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Why IT Workers Need to Unplug

In the IT industry, 60-hour workweeks and bringing work home are not uncommon occurrences. In fact, many IT workers are hyper-dedicated to their jobs — but just like any employee, they need to take some time off once in a while. A healthy work-life balance is essential for maintaining enthusiasm and productivity, and avoiding burnout, stress, and physical health problems.

There are several reasons IT pros may fail to take sufficient time to “unplug,” ranging from strong personal drives to company policies on time off that don’t coordinate well with their needs. Here’s how you can encourage your IT team to take the time off they need, and maintain a productive balance between life and work.

Get flexible

Flexible scheduling is a popular benefit that many IT pros would love to have — but some employers have misconceptions about what a flexible schedule really means. Allowing for flexible scheduling does not mean giving employees free rein to come and go whenever they want. Rather, flex time is a policy that spells out the possibilities for flexible hours, and allows employees to choose the best schedule within those choices.

A flexible schedule can be as simple as a range of starting and ending times, with the employees’ choice of which eight hours they’d prefer to work within those times. More sophisticated flexible scheduling might include four-day workweeks or part-time telecommuting.

Use a paid time off (PTO) system with limited carryover

If your organization uses traditional paid vacations, sick time, and personal days, consider a more general paid time off (PTO) approach. Even the most generous traditional paid leave programs can be restrictive — especially if employees are required to provide documentation or proof of how they spent their leave days. Trusting employees to use their paid time off as they see fit helps to encourage a stronger work-life balance.

In addition, it is beneficial to your IT team to limit carryover of PTO to the next quarter or year, and to limit or avoid “paying out” paid leave days as salary instead of actual time off. The goal of offering paid time off is to encourage employees to actually take time off and recharge — and for those who are reluctant to do so, a limited carryover will encourage them to take advantage of the paid leave.

Make sure time off is truly “off”

When IT employees take time off, there is often an unspoken expectation that they should still be reachable, even when they’re not at work. With email and voicemail, 24-7 connections are common — and can be taken for granted. Encourage your IT team to truly unplug while taking time off, up to and including setting messages that state they’re out of the office and not available until their return to work.

You can further encourage this type of healthy disconnect by practicing what you preach, and ensuring that managers and senior staff also follow the unplugged model. If team leaders and managers still respond to emails and take calls while they’re supposed to be on vacation, employees will get the unspoken message that they’re expected to do the same.

Often, your IT team may need some encouragement to truly unplug from their work — but you can help them find a healthier and more productive balance by making it easier to take time off when needed, and come back to work refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.

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