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For many professionals, working hours are not strictly from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday anymore. You may find yourself bringing projects home to finish after hours or answering emails on your smartphone while spending time with your family on the weekend.

With technology increasing our accessibility, it’s normal for work-life balance to become a gray area. But the question is: when does professionalism in the workplace go too far? Should you be expected to answer work emails at midnight or be available for phone calls at all times? Does personal effectiveness improve or suffer from constant connectivity?

Professionalism in the Workplace & Work-Life Balance Can Co-Exist

Sometimes it’s inevitable that you will have to work late or handle business calls or emails in your off-duty hours. It can be a slippery slope, however, if you let this become the rule instead of the exception.

Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the nonprofit African Institute of Technology, wrote in a recent piece for the Harvard Business Review:

In a forthcoming book, “Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24-7 Habit and Change the Way You Work,” Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow provides insights on this fraught relationship with smart devices. In an experiment that focused on mandating time off for consultants for at least one night per week, she noticed that — over time — their work lives improved, and they were largely more productive. For the research subjects who followed her policy of disconnecting from work at night, 78% said that they “feel satisfied” with their jobs, compared to the group of people who ignored the policy, where only 49% noted the same sense of satisfaction. Her results show that we’re creating a self-perpetuating perception that working faster is better — even when speed may not be necessary.

Work-life balance is not just a luxury; it is a necessity to maintain a healthy personal life as well as an effective professional life. In your own company, examine your own habits and those of your employees and fellow managers. Ask yourself the following questions to determine best practices:

1. How often do I send emails or make work phone calls after normal business hours? Do I expect responses right away? What about my colleagues? What do these habits say about our company culture?

2. What will happen if we don’t handle after-hours emails and calls immediately? Are there any serious consequences that necessitate an urgent response? Would it be OK to wait until 9 a.m. the next morning?

3. What are some of the negative consequences of working around the clock? What have you noticed in your own office?

4. What are some of the positive consequences of allowing people to unplug after the workday is over? How do you think this could improve professionalism in the workplace in the long term?

What do you think? Share your own take on this issue in the comments section!

Professionalism in the Workplace & Work-Life Balance 

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