When we say work can wait, we mean it. Really.

We recently had a problem with our interns. Now, in terms of problems, it was a good one to have. I noticed some of them working on their days off or very late/early hours. That’s not how we roll here, so I had to issue a smack down.

Peer pressure is a real thing

It’s not overt, mind you. Our interns weren’t doing keg stands and listening to Dave Matthews and streaking across the quad. One person notices another working on a day off and feels pressured to do the same. The pressure is subtle, and it’s generated internally. Am I Interning enough? Is she Interning more than me? By not stopping it, we give it our tacit approval.

This sort of thing erupted on our Support team a while back. People felt they couldn’t take a sick day without letting the team down. So other people who were sick also didn’t take a day off to rest. Soon we were calling ourselves Team Tiny Tim. And that’s not good for anyone.

Taking days off sets healthy boundaries and expectations

It’s hard to walk away from the computers at the end of a work day. And on a day off, while looking at Facebook (or Tumblr? I don’t know what the kids look at these days), why not peek at Basecamp too? Oh, might as well respond to that message! Or post in Campfire! Or look at those to-dos that are still open…

Part of the goal with these internships is to teach folks how to navigate a professional job, beyond the job duties themselves. This summer, they’re peeking at Basecamp out of enthusiasm. In the future, they may be at a job where they feel pressured to work after hours simply because they have more to do than they can accomplish in a regular work week. Sound familiar to anyone?

Remember what I said about our Support team not taking sick days? They felt guilty about the increased workload on their coworkers. But because no one was taking a sick day, we weren’t able to identify a problem: the Support team was understaffed. We needed to hire people to reduce that workload and allow for days off, both planned and unexpected. And that didn’t become apparent until people started actually taking a day off.

We have a very talented group of interns this summer, and because of that, it would be easy for us to forget that they’re *interns*. It’s possible that we’ve under-estimated how long it will take for folks to accomplish the tasks we’ve given them. They may need more guidance on something than we thought. They’re learning, and we shouldn’t forget that. So I encouraged our interns to pay attention to their hours this summer and to get a sense of what they can reasonably accomplish in an 8 hour work day. That’s a skill that will serve them well.

We mean it, but we set a terrible example

A look through our Latest Activity feed reveals that full-time Basecampers log work after-hours or on our days off. We’ll post in Campfire rooms. We’ll complete to-dos and upload files. I’m totally guilty of looking through Basecamp on my phone while I’m sitting on my couch watching terrible tv shows. I need to put down the phone and pick up my knitting instead. Or maybe go outside. Baby steps.

I think part of why we write so much about work-life balance is to remind ourselves it’s ok to walk away from Basecamp. These posts create a different kind of peer-pressure: my gentle, polite smack-down encouraged not only the interns to take their days off, but also some full-time coworkers.

It’s hard work not working. It takes a lot of practice to build healthy boundaries, and a lot of practice to sustain them. Natalie Keshlear, from our support team, thinks a lot about work-life balance, and started a basecamp to help the rest of us disconnect from work. It’s called Carecamp. I asked her to write up a SvN post about it, and she told me she’d love to, but she was starting her sabbatical the next day and would do it when she got back.

Thanks for setting a good example, Natalie! Enjoy your month of healthy boundaries!