Scott Air Force Base, Ill. -- As the hard charging Airmen that all of us are, it can be difficult to leave the issues of the shop or office behind. We all have a vested interest in our Airmen, and rightfully so! I’ll be the first to say that military service isn’t just a job, but a vocation and even a calling. Our nation counts on us to get our mission done, and given the high operational tempo and reduced manning that have pervaded our service as long as I can remember, we could very easily work ‘round the clock’ and still not get everything done. That said, our dedication to our people and our mission must not preclude us from taking some time for ourselves.
All too often I see Airmen taking their laptops home with them over the weekend or while heading out the door on leave. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard phrases such as “I’m just on local leave, so call me if you need anything” or “I’ve got my phone/computer with me if anything comes up.” Telework due to the pandemic has blurred these lines even further. I admire their dedication, but I’ll argue that sometimes it’s just as important to leave that stuff behind, completely unplug from work, and focus on the other priorities in life.
A recent study published by the MAYO clinic found that poor work-life balance can lead to family instability, which can then lead to chronic stress and reduced productivity. So while your intentions are good and you think you are going above and beyond for the Air Force, in reality you are making the situation worse. You—and the Air Force—would actually be better served by putting down the work phone for a while and re-charging your personal batteries. As a commander, I’d much rather have somebody completely unplug for a week, enjoy some time with friends, family, and then come back to work well-rested, re-charged and ready to hit the ground running.
It’s easy for me to stand on my soapbox and preach the importance of unplugging from work, but how can we actually implement this? Easier said than done, but let me offer a few suggestions. First, you have to build a good team. I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by an amazing team of strong leaders at all levels, and I know that they can get things done without me. The second, and possibly more important, step is to actually empower this team. Trust those around you with more responsibility, and I think you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. Over time you’ll learn to trust them completely, enabling you to step away and unplug.
A mentor once told me that a good leader is one that has empowered and trained his organization well enough that it functions seamlessly if the leader steps away. If the organization is so reliant on the leader that it fails without him or her, that leader has failed. Strong words, but something to think about…
Another suggestion for enabling yourself to unplug is to be deliberate in doing so. This is true especially for leaders in formal leadership positions. Whether or not you realize it, your subordinates are watching what you do. If you make a habit of taking your computer home or sending e-mails over the weekend or on leave, your folks will think that’s the expectation. So instead, be deliberate about doing the opposite. Set the example and unplug! Your subordinates will notice, and I think you’ll find yourself a lot more relaxed as well.
Of course, there are times when we simply can’t avoid having to accomplish work away from the workplace. Emergencies, unforeseen crises, and ops tempo sometimes require it and can’t be avoided.
I’ll be the first to drop everything and respond if one of my Airmen needs something! These situations are all the more reason to unplug whenever you can. Working while away from work should be the exception, not the rule. So do yourself, your organization, and the Air Force a favor…go unplug and re-charge!