With new obligations constantly arriving through our devices, our professional lives often overtake our personal lives. And in what little downtime we do have, we often put others’ needs in front of our own. But all of the science points to one thing: As they say on airplanes, we need to put our own oxygen masks on first in order to be able to help others. And yes, this means at home and at work. The more in tune we are with our own needs, the better we’ll be able to be there for others, both in and out of work. But how do we make time to step away when work feels ever-present, just a touch of a button away? Our connection to work has even seeped into our bedrooms: A 2015 survey found that 71 percent of Americans sleep with or next to their phones. Odds are you’ve probably found yourself sneaking a peek at your phone in the middle of the night once or twice…or more.
When work and family commitments start to add up, taking care of ourselves is usually the first thing to be cut from our to-do lists. Sleep, exercise, unplugging, and healthy eating often feel like they require too much effort– but in fact they’re some of the most effective ways to fulfill all those work and family commitments. It’s critical that managers encourage employees to regularly make time for themselves — even, and especially, when work feels all-consuming.
Your employees should be making time for themselves both inside and outside of the office. The importance of taking regular breaks during the workday is clear. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that employees who worked out during the day reported being more productive, better at managing their own time and interacting with coworkers, and had higher levels of satisfaction at the end of the day.
Allowing your team to find a healthy distance from work outside of the office also encourages creativity and innovation. “Many modern workers find it hard to take downtime,” write Jackie and John Coleman in a piece for the Harvard Business Review “The idea of leaving work so cleanly at the office seems quaint in a world of smartphones, laptops, and global companies that are always on to accommodate employees from Hoboken to Hong Kong. But drawing brighter lines between work and time off — family, friends, outside activities, and old-fashioned daydreaming — has clear benefits for productivity, creativity, and wellness. There’s an upside to downtime.”
Companies like Deloitte are famous for recognizing what happens when employees are given the time and space to self-reflect and work on creative projects outside of their day-to-day jobs. But oftentimes people can’t stick to the time they’ve set aside for themselves because their manager doesn’t know about it or encourage it. If your team thinks you don’t value their lives outside of work, they’ll be too embarrassed to tell you when they need more support or flexibility. Change how your employees view your commitment to their personal lives and you will likely be dealing with a much more engaged team.
Here’s how to make sure your employees see the value of downtime and prioritizing themselves and also know you’re committed to it:
- Ask your team members to share their most important non-work priorities: In your next 1-on-1, ask each employee to tell you what matters most to them outside of work. It could be making an exercise class, taking their child to school or seeing friends. Whatever it is, express your commitment to helping them achieve that every week.
- Put each person’s personal priorities on your calendar: This is a crucial step in remembering not to interrupt this person during that time each week. It’s one thing to say you’re committed to helping them get there, but it’s another to show it by not emailing or calling them during that time. If you ask your employees to establish boundaries and share them with you, you must respect them.
- Establish your own personal priorities and share them with the team: Get the best from your team by being your best, too. Encouraging your employees to make time for themselves is more powerful if you demonstrate that you do the same. Point to the value and benefits you’ve gotten from it.