Back in the early days of when I worked for Automattic, the folks behind this very blogging platform, new hire training was done over the course of two or three days. Full-time reps were asked to take training shifts of about a half-a-day each and cover certain topics for whichever session they were teaching.

Being the team player that I was, I tried to help out as much as I could. In each case, I would generally try and get that very first session on Monday morning because I would always sneakily add in one additional little bit to my agenda.

I would tell everyone to work less.

Less is More

I know that sounds like pure madness, especially on the first day of training at a new company, but stick with me. And also know that now that I have grown my own Customer Service organization from only 3 to 30+, I’ve not only told all of the new CS reps the same thing, I’ve told all of the other people who have come through training/onboarding as well:

Work less.

Well . . . ish. My message to each new hire training class goes something along the lines of this:

In this connected world, it is ridiculously easy for you to be connected to work all the time. Every moment that you’re awake you can be reached, and you can even program your phone to wake you up if a crucial email comes in (I know because I have done it!). You could be eating dinner and working, watching telly at night and responding to tickets, or lying in bed and chatting via slack. If you let it, work can and will impact your personal life — and I’d like to assure you that it won’t be for the positive. I have personally seen relationships crumble and health go from amazing to “dear god, when was the last time you saw the sun?” And you don’t even have to take my word for it. Studies from Cornell, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and the Harvard Business Review all show the ill effects from working longer hours.

There are hours that you will need to be at work. Discuss them with your boss and then — here’s the tough part — stick with them. When you’re done for the day, LOG OFF. Make sure that you’re available via whatever means your company requires for emergencies, but then go and enjoy the fruits of your labours. There will always be times wherein you need to stay late or log in to deal with an emergency and that is 100% appropriate, but those should be one-off situations. If they are the norm, you are not being efficient and there are plenty of studies to prove it.

I have been this guy. Learn from me. Do not be me.

So Why Bother?

It’s pretty obvious why you would want to maintain a work/life balance if you’re one of the people that I was generally giving this talk to in the first place. Doing it can be hard but the benefits are there to be seen.

It’s not always so obvious for the bosses, however.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, in the abstract every single employer and boss in the world is a huge fan of work/life balance. There’s no hard sell here! But the implementation of the daily practices are a bit more tough. It can be expensive to staff up a department to a point where people don’t have to work overtime every day. It can require patience and dedication to have a culture where the expectation is that you do not respond to emails and pings outside of work hours. And it requires extraordinary skill to systematically minimize emergencies which require employees to log on at all hours of the day and night.

But year over year, companies who win awards like Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” tend to score high in work/life balance and companies who implement these kinds of best practices experience incredibly low employee turnover, with my own Customer Support/Success department at ReCharge having nearly a 100% retention rate during my tenure.

That Sounds Good and All, But . . .

So you may have already made some cultural decisions which are . . . let’s say not in line with this. What can you do to change?

I’m so glad you asked!

The very first thing you’ll need to do is check in with the rest of leadership in your organization. Does everyone else see the potential for issues and agree that something needs to be done? It will take behavioural change on everyone’s parts to make an impact, so there has to be complete buy-in.

Once you’ve got that buy-in, the next thing that you can (and should!) do is to be the change that you want to see in the world. I’m the first to say that is a difficult thing to do. I know first hand just how difficult it is to log off — to not be the first one in and the last one out — but it is 100% necessary. While you’re at it, make sure the other leaders are doing it too. It’s important that you not sneak out: let your reps see that it’s OK to leave on time and that on time is neither early nor late; it’s the time wherein you’re supposed to arrive and leave!

After that, it becomes a simple act of spreading the message. Make work-life balance one of your departments or organizations unofficial (or official!) core values. Call out and recognize people who make a point of practicing responsible working habits.

A Story in Closing . . .

Just a short while ago, I had a problem with one of my teams. I had backslid myself a few weeks previously and had been working longer and longer hours and hadn’t been setting a good example. Even my wife had to sit me down and ask, in all seriousness, if she and I were OK because it seemed like I was avoiding coming home (I wasn’t! I was letting the job work me instead of working the job). I thought that I had corrected course without too much of an impact, but then . . .

I heard from one of the team leads in my department that her entire team had spontaneously logged in to the queue hours after their shift to help out our fledgling 2nd shift and to clear the queue.

I was faced with a conundrum.

This type of behaviour was beautiful. They were showing compassion for a team member and for our customers while taking ownership of the queue. But at the same time, they were ignoring one of the main precepts which I had been trying to teach them. Plus, it was potentially my own fault.

Needless to say, nobody was punished for logging in. I mean obviously. Instead, I spent some time talking with each representative and reminded them of all of the points which I laid out in this very article:

  • That there will ALWAYS be times where we need to jump online and help out, and great job taking the initiative to recognize that time!
  • But that this has to be one-off, otherwise it becomes “your job” instead of a “special effort.”
  • If there are emergencies wherein we truly need you, their lead or I will let them know.

I wish that I could say that was all that I ever needed to say again to any of those reps and that from that point on they were shining examples in every standard of Customer Support, but we all know that it doesn’t work like that. Different conversations had to be had and of course some of those had to be repeated before they sunk in. But this incident has stuck with me as one of those moments where I was both frustrated and SO proud of one of my teams.

In short, it was one of those incidents that makes this all worth it!

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