Don’t Text Me On The Weekend. The Importance of Reducing 24 7 Availability Expectations in Public Defense
A while ago, my work gave me a mobile phone, and said, as if it were great news, “now we can reach you anytime.”
No. Nope. Thank you, noooooo. I am working hard at minimizing that expectation of myself and others.
The increasing connectivity of phones and computers has upsides for public defense, like increasing our ability to work remotely, and to organize and access bulky files without carrying them around in boxes and binders. But this connectivity is not all positive.
The expansion of work into a 24/7 expectation of availability is not good for us. Research at Lehigh, on the personal impact of 24/7 availability expectations, found that email communications and expectation of response contributes to emotional exhaustion, poor work-life balance, anxiety and a strain on personal relationships. Even employees who didn’t respond to off-hours emails were negatively impacted by receiving them. These researchers suggest setting clear expectations of when employees are expected to monitor communications and limiting use of electronic communications outside those windows.
The 2017 ABA Wellness Report and the 2018 ABA Well-Being Toolkit (discussed here and in resources here) echo this advice. The 2018 Toolkit recognizes the connection between 24/7 availability expectations and work-life balance stress. “The stress of chronic work-life conflict can damage well-being and performance. Evidence indicates that it is a strong predictor of burnout and significantly increases the risk of poor physical health.”
I’ve been reading 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, by Tiffany Shlain. She is reminding me of the important ways that religious traditions, secular organizations, and labor groups have fought for non-work time. I find myself feeling deceived that the very makers of the devices that monetize our attention with dopamine-fueled screen dependence limit or prohibit those habits within their own families. Shlain jokes of rewriting the beginning of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” as: “I saw the best minds of our generation distracted by texting, tweeting, emailing.” She is unquestionably right in advising us that down time is “a force field of protection that gives us strength, resilience, perspective and energy.”
My friend Stacy Sims gave me some great insights recently about digital dependence and her site The Well shares some here. The reality is that these tools that we think of as increasing connection and communication are making us feel isolated and anxious. There is trickery in the time savings they promised us and then gave instead to our employers. In the context of public defense work, tools that are said to free us to flex our time are instead being used to make us feel that we are at work every minute of every day.
As a person who has spent the last year with one foot in the role of being a courtroom line defender and one foot in the leadership role of being a training director, I feel responsibility to reduce this 24/7 expectation on both sides. It requires constant attention to unplug from work, by doing things like putting that work phone in a drawer for the weekend, and trying to communicate to colleagues when we should and shouldn’t make ourselves available to review and respond to work communications.
My favorite discovery of 2019 is the use of the delay delivery feature in Outlook. Even if I am catching up on work in off-hours, I can delay delivery of any email I send so that it is received during the next work day rather than interrupting the non-work time of my colleagues. This feels like a little gift we can give each other at work, the gift of uninterrupted down time. Increasingly, this is becoming a gift I value greatly.
I believe that supervisors and leaders have the responsibility of creating culture that reduces these 24/7 availability expectations. If you are in one of these roles, ask yourself if you’re prioritizing time for the people you supervise to rejuvenate.
In thinking about what you can do to support the well-being of those you lead or supervise, by minimizing 24/7 work expectations, the chart below may be a helpful guide.
What are you doing to support sufficient rejuvenation time and to minimize expectations of 24/7 availability for work?
|Supportive of well being.||Not supportive of well being.|
|Prioritize giving all employees time for sufficient rejuvenation during non-work and vacation hours. Actively discouraging work-related calls and emails during evenings, weekends, and vacations.||Intrude upon non-work hours with work assignments and communications.
|Only sending email, text or other communications during non-work hours in urgent situations, in which immediate notification to or action of the recipient is required.||Sending non-urgent messages during non-work hours.|
|Building in systems with sufficient time for reasonable response-time expectations.||Sending “drop everything and respond right now” or “drop everything and do this task right now” communications and assignments, particularly if they reflect poor planning or organization on the part of the sender and unnecessarily shift last-minute work to others.|
|Giving sufficient time for assignments to be completed during work hours.||Giving assignments with insufficient time to complete during work hours, such as late afternoon case assignments for court appearance the following morning.|
|Supporting flexible time use for everyone, especially to support well being activities (time for gym, yoga, recreation, therapy, medical appointments, etc.).||Inequitable availability of flex time, such as making it available to some employees while others are restricted by court schedules, office hours or other expectations. This is exacerbated if those flexing their time create expectations of responsiveness during times they elect to work in off hours, as it expands the expected workday of others into those hours.|
|Have robust coverage systems so that people can take leave and vacation.||Complain about vacation/leave increasing work for others rather than having robust coverage systems.|
Providing high quality representation to poor people accused of crimes is a high stress endeavor that regularly consumes early morning, late evening, and weekend hours. We can all look for ways to recognize and support true down time and off hours for rejuvenation.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Jenny's blog "Be Sustained: Well Being for Public Defenders", available at https://besustained.org/2019/11/03/dont-text-me-on-the-weekend-the-importance-of-reducing-24-7-availability-expectations-in-public-defense/