A year into the Covid-19 era, many can relate. Employees say work-life boundaries blurred, then vanished, as waking life came to mean “always on” at work. Experts warn that working around the clock—while slipping in meals, helping with homework and grabbing a few moments with a partner—isn’t sustainable, and employers from banking giant Citigroup to the software company Pegasystems are trying ways to get staff to dial back.
At consulting giant Accenture, Jimmy Etheredge, the company’s chief executive officer of North America, is embracing the notion of “taking back lunch,” eating in peace away from screens and recharging in the middle of every workday. The company is encouraging employees not to schedule internal meetings unrelated to client business on Fridays, and Mr. Etheredge has repeatedly told employees to be candid with managers, saying, “It’s OK to not be OK.”
At Slack Technologies the default meeting length on employee calendars is now 25 minutes, down from a half-hour, said Sheela Subramanian, a senior director. She uses her five-minute breaks to check on her children, use the restroom or do jumping jacks.
In addition to minibreaks to refocus, Ms. Subramanian said she and many of her peers now employ a corporate version of college office hours. Her team views the core hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. as fair game to meet online and collaborate. They arrange the rest of their workday as needed, she said, whether that means getting heads-down work done or dealing with home and family matters.
Though companies are trying to help their people set boundaries, employers also have largely been the beneficiaries of pandemic overwork, research has shown. An analysis of census and survey data published last fall found that Americans spent 60 million fewer hours commuting and spent much of those hours on additional work.
At German business-software maker SAP SE, which employs about 102,000 globally, more than 60% of staff surveyed recently said they felt they were working above their capacity. The company has scheduled a global mental-health day for April 27, so everyone can take a day off. When it was announced, DJ Paoni, SAP’s president of North America, said he received 450 emails from employees praising the move.