by Terri R. Kurtzberg and Jennifer L. Gibbs, co-authors of “Distracted: Staying Connected without Losing Focus“
As an entrepreneur, you will likely end up with two completely different jobs. One is to produce or offer something that the world values and thus create a line of revenue. But in addition, you also hope to end up in the position of having to manage other people, and thus will need to set the tone for a company as it grows and thrives, to decide what rules and behaviors will work best not just for you but for others who will look to you to make these kinds of decisions.
One of the tricky areas to get right in today’s world is the balance between being connected to work through our wireless devices and protecting some pure time off. By now, this is probably a familiar tension for nearly everyone — while being able to keep tabs on work even while out of the office creates some impressive freedoms, it also strips us of having any reliable down-time, as emails and messages creep into our nights, weekends, and even vacations.
Some people defend this “bleeding” of work into home-life, stating that addressing things as they arise allows for so much more efficiency, and prevents a miserable stacking-up of messages and tasks upon return to the office. Some even justify working through vacations for just this reason, as well as a sense (real or imagined) that tragedy will ensue if all questions and issues aren’t handled immediately. Others just hate the intrusion and resent the colleagues and bosses who expect round-the-clock attention and fast response rates. Many people feel pressure to keep up this pace only because others are doing so.
The thing is, your company when it’s brand-new and it’s mostly just you (or you and a small team) is a very different thing from your company once you have an actual list of employees of any real size. At the very beginning, your decisions about how you work only affect yourself. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or even productive to try and cram in as much as possible into every minute of your time—burnout in the long term is a real and serious problem, and higher rates of error and an actual slowdown of progress can result from trying to do too many things at the same time in the short term. People need breaks, and sleep, and full-on vacations to recharge. But that being said, deciding when and how to work is still a personal decision when it’s just you who is affected.
But once other people depend on you to set the tone and create the policies by which they will work and live, the burden changes. Not only for their happiness and satisfaction should you care about these issues, but also for your bottom line. Research shows that people are more productive, and stay with their companies for longer periods of time, when they have more predictable down-time, including required vacations. People need to know that there are “blackout hours” when work email cannot be sent and nobody is required to be available — if all nights and weekends is too much to expect, then perhaps even just certain nights of the week and certain weekend hours? Even this would help employees feel a sense of balance about their workload, and would relieve some psychological pressure. Other options being experimented with by some companies include closing the entire business for the same two-week period to give everyone true time off with no backlog of work upon return, or even offering a small bonus for using all vacation time (given that only 25% of Americans currently use all of their vacation time).
Keep in mind, your career, and your growing business, are a marathon, not a sprint. You will want to make sure you set the wheels in motion so as to sustainably get the best out of all of the people who are there to make your idea grow into the best business it can be.
Terri R. Kurtzberg, PhD is associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, Newark and New Brunswick, NJ and Jennifer L. Gibbs, PhD, is associate professor of communication at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information in New Brunswick, NJ. They are co-authors of “Distracted: Staying Connected without Losing Focus“.