It’s 10PM… Stop Emailing Me!

Burnout: noun; fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.

According to a recent Academy of Management study, 76% of employees are checking work emails after hours. This habit is becoming dangerous for both employers and their employees. Staying in constant communication hurts the team’s job performance and productivity, and according to the study’s authors:

“An ‘always-on’ culture with high expectations to monitor and respond to emails during non-work time may prevent employees from ever fully disengaging from work, leading to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.” 

The increase in after-hours work is, in part, due to the rapid transition to remote work in the last 2 years. Flexible schedules and remote work opened daytime hours for activities and responsibilities that were previously relegated to evenings and weekends. People could “pop out” for a trip to the grocery store or schedule a dentist appointment at 11:00 a.m. On the one hand, this was convenient, ideally freeing up weekends for fun and rest. On the other, it resulted in “work hours” bleeding into those nights and weekends for employees to stay on top of responsibilities. This was further compounded by constant interconnectedness through technology, leaders also working into the night, and no clear boundaries, we’re now facing a new epidemic: burnout.Infographic: Burnout- How to Recognize it & Take Action

The question we face is this: Just because employees can be reached any time of day, should they be? The ever-increasing cases of stress, anxiety, and depression indicate the answer is no. But what’s an employee to do? What message does it send to leadership when you don’t return emails in the late evening or early morning? On the flip side, what kind of organization expects you to be always available? And is that an organization you want to work for?

The elimination of the traditional workday erased boundary lines. It’s up to you to draw them again or risk burnout!

4 Time Boundaries You Should Set

Nighttime and Weekends. Whether you follow a traditional schedule, work from home, or land somewhere in between, it is reasonable to expect an official beginning and end to your workday and week. “Participants spent an average of eight hours a week reading and responding to company-related emails after work.” It’s up to management to put a stop to this by clearly defining the hours during which they expect their employees to be accessible and adhere to those hours.

Employees, you have some responsibility, too. Ask for and behave within boundaries set by management. If you continuously respond to after-hours emails, you’re sending the message that you are available. Define your day. Define your week. Stick to it.

Early Mornings. Like after hours, “before hours” are increasingly growing. (How many of us are checking our email before we’ve fully opened our eyes?) Like evenings and weekends, the morning hours are not working hours unless that is clearly defined by management. Stay vigilant about maintaining those boundaries.

Vacation. “9% [of workers] say their bosses email them while they are on vacation.” A 2019 study found that 66% of Americans reported checking their email at least “sometimes” during vacation. This is unacceptable- regardless of your role in the company. Vacation and sick days are accrued over time or are part of your overall compensation package. In fact, sick hours are required by law in many states. That boundary must be set and honored. Before you take your leave, make sure the chain of command in your absence is clear, remind your team that you will not be checking email while you are away (Don’t forget to set your out-of-office auto-reply.), and, most importantly, fight to look at your email “real quick.” Take a well-deserved, well-earned vacation.

“Diminished ability to disconnect from work translates to a poorer work-life balance and causes emotional exhaustion, which earlier research has shown to affect job performance negatively.”

When someone else can manage the issue.  Everyone likes to be known as a “team player.” However, responding first to a request for help ensures you will be the person management emails first… every time. Before you jump in to save the day, allow your colleagues the opportunity to rectify the situation or redirect the sender to someone more qualified. Another boundary to practice.

The fluidity of the workday definition and the growth of technology have granted flexibility to workers. In some cases, this ensured a better work/life balance. In other cases, it has simply extended “office hours” and the reach of employers. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash- like a dog.” Employers and employees must communicate accessibility expectations, set boundaries, and stick to them.

Work From Home/Telecommuting