Leaders in any organization are duty-bound to manage the hours people spend at work. But the expectation is that once an employee clocks out, you keep your hands off and your nose out of what they do. Free time is theirs to spend as they see fit.
However, it may be in your best interest to care about what your people are doing in their downtime and find a balanced way to intervene if necessary.
In a society that’s drawn along the lines of inequality, time keeps us equally in check. We all have to make do with the same 24 hours each day. We all get to spend exactly one lifetime making a living.
But inequality persists in this respect because not everyone uses their time in the same way.
Someone who inherits a fortune could conceivably make shrewd investments and continue to grow their wealth through passive income without ever holding an actual job. Successful entrepreneurs find a business model that generates revenue exponentially relative to the hours they invest.
The majority, though, follow a straightforward model of exchanging time for wages at a fixed rate.
This makes it easy to create a baseline for valuing one’s time. Your realized income, divided by the total hours spent on work and related activities such as commuting or dressing up, yields the value of each hour.
Once you know how much an hour of your time is worth, it can change your relationship with both time and money. But many people don’t actually flesh out the value of their time in this way. They end up spending it indiscriminately, just like their paychecks.
What you do with your free time matters. Some of it must go to essentials like exercise, spending time with family, and getting adequate rest. Other high-impact activities might include reading to learn new skills, listening to industry expert podcasts, or mastering a hobby by taking lessons from a piano instructor, for instance.
Deciding to advise or intervene
Time, like money, can be invested in positive efforts like these. Smart use of spare time can reap the rewards down the line, either through job-related improvement or increased quality of living and well-being.
The problem is that many people don’t actually spend their free time all that effectively.
Individual social media usage, for example, accounts for an average of 145 minutes as of 2019-20, and those numbers are only tracking up. That’s over 2 hours per day spent doing something hard to justify in terms of ROI.
Similar time sinks can be found in binge-watching or playing video games, for example. Sure, such media consumption can sometimes be educational, but that’s uncommon. And even then, you’d be better off reading an informative book or playing physical sports.
Awareness of maximizing our personal time tends to increase with maturity, experience, and career progress. Those who are higher up in an organization’s hierarchy tend to be more effective people in general, which doesn’t happen by accident.
Leaders, in short, know better. They can advise their employees on the best way to spend time or even intervene directly. Such actions can make employees better in the long term.
But taking that step could be construed as crossing a professional line. Should you stay out of their business altogether?
Better leadership, better employees
Maintaining boundaries between employer and employee is a sensitive issue. If you want to play it safe, your HR team will offer hard and fast rules you can adhere to.
But the truth is, every organization wants engaged employees. That means people don’t simply show up for work and log out at the end of their shifts.
One way or another, leaders are expected to get people to give more. Their discretionary effort is what drives success.
And if you’re in the business of influencing people to go above and beyond on behalf of the company, why not apply that influence to improve their use of time?
A leader’s job is to navigate relationships with their people. We don’t treat them like machines. We hone our interpersonal skills and get to know them individually through effective communication. We coach and coax them to do better at work.
It’s a small step from there to getting them to do better in their personal time as well.
Learn to use tact, discretion, and sound judgment before giving advice, even if you sincerely believe it’s for someone’s improvement. Probe without prying to find out how people are spending their time.
Above all, master the art of nudging behavior at work, and change the workplace environment to emphasize authentic relationships instead of sheer productivity.