Subscribe to our newsletter

Time to Switch off!

July 5, 2021
5 minute read

There have been many reports over the last 18 months around the issues of home working. As Boris Johnson told everyone to ‘work from home if you can’, many people, who were used to the daily commute to the office, set up camp in their dining room, with little real understanding of how long this situation would last.

Of course, for the majority of the early years sector, working from home just wasn’t an option. Children needed the safe and stable environment of their early years setting, especially the children of parents who were classed as critical workers during the pandemic. The vast majority of early years leaders continued to open their doors, and their arms, to welcome children and families.

There is no doubt that, whatever sector you work in, work has certainly become more stressful over the pandemic. Zoom meetings, video calls, and e-meetings have become the norm, resulting in many of us spending far more time in front of a screen that we ever imagined we would.

This shift towards electronic contact has also started to blur the lines around work hours. Many leaders tell us that they feel a huge pressure to check emails, jump on video calls and to be on hand at all hours of the day. As more and more parents work flexible hours from home, there appears to be a misconception that it’s ok to expect nursery leaders to be available when it suits them. Leading early years settings through the pandemic has led to the mental health of many early years leaders being compromised, whilst setting a president that they will be available and ‘on call’ whenever needed.

What’s more, as leaders ourselves, we often have staff WhatsAp groups, to keep everyone in the loop, share ideas, and communicate with the whole team. Is there an expectation that this is used and responded to in the evenings too? Research by the Myers-Briggs Company found that those who are “always on” are usually more engaged at work, but also more likely to experience stress or mental exhaustion.

However trade union, Prospect, has called for the government to give employees a legally binding "right to disconnect", putting an end to emailing or calling outside of set working hours.

"While digital technology has kept us safe during the pandemic, for millions of people, working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office, making it harder to fully switch off," says Prospect's deputy general secretary, Andrew Pakes.

The right to disconnect has been law in France for the last 4 years. French organisations are asked to set agreed "specific hours" for "teleworkers". Ireland also adopted a code of practice where employers should add "footers and pop-up messages to remind employees... that there is no requirement to reply to emails out of hours".

In the Myers-Briggs research, 28% per cent of workers said they found it difficult to mentally switch off from their jobs because of access to work emails and smartphones, while 26% said the expectation to be always on interferes with their personal life. A further 20% of people said being constantly connected to work made them feel mentally exhausted.

With parents feeling unable to switch off, do they too feel a growing expectation that early years leaders will answer email enquiries, respond to messages and engage in discourse about their child out of nursery hours?

As leaders, we must accept some responsibility for encouraging people to respect our boundaries between work and home. Being clear with parents that you will respond within work hours is essential. Moreover, not responding to staff chat messages outside of work hours is a great example to set to your team. Whilst for some, chatting during the evenings is a fun way to engage, for others the pressure to respond quickly can feel immense.

If you’re the kind of leader that just has to send an email now – because let’s face it, there’s a million other things we need to do and if we don’t send that email now, we will forget – schedule it to send at a specific time the following day. This will help you to switch off, with another thing ticked off your to do list, without impacting on the receiver or making them feel like they should respond. Even better, don’t have your work emails accessible on your mobile – or at least have them turned off in the evening. Just knowing there’s an email sitting unread in your inbox, from that disgruntled parent, will have your mind whirling and worrying in no time.

Switching off, both electronically and mentally, is essential for you and your team, make it a priority and maybe discuss this at your next staff meeting. Find out how you team like to disconnect and what relaxation means to them outside of work. By having an understanding of their life after hours, you may think twice before sending that email or text message. And don’t forget to make time for yourself too, caring for your mental and physical health, will lead to greater effectiveness, we promise!

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram