other like family, always sensitive to the needs of each other’s “real family.”

But today how family-friendly are we really, if family time is always subject to e-mails, cell phone calls, and text messages? We regularly read that letting employees put family first is good for the employee and good for business. It builds workforce engagement and loyalty. It leads to people going the extra mile for the organization.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence ask about the drivers of workforce engagement in your organization and how you support your workforce via benefits and policies. How often do we include true family-friendliness in our list of drivers, benefits, and policies, even in family-friendly organizations? Maybe it is time to be more explicit in our organizations about what our commitment to family friendliness means. And maybe that means a policy about frequency of being on-line and accessible nights, weekends, and during vacations. Would it improve overall productivity and workforce engagement? What do you think?

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3 Responses to From Take Work to Make Work

  1. Mike Belter says:

    Harry,

    Guilty too. It was happening before laptops, cell phones, and smartphones. Back in the day in the military and continuing to work at an electric utility, there were pagers that we wore off-duty, ’cause we had to be available 24 hours per day. Most jobs I had did let me hand off the pager to someone else while on vacation.

    During the 1990s and thru about 2007, I refused to transition from cell phone to smartphone – I don’t need to see any !@#$% emails in the evening or weekend. Finally my boss ordered me to have a smartphone, and now I get emails and texts in the evening or weekend. And the calls.

    How to handle all this? Calls I answer, if I hear them buzzing, otherwise, let it go to voicemail. No VM, its not that important and can wait until Monday. On emails, I just check them once in the morning after I get up on weekends. Text alerts we do get and usually have to response because power plants are supposed to run 24 hours a day. Not into twitter, snapchat, or all that other garbage, and the other texts are likely from my sister or Sister (cousin in Pittsburgh who is a Roman Catholic nun who is assisting our 92 year old aunt). But last year, I was sitting on the beach in Bermuda, talking to our Major Projects VP on some project…. Oh well.

  2. Bob A. DeMarcki says:

    Dr. Hertz,

    I truly enjoyed your noted observations. Thank you for posting.

  3. Amanuel Garza says:

    Thanks Harry for raising this issue with the gravity of attention that it demands.

    After all putting WELLBEING in general and the family in particular as critical has to be the endeavour of any exercise that is serious about adding value to people oriented organisational performance.

    Amanuel

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