Just Say No to 24-Hour Workdays

Workplace flexibility is one of the tangible advantages in today's offices. Being able to work from home or handle an emergency after hours can make all the difference in getting the job done — and keeping it. But that availability can easily tip into relentless accessibility, and keeping employees perpetually on call can wreak havoc on their physical and mental health. Finding the right balance, however, can be harder than it looks.

Researchers at the University of Surrey have presented new evidence that employers need subtler, more individualized solutions for offering optimal workplace flexibility. Many employees feel pressured to work or be available to work long after normal business hours. Yet well-meaning managers can get in their own way with measures like cutting off email servers after end of day. Both of these stem from the mother of all impediments: lack of communication.

Even for workers who can set good boundaries in their personal lives, creating healthy expectations at the office can seem intimidating. If you're an employee, especially in a busy or short-staffed position, you may feel like you have no power to negotiate. But if you present your manager with a plan of action that visibly improves both your work and your personal health, you're off to a great start. Your manager can't know what is and isn't working without a clear channel for conversation.

The onus for change, however, must be on employers overall. There is an imbalance of power, and managers need to recognize how much they hold without ever speaking about it. Take care to watch whether your team is spread thin or overwhelmed, and actively consult with individual employees about what's best for them. If that means shifting works hours, changing responsibilities, or telecommuting one day a week, work with them — after all, what's best for your employees is generally good for your bottom line too.