When was the last time your organization talked about emails after work hours?
For many, answering emails after-hours is standard procedure. And with today’s technology, staying connected 24/7 is easier than ever with smartphones in our pockets, and an increasingly mobile workforce carrying a laptop wherever they go. But at what cost?
While employees have celebrated increased flexibility with their jobs as a perk, knowing when to unplug can be murky if the employer hasn’t talked about it with them. Or worse, if an employee is expected to be ready at all hours to answer questions about a project, he or she can feel as if the workday never ends.
We now know that when people answer emails after-hours it can lead to anxiety, and to emotional exhaustion, which can then upset the work-life balance that employers are aiming for in the first place. Studies are clear – answering emails after-hours leads to burnout, reduced work-life balance and makes a negative impact on employee health.[i],[ii] When employees are answering emails at all hours, they cannot unplug, they cannot recharge, and they do not recover from the day’s stress.
So, what to do?
Email is a necessary business tool and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The good news is, as an organization, you can do a lot to set expectations around work emails. The first step is to set boundaries around emails, both during work hours and after-hours.
During Work Hours
Recent research has found that employees who check email less frequently during the day are less stressed during the workday.[iii] As an employer, you can provide resources for managing emails, and schedule set times during the workday to check emails to help employees feel less overwhelmed during work hours.
After Work Hours
To set boundaries for emails after-hours, have a conversation with employees around what is expected of them, and point them to any company policies around this, if available. In recent years, France passed a law banning emails after-hours.[iv] Although this type of measure may not be possible for your company, it supports the need to address after-hours emails with employees.
For example, managers can discuss the topic of emails after-hours at a staff meeting and set expectations there. Employees may not know that they are not expected to answer emails after- hours unless they are told by management. For some jobs, after-hours is the only time to catch up on emails – this is especially true if employees travel or are on the road a majority of the workday. Even if this is the case, you can set expectations that employees are not expected to answer emails from those that might be catching up after-hours and that their response can wait until the next business day. Having an open conversation with employees can go a long way toward setting expectations around emails and supporting work-life balance.
[i] https://www1.lehigh.edu/news/exhausted-after-hours-emails-may-be-to-blame, Accessed August 30, 2018, [ii] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/minds-business/how-afterhours-emails-might-hurt-your-health.html, Accessed August 30, 2018, [iii] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214005810, Accessed August 30, 2018, [iv] http://fortune.com/2017/01/01/french-right-to-disconnect-law/, Accessed August 30, 2018