Should you take work home with you?

Are you risking your personal life or your career by not having a balance between home, social and work life?

Some thrive on work so much they carry on when they get home.  Others want no mention of the office – and certainly no contact – when they aren’t there.

Reducing employee burnout

Across the channel, employee burnout is taken so seriously that there are laws to prevent employees from having to read work emails at home. And Lidl in Belgium has banned all work emails between 6 pm and 7 am.

German carmaker Volkswagen has configured its server so employees can only get emails to their phones from half an hour before and after work and not at all at the weekend. 

However closer to home, researchers at the University of Sussex found that banning staff from looking at work emails while at home could be counterproductive.  It said that strict policies on email could be bad for employees “with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism”.

Clear guidance on working remotely

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) told BBC News: “Simply banning the use of emails out of hours may actually make some people more stressed because they would like to, or need to, work flexibly.

Employers need to provide clear guidance on remote working, including on the use of email and other forms of digital communication, to ensure that if people are accessing emails out of hours they are doing so because it suits them.”

Key takeaway: It’s not as simple as saying all communications outside work should be banned: some employees would find that added to their stress.

Identifying what works best for you

How much you blur your working and home life should be up to you. Paula Gardner is a business psychologist working with organisations on communication and productivity. “The choice between working or not working when not at work should come from you” she says.

“Think about what you want and what you are comfortable with. If you’ve got a young family you might reasonably want clear boundaries”.

Keeping in touch

Don’t feel guilty if you let work-life encroach on your home life. “Some people like to keep on top of things perhaps because they don’t want to go back to chaos,” says Gardner. “I am one of those people who want to keep up to date with emails on holiday even if it’s just a ten minute catch up once a day. I am comfortable with this and wouldn’t relax if I didn’t know what was going on”.

Key takeaway: If it would stress you too much not to be in touch with work while you’re not there, then stay in touch.  

Considering the needs of others

Do remember that while you might be happy to be called at all hours at home, you might have partners/families/friends to consider. “They have needs too and if you’re working when you should be having family time that’s not conducive to good family life” says Gardner. But at the same time, those you live with need to be considerate too.

You might have to take work home because there’s an urgent project to be done. “If you do want or need to take work home then it’s a good idea to set a time aside and once you’ve done that, you can give your family your complete attention” says Gardner “Keep the barriers firm!”

How do you like to be contacted?

Think about how you like being contacted in or inside work. “I’ve heard of a company which asks its employees how they like to be contacted” says Gardner. “Some, for example, always want to be emailed because there’s an audit trail, while another person likes quick conversations to get things sorted.

If you can say this is what works for me (and why) in contact terms in and out of the office, then it sets boundaries”.

Harnessing technology

You can use technology to control the times and methods you use to keep in touch with work. Heather Black is a Salesforce Consultant and Co-founder of Supermums which upskills parents to work in salesforce roles flexibly, whether from home or from the office, full or part-time.

She says: “Our emails are set up so they automatically show the hours we work so anyone contacting us will know when we will be contactable.

“Another tool is to use a service such as Calendly which lets you book in times for appointments in your absence – it’s like having an automated PA”. In addition, technology can allow you to have face-to-face conversations with colleagues when you’re not in the office: if you want to.

Key takeaway: Use technology to keep in touch and limit contact to when you want it.

 What’s the culture?

The problem might be that even if you are happy with the job you’re doing, you’re actually not suited to the culture of the organisation. Identify what that is, and you’ll know if it suits the way you work and play.

Gardner explains: “Are people wanting to keep their heads down and work or is there a more social aspect? You might find that you are in the right job but in a company with the wrong culture for you – if so, my advice would be to look around for someplace with a culture which will suit you”.

Key takeaway: Think about how you like to work while at work – and look for a company which suits your choice of working lifestyle

In Summary

Think about how you want to balance your work and home life. There’s nothing wrong with reading work emails or doing some writing while you’re at home if that’s what makes you happy. On the other hand, if you really want to keep work and home separate then you need to make this clear to colleagues so you won’t be contacted out of hours.

Further reading:

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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