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Are you one of those people who can't shut down over the weekend? Or worse yet, you can't shut down during the evening? Well you're not alone. Last spring the Society of Human Resource Management completed a survey and found that 70% of workers work beyond their scheduled work hours, including weekends. And, that over half of these respondents were doing this because of their own self-limiting beliefs that they needed to be putting in the extra hours.

As Americans we pride ourselves in our work ethic. But too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

The Cost of Working Too Much

So what's the big deal if you are working more than the people around you at work and home? Lots! The costs of not taking time off can include:
  • Strained personal relationships-both family and friends are impacted by the person who has become disconnected
  • Health problems-when you don't take time to care for your body, many health problems can arise including sleep and weight problems to start. Added stress can also lead to cardiovascular and gastric problems.
  • Poor decisions-a higher incident of poor decisions are seen as the work hours increase

Benefits from Taking Time Out and Time Off

An article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Making Time Off Predictable and Required by Leslie A. Perlow and Jessica L. Porter report on a four year study with 12 consulting teams at Boston Consulting Group that were required to take a predictable amount of time off during each work week. The results of this study showed that when the consultants had to work together to make sure that each team member got some time off each week, communications were enhanced, and more personal information was shared leading to closer relationships with each other. And because they had to plan engagements out farther in advance, clients received better services.

Not all companies are organized like a Boston Consulting Group, so how can you implement a Time Out-Time Off program in your organization or in your personal life?

Steps for the Business Leader

As a business leader, your greatest resources are the people who come to work each day. Without them, there is no business. So it makes sense to encourage taking time off based on the evidence from the HBR article previously sited. Below are some ideas you can use to make sure that your team members are taking time out and time off.

  1. Start tracking employee overtime and skipped vacation time. Include these measurements in employee performance feedback. Skipped vacation should be unacceptable and overtime should be discouraged.
  2. When vacations are scheduled get team members to develop a support plan for the employee who will be out to insure that the vacationing employee can fully disconnect.
  3. Provide time for employees to "sharpen their saw". Each employee will have different priorities for renewing themselves. The priorities can include professional or personal development, physical, emotional, and spiritual to name a few.
  4. Encourage volunteer work by providing time for employees to leave work to help with their favorite charity.
  5. Build a culture of time out/time off by sharing with each other stories about the time spent not working. The sharing can be done during team meetings, through the company intranet. You could even create a contest of the most interesting story that is shared.

Steps for the Individual

Here are some tips for you to take more time out and time off:

  • When working, take 5 minute breaks every 30-40 minutes to stretch. Get up, walk around, and drink water (an important nutrient for the brain). The change in pace will re-energize you for the next block of work time. You'll find that when you make this a habit, your productivity will increase and more than make up for the 5 minute investments.
  • Schedule personal time for your important relationships. Studies show that at least 20 minutes are needed to just maintain a relationship with a greater amount of time needed to improve and grow a relationship.
  • Have dinner with your family. Make this time where you share your day and learn about each other's day. One tool that I use is two questions to get the conversation going: "What is your "peach" of the day?" and "What is your "pit" of the day?" These questions are easy for children to understand and respond.
  • Don't skip vacations. Make time to plan and prepare for vacation. And when the time comes, disconnect, no iPhones or laptops! Make sure you have someone who can back you up while you're gone.

Whether you are leading an entire business, managing a team, or working on your own, the benefits of integrating a time off-time out routine are clear and the steps not difficult.

The question is, why not?


Larry Hart

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