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Plugged In and Shorting Out

Published Friday Apr 24, 2015


Here’s a quick quiz. Which scenario best defines your daily schedule? 

A. I am all about work between 9 and 5 and leave work behind when I head home.

B. When big projects are due I work extra but otherwise leave work at work.

C. I periodically check work email from home and respond.

D. I have a flexible schedule and do some of my work from home.

E. I check work email and respond all the time on weekends and evenings.

If you answered A or B, you likely mastered time travel and dropped in from the 1980s. For most people these days, the line between work and home has blurred. Email, smartphones, laptops and apps allow continual connection. But that connectivity does not always result in more productivity.

Business NH Magazine asked users on NHLabornet, a discussion group for NH HR professionals, how connected employees are expected to be and how much is too much. A human resources director at a law firm fell into the C category, explaining that being connected and responsive was a plus, but having less time with family was a negative. A sales executive and business owner fessed up to sneakily checking email on a recent beach vacation to Turks & Caicos. Another HR executive reports the former owners of her company did not ask employees to work after hours. But the new owners provided cell phones and laptops to employees, expecting them to check and answer emails when not at work. Employees overwhelmingly don’t like it, this employee says.

Employee engagement expert Bob Kelleher, CEO of the Employee Engagement Group in Massachusetts, says businesses must recognize it’s not about managing work/life balance but understanding work/life blending.

“Technology is making the walls between work and life extremely porous,” says Kelleher. “People bring their whole selves to work. Where you get into trouble is if one side digs in and demands too much or refuses to give anything. Or there is unreasonableness on both sides … When you give, you get.” This, he says, applies to everyone. So if you expect employees to answer emails and work on weekends, he coaches companies to let employees leave work early to attend a child’s sports events with no ramifications.

An Unbalanced World

The Mayo Clinic reports that people constantly checking email and responding to every ping on their iPhone are subject to fatigue, which can reduce productivity. Working extra, even by choice, can also create unintended problems. Employees checking work email during off hours are technically on the clock. “For salaried employees it doesn’t matter, but if you are an hourly employee or salary exempt and eligible for overtime, technically you are on the clock and should be compensated,” says James P. Reidy, an employment attorney with Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green in Manchester.

The U.S. Department of Labor has an app to help employees independently track their hours and determine the wages they are owed for extra hours.  That information is admissible for a wage claim against a company, Reidy says. He suggests employers ask salary exempt and hourly employees to ask permission before regularly working extra hours. Those employers, he says, should then pay them for the time, unless it's just an email saying you are running late.

Setting Expectations

Regularly working weekends is not always a problem, and Kelleher uses himself as an example. When his kids were younger, he coached all their sports and worked weekends to make up the time. The arrangement worked because both employer and employee agreed on the expectations.

Kelleher says employers must set clear expectations about off-hours work. If employees don’t like those expectations, they will likely “speak with their feet” and seek other jobs. He says problems also arise because company cultures established by baby boomers of the 9-to-5 era have more millennials in them, and millennials are into the virtual workspace where getting it done—not a location and time—matters most.

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