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Even on-call consultants are allowed to take a night off

SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring author and business professor Leslie Perlow.

Many people take their work home with them, checking e-mail at all hours and doing so while believing that the client is demanding such effort, but it’s often a self-inflicted burden, argues Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School. There are real concerns about clients’ expectations of the workforce, but these are often heightened and exaggerated by the fears and habits of individuals, teams and companies, leading to a “culture of responsiveness” that never allows a worker to turn “off.”

Perlow studied Boston Consulting Group, whose work by design does involve levels of round-the-clock service, to see how such a firm could meet client needs while also respecting the need for employees to occasionally switch their minds and bodies off of work. “[F]or them, it’s a lack of predictability and every night of the week there’s a sense that they have to be on just in case,” she says. “As a result, they get a lot of e-mail traffic from the team, and much of it feels urgent at that particular moment  … But if you start engaging in thinking about, did it have to reach that point?  Had we thought about it earlier, could it have been different?”

BCG worked on maintaining service levels while ensuring that every night, some employees had off hours that were truly off, and that each week, every employee received — and used — the opportunity.  Perlow notes that the firm planned ahead to ensure that projects could be accomplished even if a key player were scheduled to be off.

What resulted? Employees felt they had a more stable and fulfilling work environment, and BCG has taken the strategy from the pilot stage to use with more than 1,000 of its global teams.

Big Think is a forum in which top experts explore big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century. Learn more from its editors, fellows and guest speakers.

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