Employers should respect employees’ downtime’
There was a time when Gillian Cross wasn’t getting home until 9pm most evenings.
And once the Axa XL human resource manager did get home, she spent much of the evening dealing with office e-mails.
“My daughters were 8 and 3 at the time,” Ms Cross said. “They said, ‘Mom you’re never here’. I said, ‘Oh my God, you’re right. I am not present’.”
After that, she started putting her phone away more, to have better quality time with her children.
At a Bermuda Insurance Market Conference panel about workplace wellbeing, held on Thursday, Ms Cross said employers need to be respectful of employee downtime.
“Employers should be mindful of when they are sending work-related e-mails to colleagues, who are thinking: my manager sent me a message at 9pm, I have to respond,” she said. “That is cutting into their sleep time and family time.”
She said sometimes it’s important to take a step back and ask, is this really a matter of life and death?
“Am I going to really lose the business if I don’t respond to this e-mail at 10pm,” she said.
Ms Cross said some bosses excuse it by saying, ‘we have this project we’re working on’, but in reality there’s a project every day, in most companies.
“At what point do we move away and give people their time back,” Ms Cross said.
She said in many fields, particularly accounting, there is always a weekend when people have to work late at month end, or year end.
“People are deprived from getting sleep,” she said. “I understand that business has to go on, and if you are not at pace with the market you will be behind. Everyone is in this race of being first and being on top of everything. Sometimes we forget the most important asset we have is our people.”
Another panellist, family therapist Latisha Lister-Burgess, said work-life balance is a “unicorn” if employees can’t shout “uncle” when things get to be too much.
“In some companies, saying I can’t do it is a sign of weakness,” Ms Lister said. “So people keep grinding out and hope they won’t pass out.”
She said it was all well and good to set up wellness initiatives, but they’re not as effective if the company culture doesn’t embrace them.
“We can say we have these wellness programmes or wellness station things, but if the individual message is it’s there so we tick a box, but we expect you to actually grind out at your desk, then people won’t feel safe about taking on the things they need to,” said Ms Lister-Burgess, executive director of the Employee Assistance Programme.
“One of the things I am finding is most effective is when participation comes from the top. There are certain companies here that have given themselves a good reputation for actively looking after their people. It has to be deliberate.
“I know one company where the CEO had a major problem with his own health. He said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to die for this job and I don’t expect anyone else to either’. They actually made a whole cultural shift of them saying to people what we have been demanding of you is too much.”
The company started a dialogue with their employees about how work got done, and how they could support employees to have a happy life outside of work.
All panellists said adequate sleep was an important part of employee health and wellness.
“There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “When people go too long without sleep the brain starts to mimic a mental health breakdown. It is not just that you need more sleep to be a happier person; your brain literally needs a certain amount of sleep to heal itself.”
Ms Lister-Burgess said some people think they can work late at the office during the week, then make up for any lost sleep by sleeping for a long time on the weekends.
“There is no such thing as sleep banking,” she said. “The body does not actually store up your sleep, then repair what you missed.”
Nutritional therapist Catherine Burns said it’s recommended that people get at least six hours of sleep each night. She said that if you drop to less than five hours, your immune system is impacted, sometimes dropping to less than 30 per cent of what it should be.
“That is important not just for colds and flu, but also for cancer,” Ms Burns said.
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