How To Disconnect From Work Without Everyone Freaking Out

Here's how to get your boss and coworkers used to the idea that you won't always be available.

Picture this. You’re on a beach in the middle of the Caribbean with no Internet access, no phone reception, and no text messages.

You return from your vacation well rested, and want to continue some of these healthy habits--like not sleeping with your smartphone on your pillow. But how does that work when you’ve been tethered to your phone, and your coworkers and boss expect you to answer 24/7 because that’s what you’ve always done?

Depending on your particular situation, you can broach the topic with your boss. It may not be easy to detach from your smartphone, but it’s certainly not impossible, according to several experts. Here's what they advise:

1. Determine Whether The Change Is Feasible

“The control that individuals have over whether or not they’re available after work hours is oftentimes in the hands of management, so it’s important to know how much leeway you have to make changes yourself,” explains Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colorado-based company providing subscribers with thousands of flexible job listings.

Once you know whether you’re able to make a change, Fell suggests taking an honest approach about your proposed changes, and what your colleagues should expect.

2. Set Boundaries

“If you let people work you to death, they will,” says Traci Bild, founder of Bild & Company, a national health care consulting firm in Tampa, Florida. In approaching your boss and colleagues, she suggests clearly communicating what your priorities are--whether it’s recharging by spending quality time with your family, or pursuing your passions outside of work.

It’s important to state that, while you’re at work, you give 100%, but that you need to be fully present in your home life as well. “People respect those who know how to set boundaries,” she says.

3. Notify Those Affected Of The Plan

Of course, emergencies happen outside the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., so have a plan in place for urgent situations. “If you’ll be monitoring email after-hours but only responding to urgent issues, let [your team] know,” Fell says. “Or, if you’re going to completely shut your email off, be clear about that and give them your cell number or another person to contact in case of emergency."

Be sure to explain what emergencies are, Fell adds. Your idea of a work emergency might not be the same as your coworkers or boss. "Encourage the people around you--especially those you manage--to troubleshoot issues before bringing them to you.”

Bild suggests another option. Establish a code for messages your team can put in the subject line of an email or text message to you, such as 911, which signals an issue that needs your immediate attention.

4. Be Consistent

Consistency is key, Bild says. “If you set terms and don’t stick to them, people will not take you seriously.” For example, if you say you’ll respond to non-urgent emails that come in after 5:30 p.m. on the next business day, then make it a habit to do so.

“If you’re in a management position, it’s important to set the same expectations for your staff as you do for yourself,” Fell says. “If you’re not expected to be available after hours, neither are they.”

[Image: clownbusiness via Shutterstock]

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1 Comments

  • Tom Leeson

    Nice piece. Recently BBC News picked on German car giant Diamler’s recommended out of office vacation message. Along the lines of mail received while I am on vacation will be deleted. If it is important be sure to resend it on my return. Nothing worse than returning from a "digital detox" to an inbox of hundreds of emails. :-)