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10 Ways to Establish a Better Work/Life Balance

Create policy guidelines with these pointers

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association

Armed with smartphones, tablets and laptops, we’re all “available” nearly any time of day. Because of this, establishing a healthy work/life balance is an ongoing challenge for employees and employers. As technology increasingly blurs the lines between our personal and professional lives, employers need to establish clear guidelines that give employees space and allow them to integrate their own time with their on-the-clock time.

To address this challenge, labor unions and employers in France recently agreed on principles that could eliminate e-mail and smartphone use outside the 13-hour window that defines the workday. Some U.S. employers are now requiring junior staff to take weekends off to make sure those employees have plenty of time to recharge. While these policies have good intentions, they may squelch the need for speed and connection in flexible businesses.

Moreover, recent polling revealed most employees are eager to meet company goals and don’t want to log off completely at the end of the day. Instead, employers should create guidelines for helping their employees maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Here are 10 ways employers can do this:

  1. Employers should allow employees to telework as needed. At the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the company I lead, most of our employees telework one day a week. This gives employees more flexibility and lets us carry on operations in extreme weather and other situations where employees can’t get to the office. However, employers have to set clear rules on when employees can call in for a meeting and when they must be in the office.

  2. Employers should give their employees the necessary tech tools to get their jobs done. Employers can also create bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies if they prefer, offering to help pay for all or part of an employee’s personal device and service if they are used for work.

  3. Don’t get hung up on personal versus business use of technology. We all use office computers and phones for both purposes. Unless you have security reasons or laws to follow that mandate separation, accept that we live in a blended world.

  4. New devices and apps can enhance collaboration, brainstorming and innovation. Programs like SharePoint allow nonsynchronous idea-sharing. Calendar and scheduling functions can also make life easier. All employees should be trained to use various apps and devices, and must be held accountable for a basic level of understanding when using tech tools.

  5. Employers should never e-mail employees when they are on vacation, unless the need is urgent and no one else can step up to the plate. Usually, it can wait. Employees at every level should operate on the same principle.

  6. At the same time, executive employees, even on vacation, should be completely off the grid only if they have no Internet access. Emergencies do arise, and in those situations employees—especially at the executive level—are needed to make critical decisions. People in positions of authority must have that mindset of availability, or they are not executive material.

  7. Bosses have to keep in mind that e-mailing at night and on weekends may help clear their inboxes, but it can be bad for employees. If you can’t send e-mails at other times, install tools that will allow you to schedule when your e-mails will be delivered to avoid causing employee burnout. (I am guilty of violating this rule too often.)

  8. When contacting employees after hours, know and respect the urgency level of devices and apps. Calling or texting a person’s cellphone is urgent. E-mail implies lower urgency. Providing a hyperlink to a shared document is low urgency. Never communicate with colleagues over Facebook or social media except about personal matters.

  9. Keep technology away from business meals and other face-to-face gatherings. Just as it would be rude to constantly check your smartphone at dinner with family or friends, remember that face-to-face meetings are still the most important form of communication we can have, whether with clients or with our employees.

  10. Finally, respect that people are different. Some of us do our best work at night, while others prefer to work on airplanes or in the middle of commotion. Personally, I like quiet time to think, but get some of my best ideas through interactions with others.

Many factors play a part in determining a company’s success. Overall company culture and measurable goals are critical for long-term growth, but maintaining a dynamic workforce means helping employees establish the balance they need. Tech and innovation make life easier for all of us, but ultimately we all have families, personal lives, and ups and downs. No matter what our job is, our humanity—not our technology—defines us. Employers have to start with that understanding in order to create a truly great place to work.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter @GaryShapiro.

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