A couple of years ago I was working for a program that was "building the plane while flying". It was something that I was passionate about and I absolutely LOVED my team and the work that we were doing. It was intense and there were many moments of feeling overwhelmed and uncertain that there would ever be the moment of satisfaction that the plane was complete. I worked hard. REALLY hard.
My "shift" was technically 11am to 7pm so that we could have a member of the management team available to our remote teams spread across the United States. But because most of the management team was on a more normal schedule of 8am to 4pm, I often agreed to meetings outside of my scheduled work time. And because much of my work required intense focus and concentration, I would work well after 7pm when things quieted down and the urgent emails, chat messages, and phone calls were done for the day. I didn't really mind the schedule because my husband was in graduate school on top of his day job and a busy volunteer schedule and my son was grown and had moved out. So the long hours didn't really bother me too much. It gave me a great excuse to ignore the dog hair tumbleweeds and un-weeded gardens.
My team worked hard too. REALLY hard. I hadn't questioned it because at that point, despite the intensity, we all really loved our jobs.
But despite loving our jobs, I ALWAYS encouraged my team to use their vacation time, to take breaks, to go to their kids' games/recitals/appointments, to hit the gym/yoga mat/trail - to do whatever will help them feel balanced, fresh, and whole. This is a huge personal value to me that work/life harmony HAS to be in place otherwise the intensity will wear you out at some point. And I adored and treasured my team so I didn't want any of them to burn out.
One day I was meeting with one of my absolute top performers. She's the kind of rock star that rock stars envy. She's smart, diversely talented, ambitious, passionate... she's incredible! She was leaving on vacation the next day and hadn't yet finished a project that we had set a tentative due date for before her vacation. She had just barely finished the sentence of "It's not done yet" when she cut me off by saying, "But don't worry! The flight to Aruba is a few hours long and I'll finish it then and email it as soon as we land." This had NEVER been how I managed my team. I would never ask them them to work on their vacation or do anything like that.
I came right back with, "Don't. You. Dare! You are NOT doing work on the plane - you are going to enjoy your husband and your kids. You're going to nap, maybe have a glass of wine. You will NOT be working! Remember, the due date was tentative!" She sputtered, "But... but... it's no big deal. I'll just wrap it up on the plane and..." It was my turn to cut her off. I said, "You are not even taking your computer with you to Aruba. If I have to, I'll have the tech team disable your access to the database and your email. I'm serious. When you clock out this afternoon, you are done until you come back in a week. A week is precious short enough without chiseling into it with work on either end." (It should be noted that we had an excellent relationship so this type of communication worked well for us.) She took me seriously at that point and didn't take her computer with her. It was hard for her to walk away with unfinished work hanging out there but ultimately she admitted to being grateful that I'd been so directive about it.
A few weeks later in a group meeting, another member of my team preparing for vacation made mention that she was going to take work with her on her trip as well. I asked my Aruba vacationer to outline what I had told her and she regaled them with my, "I'll lock you out if I have to!" speech, giving everyone quite a chuckle.
I took the opportunity to dive in with my team and ask, "What's going on? I tell you ALL the time that your time is YOUR time. I don't want you working while on vacation. I want you resting. Enjoying. Cutting loose. My motto is that no small children will die if this work isn't done today so why are you putting this pressure on yourselves?"
Now... know this... I had worked HARD to cultivate a wonderful, open, respectfully-communicative relationship with this team and we were very close (as close as you can be while maintaining professional boundaries, that is) so they had no bones about telling me exactly why they did it.
"Because YOU do it, Polly. Remember when you were on vacation in Alaska and dialed in to those meetings? Remember when you were at that conference and managed the emergency that came up with the installation of the new phone system from there? Remember when we had to fire that guy and you helped us through it from a hotel room in Washington, DC? You answer emails at all hours of the day. You are available to us practically 24 hours a day. You never stop so... we kinda... sorta... feel like we shouldn't either..."
WHOA! Now THAT was a wake up call for me. Long had I poo-pooed the "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality but it never occurred to me that they would choose to follow my example of their own accord simply because they wanted to show that they were as invested and engaged as I was.
So, I made a concerted effort to change that behavior. When I left on vacation, I gave out my cell number in case of dire emergencies but I didn't check email (okay - I glanced at it to forward any fiery issues to another manager). When I wasn't on vacation, I made a conscious effort to only send and respond to emails during reasonably acceptable business hours. I did what I needed to do to ensure they had the support that they needed and then I tagged out. And when they saw me doing it, they started doing it too.
I realized that they had been hearing me say, "I want you to take time for yourself" but what they were interpreting from my actions was that if I wasn't following my own advice, they shouldn't either.
It got me thinking about what else I had been giving conflicting messages about so I paid much closer attention. I was able to shift my perspective to see what they saw, hear what they heard, and make sure that my actions and words were in alignment. We all grew from that experience and occasionally when someone was at risk of violating the working-on-vacation ban, someone would emphatically cheer, "Remember Aruba!". (Gosh, I miss that team!)