Do after-hours emails drive your staff crazy?

Those electronic missives you send late on a weeknight, or anytime over the weekend, or even when your employee is on vacation can prove counterproductive—and potentially damaging.

In a recent study by Right Management, 36 percent of employees stated their bosses regularly send them emails after work hours and expect a response (emphasis added).

How many employees are emailed while on vacation? Nine percent. How many get emailed on weekends? Six percent.

This sort of thing used to be reserved for emergencies only—and there are still situations where such a policy applies.

However, says Monika Morrow, senior vice president of Career Management at Right Management: “The survey findings suggest such intrusions have now become routine, not an exception. I suppose some workers can adjust accordingly, but for others it’s added stress when they ought to be relaxing with family or friends.”

The survey suggests several reasons behind this trend, as noted by Rieva Lesonsky, a contributor to Open Forum. First, there’s the sharp increase in the number of virtual and outsourced workers, which means they may have supervisors in other time zones (or countries) “who are just sitting down to work at the same time other employees are sitting down to dinner.”

Then there’s the “entrepreneurial personality.” If you own the business, it makes sense for you to be working on it all the time. When a great idea for a new product strikes you at 3 a.m., you naturally want to share it with everyone involved. “But even the most dedicated employee won’t have the same level of passion for the company that you do,” Lesonsky wisely points out.

In fact, as a result of being bombarded by emails (or texts or phone calls), your employees will eventually “become resentful at best, burnt out and ineffective at worst.”

Lesonsky offers these tips for striking a balance:

Think about the person at the other end: Before you hit “send,” pause to consider the recipient of your urgent message. “Is it 5 a.m. where they are? Did they just leave the office 20 minutes ago after working on a big project?” Maybe you can hold off a bit.

Set guidelines for what’s urgent and what’s not: Having IT staff on call 24/7 just makes good business sense, but what about the rest of your workforce? Determine what constitutes genuine urgency, and then send emails according to those guidelines.

If you’re going to send an email, at least make it clear: OK, you have lots of ideas—some great, some not so great. Whatever the situation, you’re obliged to articulate them in a way other people can understand, not “one email for every thought that comes into (your) head, often contradicting each other.” Let the ideas cool a bit so you can be clear in your message.

No teasers! Imagine how an employee feels reading this on Saturday afternoon: “Bill, just unearthed a big obstacle to project completion, but it can hold till Monday.” That’s just needless torture and better left un-sent.

Write now, send another time: As Lesonsky notes, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook and add-ons such as Boomerang “enable you to compose emails and then set the date and time you want them sent.” At the very least, this encourages you to look over the message a second time before it actually goes out.

“Bosses should think twice about messaging at all hours,” says Morrow of Right Management. “They may think they’re being productive, but the effect may be the opposite.”

Are you guilty of email abuse?

A version of this article first appeared on BillPrettyman.com.

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