Always On Culture is a Killer

Published September 13, 2022
always on culture

When your dining room table does double duty as your daily desktop, figuring out where work ends and where life begins can be a doozy. In a pre-pandemic world, 2/3 of knowledge workers spent less than 1 day working from home. Now, the numbers have nearly reversed, with more than half of those employees spending the majority of their week away from the office. 

The lines are blurrier than ever. 

Add to the mix, the fact that remote workers are prone to burnout, with 2 out of three reporting that they are experiencing it. It's clear that creating a healthy relationship between home life and work life is critical to the successful engagement and retention of any workforce, and therefore the mission of any business. I hope you'll find some tips here to combat the quiet quitting and keep your people thriving!

Why so much burnout?

I'm so glad you asked. During the pandemic era (which hasn't quite come to an official close just yet), a few things happened. 

  • A massive segment of the labor force moved to some version of a remote arrangement. For many, this was a digital version of a synchronous in-office experience.
  • Division of physical space between home and office evaporated.
  • Schools and childcare services weren't operational, turning working professionals into FT educators and caregivers on top of their compensated obligations.
  • Travel and leisure activities were restricted, meaning that vacations took a vacation.

 While some of these items are squarely outside of the control of employers and HR leaders, not all organizations fell victim to their circumstances. Each element listed above can be impacted by smartly designed policies or benefits. For the purpose of this article, we'll focus in on the first point listed above.

Speaking of dining room tables... follow me on this mouth-watering analogy and we'll uncover 3 working models for the division of personal and professional and which one I recommend for a remote team that wants to combat the burnout pandemic, and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Bon Appetite!

When work is like Waffles: Work-Life Separation

Just like the deep cells of a hot and crispy Belgian waffle keep the melting butter, maple syrup, gooey strawberries, or whipped cream from spilling over into no-topping territory. Work and personal life stay neatly contained in their respective boxes. Predictability is high and the "working hours" keep things contained where they belong. 

This working model is what many expect from an office-based employment scenario. Historically, it works. The rub is that sometimes the square that's supposed to contain the work part gets way too big, and since there can be no mixing of the contents, the personal life square gets smaller and smaller. 

Having the goal of achieving work-life separation might sound like a dream, but it's only a dream as long as the work waffle square stays the size it's supposed to be. Let's be honest though, when a quarterly quota, a sick colleague, or any one of the hundreds of reasons why work might expand past its normal size, the predictable 9-5 work-life separation idea vanishes like a vision in the night. 

When work is like a Milkshake: Work-Life Integration

When you have many really great ingredients and they all get blended together in a delicious, albeit stimulating concoction. It's all the important things with no boundaries between them. Work is always on and the notifications never stop. Managers expect inboxes to be monitored and a 15-minute response time pushes the "what took you so long" boundary. 

You can identify a milkshake workplace by the employees that eat breakfast lunch and dinner next to their loved ones but have their smartphones open and a Slack or Teams app running. Workers don't turn notifications off for fear of being labeled "unresponsive" in their next annual performance review. 

Breaking free from the work-life separation model can feel like a breath of fresh air, but without some form of boundaries, people are jumping out of waffle iron and into the blender. 

When work is like a Build-Your-Own Baked Potato Bar: Work-Life Harmony

A generous helping of the things you want, where you want, and when you want. Do you do your best work before the sun or any of your children are up? Need to leave your phone behind to attend that little league game, or attempt a personal record on your local bike trail? Just like a potato bar allows the maker to design a load that suits their tastes and appetite, this model allows employees to mix and match to a schedule, workload, and routine that serves their team just as well as it serves their own needs. 

This working model has the power to allow individualized working experiences at scale. Employers align on the value that a role needs to provide to the business, setting clear expectations, and providing frequent opportunities for review and feedback. Empoyees are empowered to deliver value within the constraints of the framework, while customizing their experience and maximizing both professional output and personal presence.

For baked potatoes to succeed, employers will need to embrace an asynchronous culture of trust while letting go of the other kitchen appliances that offer more control. Results often include bacon, but they don't have to. 

Practical Takeaways

Culinary conversations aside, if you're someone that wants to empower your teammates to deliver their best work while living their best life, if you want to attract and retain highly motivated and engaged employees, here are a few tips you might want to save:

  1. Fewer meetings, more doings. Start with a foundational approach of generous documentation and transparency. These two elements support an asynchronous workplace and dissolve the dependencies of real-time meetings, timezones, and corporate office hours. Rely more on periodic written updates or web based task management software than on in-person syncs or group meetings. Check out this awesome yes/no chart about meetings from the great people at Doist.
  2. Reward goal-smashing over presence. Perfect attendance was once revered as an indicator of commitment. In today's technology enabled workplace, attendance has very little to do with productivity. Participation in virtual or onsite happy hours might create the appearance of an engaged team member, but tying evaluations and rewards to reaching goals allows people to invest their time in the things that create the most value for the company and at home.
  3. Normalize humanity. As a leader with a heavy load of competing priorities, it's just as important that you create a harmony between the work you love and the life you live. Lead by example and show your team that it's okay to have some delayed response time while investing in yourself and your loved ones. Better yet, post a picture about it and challenge your colleagues to the same. Consider using a tool like Kona to promote this kind of thing.

Want to talk about how you can build more harmony into your workplace? Have a great example of how you've done it where you are? Drop me a line, I'd love to hear about it.

This post is adapted from a live presentation by Lance Robbins shared at WordFest Live in March 2022. See the full video here.