Turning The Smartphone Off & Still Satisfying The Client

How many times have you been at the movies and snuck out to take a work call?

Or, had the win of a big sports game spoiled because you were unable to watch it? How many times have you cancelled on an important date with the (potential) man of your dreams because work ran late (again) in the evening?

Professionals in high-powered, high-stakes industries, like law or medicine or finance, live at the office or by their phones. The constant struggle to achieve an adequate work-life balance always tips in favor of the former.

These over-worked, over-stressed professionals often wonder: what would it be like to have just one night off?

Well, that’s the exact the experiment Leslie A. Perlow ran at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and discussed in her new book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work.

It turns out, Perlow’s experiment improved not just employees’ work lives, but also the effectiveness and efficiency of the work process itself (read, Harvard Gazette).

The experiment implemented a process called “PTO.” It creates predictable time off for employees. “Time off” aptly implies, no computer and no phone for work purposes.

Employees on the same project team schedule time off on different days so that one person will cover for the other, and so that no project is left completely unattended.

“The happy result for BCG was that individuals engaged in PTO experiments were more likely to see themselves at the firm for the long term (58 percent versus 40 percent) and were more likely to perceive that they were providing significant value to their clients (95 percent versus 84 percent),” writes Perlow in her book.

Employees took their free night off to go to the gym, spend time with their families, or make up for much needed rest.

One night off per week, where a person’s eyes and ears were not in tune 100 percent to their blackberries, made a noticeable difference in the participants’ home lives—in terms of increased happiness—and work lives—in terms of productivity.

“The experiment created an open culture where the biggest value wasn’t the fact that I was getting a Tuesday night off, it was that we were a team trying to address work-life issues,” said Bob in Perlow’s book about the experiment. Bob was originally skeptical of the plan.

Today, all skepticism is put aside. The successful PTO program is currently in place in hundreds of BCG teams globally.

“This modest experiment generated such powerful results—not just for individuals’ work-lives but for the team’s work process and ultimately the client—that the experiment was expanded to more and more of BCG’s teams. Four years later, over nine hundred BCG teams from thirty countries on five continents had participated,” writes Perlow in her book.

Ultimately, the success of the PTO program lay in its ability to raise dialogue and team communication about work-life balance issues.

Also, once a place for structured dialogue was established, the PTO program boosted collaboration among teams, as team members helped to cover one another’s nights off, while satisfying the needs of their client.

In the end, the PTO program was also a great success for the client, according to BCG’s results.

For the management consulting industry, the experiment changed the way large, traditional firms perceived work culture.

It suddenly seemed possible to work for a big corporation and—once in awhile—leave work at the office and off the smartphone.

“By starting with one small, doable change—a unit of predicable time off each week—team members discover that challenging the way it is and the way they have presumed it has to be is not as inconceivable as they as they once believed.”

And, it doesn’t “have to be” that way for law, either.


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