The widespread adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has enabled many employed Americans to work from home and anywhere else. This development has brought on a certain level of unprecedented convenience, allowing people to remain productive even outside an office setting.
But this same development did not come without its own share of issues. As employees become more accessible online, the ability for one to switch off fully has diminished. In the United States, the problem presented itself when workers who are paid by the hour started rendering extra unpaid hours on their mobile devices. This is in direct violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal statute of the United States that provides clear provisions on overtime. In general, employers must pay overtime pay at least 1.5 times an employee’s regular hourly rate after said employee renders 40 hours of work within a workweek. This provision is for the protection of nonexempt employees not included in the FLSA’s exceptions.
Unfortunately, at the start of the mobile revolution, many employers were either unaware of the implications of remote working on overtime hours. This caused employees to spend more hours on work-related tasks long after they had left the office, eventually leading to dissatisfaction and burnout. In some cases, it even led to lawsuits.
But when you’re a director, an executive or a C-suite manager, it seems that you are expected to be always reachable online at whatever time of day to attend to any emergency or other unexpected occurrence. Whether you like it or not, you are rendering digital overtime. And with no FLSA to protect you, where do you draw the line? As an exempt employee, pay is no longer be an issue, but work-life balance is still is.
If you find yourself working longer than you intend on your smartphone or tablet, and if you also want to set a good example to your staff in terms of balancing your personal life and work, here are some tips you may want to consider:
You can’t do everything on your own, even if you’re tempted to do so. When you have a team working with you, you need to trust them enough to run the show in case you decide to go on a trip with your family, play a round of golf with friends, or watch some movies you missed in the comfort of your own home. Not all emergencies at work necessarily warrant your attention, so let others in your team take charge and learn from the experience. In the event that you do become truly unavailable (you fell ill, got stranded on a tropical island with no Internet connection, etc.) then you can be assured that the members of your team are capable enough to carry on without you.
Set clear conditions
The problem with being always online is that people think they can contact you for whatever reason. If you want to minimize your digital overtime, you need to inform them the circumstances that call for your involvement; otherwise, you should make it clear that you prefer not to be contacted. If you wish to be informed of emergency cases, you must first define what constitutes a real emergency and align your and your team’s expectations. This will teach your team to recognize what’s critical and urgent, and what’s not.
Designate hours for business
You may be accessible most if not all the time through your smartphone or tablet, but that doesn’t mean people should contact you at odd hours of the night. You can always set the hours you’re available for meetings and consultations. When you do this consistently, you’re also setting everyone else’s expectations when it comes to communicating with you. Also, only exceptional cases should get through to you as discussed in the previous tip. If you have a personal assistant, you can give them the task of filtering requests beforehand.
Turn off your mobile devices
You may not be ready for this one yet, but if your digital overtime gets out of hand, you can just switch off your smartphone or tablet. It’s a drastic move, and not advisable to do if you haven’t given your team a forewarning of some sort. But if you can plan this well ahead of time, you can take a completely unplugged vacation, even if you just intend to stay in your room and catch up on some leisure reading. When you’ve been doing a lot of digital overtime, a digital detox is what you need.
Digital solutions should serve as tools to assist, not to enslave. And yet, a 2013 survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association revealed that 52 percent of employed Americans check their business emails before or after regular work hours, while 54 percent check them even when they’re home sick. In addition, 44 percent do the same thing while they’re supposed to be on vacation. In the right amount, this paradigm shift in the way Americans work increases productivity and improves efficiency, but taken to extremes, it is more detrimental than beneficial. It’s up to you to keep the balance.