Start­ing this year, peo­ple work­ing at Daim­ler will not have to come back from vaca­tions with an e-mail­box jammed with cor­re­spon­dence they missed dur­ing their days off. Nor is Daim­ler ask­ing them to attend to these e-mails while they are away. Instead, e-mails addressed to away-employ­ees will be auto-answered with the name of the on-duty employ­ee who is cov­er­ing their respon­si­bil­i­ties.

This is part of a new ini­tia­tive at Daim­ler, report­ed by Tanya Mohn in a recent issue of The New York Times. There’s a new log­ic at Daim­ler when it comes to work/life bal­ance. Accord­ing to Mohn: “No one is expect­ed to be on call at all hours of the day and night, and ‘switch­ing off’ after work is impor­tant, ‘even if you are on a busi­ness trip,’ said Sab­ri­na Schrimpf, a Daim­ler spokes­woman, refer­ring to the company’s recent­ly released report, ‘Bal­anced! — Rec­on­cil­ing Employ­ees’ Work and Pri­vate Lives.’”

Tired managerThe prob­lem of hav­ing to always be on-call when it comes to your job – evenings, overnight, hol­i­days, week­ends, vaca­tions – is a famil­iar one to many, who now feel guilty if they miss even one call from the office. Mohn’s arti­cle includes some sta­tis­tics from a 2012 sur­vey done by the Pew Research Cen­ter. Of 2,254 peo­ple sur­veyed, some 44 per cent of those own­ing cell­phones slept with it acti­vat­ed and next to their bed. Think that’s bad, try this addi­tion­al stat: “67 per­cent had expe­ri­enced ‘phan­tom rings’, check­ing their phone even when it was not ring­ing or vibrat­ing.”

The NYT arti­cle rein­forced for me my long-time per­cep­tion that tech­nol­o­gy and glob­al trav­el often dis­rupt work in unpro­duc­tive ways. Sure, there will always be worka­holics who, in spite of com­pa­ny poli­cies to the con­trary, will force them­selves to be 24/7 slaves to their careers and to their com­pa­nies.

Yet, this arti­cle and oth­ers like it are now not­ing that com­pa­nies have awak­ened to the real­i­ty that employ­ees who are always on may also be oper­at­ing at far less than peak effi­cien­cy. Har­vard Pro­fes­sor Leslie Per­low, who has writ­ten a book on this sub­ject, is quot­ed in the NYT piece with a thought that you should per­haps write or type 100 times so you don’t for­get it: “Being con­stant­ly on actu­al­ly under­mines pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.”

And I would argue that employ­ees who can par­ti­tion them­selves so that work is not 100 per cent of their exis­tence are not only bet­ter rest­ed, they are quite prob­a­bly more able to think clear­ly, more acute in their crit­i­cal judge­ment, more capa­ble of con­struc­tive inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and more open to util­is­ing their cre­ativ­i­ty.

Hav­ing seen dozens of man­agers in the mid­dle of var­i­ous lev­els of work­place duress, it is always appar­ent to me when an exec­u­tive is too tired to think. Relent­less work and over­bear­ing stress have made them prey to far too many hasty and ill-con­ceived deci­sions. As lead­ers face more think­ing-inten­sive prob­lems, man­ag­ing time, ener­gy and pri­or­i­ties becomes even more impor­tant. Are there times when some­one has to be total­ly focussed on his or her work? Sure. But those times should be the excep­tion, not the rule. The rule should be that always on is not always smart!

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