It sounds quaint to talk about clocking out, doesn’t it?
Every facilities manager has a story about 2 a.m. phone calls over ruptured pipes or having to drive back to an office building because someone was locked out.
For FMs, there is always an expectation that you will be available, whether on the clock or not. Integrated buildings, smart technology and mobile communications have only created new pathways for that stress to reach you when you’re trying to have dinner with your family, too. That ruptured pipe isn’t a phone call anymore — it’s a push notification.
Let’s take a look at why the ideal of work-life balance is a little bit harder for most FMs to achieve, and what you can do to skew that balance in your favor.
A Growing Concern for Facilities Managers?
The irony here is that many FMs spend so much time making other people’s work lives less stressful that they end up taking that stress home. And as facilities themselves become increasingly manageable from remote locations, it’s going to be tempting to check in after hours on the wastewater system or whether the HVAC’s demand response is working properly.
Most American Workers Feel Pressured to Work After Hours
Work creeping into our personal lives is a reality for most people these days. Lydia Dishman at Fast Company reports on a Workplace Flexibility study that found one in five of the employees surveyed devoted at least 20 hours of their own personal time to work issues. And their reasons for doing so are familiar.
“Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and accessible WiFi, work doesn’t need to be left at the office,” Dishman writes. “The survey found that the majority of workers — 65% of employees — say that their manager expects them to be reachable outside of the office. That squares with the 64% of employers who expect staff to be on call when they are officially off the clock.”
The case could be made that many people simply feel more productive away from the distractions of work, so they’re simply playing catchup from home. Brady Mick from BHDP Architecture has a piece at IFMA.org that argues most workplaces don’t make room for employees to mentally process their work.
“Today’s workers have lost their ability and their time to think while in the office; mitigating a migration out of assigned workspaces,” Mick writes. “As employees disengage, businesses suffer as well. In truth, regardless of the job, or industry, everyone needs time to process information, research and investigate.”
An FM’s Own Unique Brand of Work Creep
Communications technology is slowly rendering the office obsolete in many companies. And the appeal of remote work and having a totally flexible work schedule holds a great deal of promise for many modern employees. “Instead of missing out on all the life happening between your morning and evening commute, you can schedule work around life events,” Elizabeth Dukes at iOffice points out. “Instead of feeling guilty for missing your parents’ anniversary party or your child’s soccer game, you can work around these moments.”
As more and more businesses adopt remote working policies, facilities management will begin to evolve to a role that involves maintaining physical and digital spaces, CrowdComfort writes:
“More specifically, this means treating the internet as both a core utility and as an extension of the office. These efforts can start with steps as simple as ensuring that the location of wireless routers provides adequate WiFi coverage for all tenants in a building. Just as temperature is tracked for comfort across different floors, so should internet speed be tracked for all users in an office.”
So, just as remote workers are learning how to navigate work-life integration, where the lines between on the clock and off the clock blur, the FMs who maintain those physical and digital realms must accommodate this always-on mode of productivity.
And when an employee working from home at 2 a.m. has an issue that falls within the jurisdiction of the facilities department, someone might need to be available to help her.
5 Tips for FMs to Set New Work-Life Boundaries
As the conditions that could compel an FM to be in “always on” mode grow, so does the need to set appropriate boundaries to keep work from creeping into all hours of your day. Here are five things you can do to strike that necessary balance.
Disconnecting from the work network, not checking work emails and putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode can feel drastic to many people, but it ultimately helps you do your job better.
“People who are able to unplug from work activities when off the job experience lower levels of fatigue and job burnout,” EHS Today’s Laura Walter reports after a conversation with Kansas State University professor YoungAh Park.
“They also have higher levels of positive emotions and life satisfaction than those who remain connected to work-related tasks and matters outside of normal work hours. Creating a strong work-home boundary and setting restrictions on work-related communications while at home can help workers psychologically detach from work.”
2. Set Definitions for What Issues Demand an Immediate Response
“You’ll know when something is enough of an emergency to keep working after hours,” LifeHack’s Vidhya Ravi writes. “A general rule of thumb I use is if this is something someone would have picked up the phone and called me about ten years ago after hours, then it’s worth being responsive. If not, it can wait until the next business day.”
3. Communicate Your Unavailability During After-Work Hours
Easier said than done, sure, but make an effort to let management and co-workers know when you won’t be available, and stick to that policy. As an FM, you’ll have to be flexible, but you could stipulate that Thursday nights, for example, are off-limits for family time.
“To communicate your boundaries, you could include a statement in your email signature about when you check and don’t check email and how quickly people can expect to receive a response,” Dr. Juliana Breines writes at Psychology Today. “If you stick to your policy, people will learn to work around it (and hopefully won’t expect a response at 2 a.m.)”
4. What Gets Measured Gets Managed: Log the Hours You Spend Working After Hours
The UK’s Mental Health Foundation has excellent tips for maintaining work-life balance, one of which is to keep track of extra hours worked over several weeks or even months, then loop others into your plan to make a healthy change:
“Take account of hours spent worrying or thinking about work when assessing your work–life balance. These are a legitimate part of work and a good indicator of work-related stress. If possible, assess your work–life balance with your colleagues and with the support and involvement of managerial staff. The more visible the process, the more likely it is to have an effect.”
Being able to hand off responsibilities is one of the great perks of being a manager. Take advantage of that ability.
“Letting your staff or team members take on some responsibility not only gives you a break, but lets them grow as employees,” Supercompressor’s Joe Oliveto writes at Huffington Post. “It’s a lot easier for you to chill at home when you’re confident that someone else is making sure the office doesn’t burn down.”