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?