Last week, I did the unthinkable. I sent an e-mail at 1:12am.
It was Friday evening, I couldn't sleep and I thought to myself "If I send this now, it'll take it off my mind, and it's one less thing to do on Monday".
At Core Insights, we try not to e-mail people outside of their working hours. This is so, hopefully, they won’t think we expect them to do anything outside of their office hours either. This applies to our clients, colleagues, managers & suppliers.
The business of busy-ness
There is always so much to do, and it’s tempting to check your e-mails outside of office hours to fit in everything you need to do.
I know the experience of getting e-mails outside of office hours - you receive the notification and you respond for any of these reasons:
- It gets it out the way and means you won’t have to do it tomorrow.
- It’ll stop you worrying about it over the weekend/evening.
- You're worried that the person is expecting a response immediately.
The thing is, though, that this creates a cycle. A cycle which keeps the e-mail chain increasing all throughout your non-working time and adding to the culture that it’s o.k. to be contactable at all hours of the day.
'Always on' culture
These types of working cycles are increasing in the U.K. and are causing people to burn out. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, it's found to actually decrease overall productivity.
A study, in a paper published in 2016, called “Exhausted, but Unable to Disconnect”* highlighted the negative effects of this type of behaviour. It says:
"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."
If you want change to happen, start with yourself
It’s difficult to change your organisation’s culture, but if you want change to happen, start with yourself. Here are some things you can do:
- Before you respond to the e-mail at 9pm, think to yourself, “Is this important to respond to now, or can it wait until I’m back in the office?”.
- Turn off your e-mail notifications outside of working hours (or altogether), or remove your work e-mail account from your non-work devices.
- Set time aside at the beginning of each working day to respond to urgent messages.
- If you do still need to check e-mails outside of working hours, set your boundaries. Only check e-mails at certain times, and choose how long you will spend doing this.
- Set a (polite!) out-of office so that people know not to expect a response outside of office hours, or chat to your colleagues directly-you may find this spurs others on too!
As for the aforementioned e-mail, the person responded to my email on a Saturday, proving that my late night e-mail continued on the cycle. I wasn’t actually expecting a response from them, showing there is a high chance that the person sending you the e-mail isn’t actually expecting you to either. They were probably just following the same cycle themselves.
Personally, I’ve made a promise to myself to limit my e-mail checking during non-working hours and only respond to e-mails if absolutely urgent.
What are your experiences of the ‘always on’ culture? Have you tried anything to change you workplace? Leave a comment below.