Disconnecting from after work emails may feel like a task, but Life Balance speaker and author Jones Loflin makes the perfect case for it. In this new article, Loflin provides solutions on how to avoid checking work emails after hours as well as setting appropriate boundaries with your fellow colleagues!
An article in the USA Today a few weeks ago caught my eye. Entitled French weigh ‘right’ to disconnect from work emails at home, the article highlighted proposed legislation that, if passed, “…would require companies to encourage employees to turn off phones and other devices after they leave work.”
Yves Lasfargue, a sociologist who specializes in teleworking, expresses the sentiments of the “pro legislation group” with his comment: “Twenty years ago, before emails had been invented and we could not reach colleagues, we would have to go and knock on their doors. Traditional courtesy teaches you to abstain from disturbing people. With these new tools, this form of courtesy has totally disappeared. This is why we need to legislate.”
Companies like Areva and Volkswagen have taken steps to encourage more courteous use of email and messaging. Phillipe Thurat, Areva’s diversity and work life balance manager, sees a bigger reason than just someone’s “right” to not send or respond to work email at night. He is quoted as saying: “The idea was not so much to establish a right to switch off but rather to address the topic of a healthy use of emails and set clear boundaries.”
Personally, I don’t see legislation as the answer, but those of you who live and struggle in that type of work environment may have a different opinion. If you’re part of a global organization, it’s an even bigger challenge.
Adding another layer of complexity is that most Americans sleep with at least one mobile device next to their bed. And my informal research has found that most people don’t turn off email or message notifications while trying to sleep.
Before you just give up and accept this new extension to the work day, here are 6 reasons why you need to address checking work email at night or during times when you are seeking to embrace one of the others areas of your life:
You diminish your ability to be creative and solve problems.
How many times have you been at home working on a mundane task or just spending time with your family and BAM!, you had a great idea related to work. One of the reasons is that your mind was not so tightly tethered to work issues and the creative side of your brain was allowed to work in the background. Checking your work email or messages at night or after hours limits your ability to think further than the next problem, challenge, or task.
You need those moments of sacred idleness.
Maura Thomas, in her insightful article, Your Late Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team, writes, “Creativity, motivation, and inspiration are your competitive advantage, but they are also depletable resources that need to be recharged.” Engaging in emails at night or in times when we should be disengaged from work only serves to reduce our resources to be nurtured by the present moment. Read more about the value of disconnecting in my article, Doing Nothing Is Really Something.
You create more “open loops” for your brain.
I’m a huge believer in the research that our mind dislikes unfinished tasks. Just checking your work email at night creates the likelihood that you will see more work that needs to be done, and your mind starts racing on how to get the work done. I like sleeping on an idea… but not on seven more tasks that I read in an email just before going to bed.
I like sleeping on an idea… but not on seven more tasks that I read about in an email just before going to bed.
You set a bad expectation for others.
In an article in the Boston Globe, Liz Cohen, executive director of Families First Campaign, is quoted as saying, “I’m broadcasting that I don’t have good boundaries. I’m setting unfair expectations for a nonprofit where the salaries aren’t high. I’m modeling bad behavior.” If you’re the leader of a team and talk about the need to have healthy personal lives outside of work, be careful about frequently sending an 11:30 PM email. Write the thought or idea where you can find it tomorrow morning and send it to them at a more appropriate time.
You reduce your discipline to be more productive during work hours.
When discussing this email issue with others, I get responses like, “I have so many meetings during the day. It’s only at night that I can really find time to focus on email.” Interestingly enough, when I ask them how long they need to meaningfully check email, the response is usually something like, “About 15 or 20 minutes a couple times a day.” I smile because I am almost positive I can help them find that amount of time. For some ideas on where to find this time in your day, read Finding 30 Minutes Of ‘It’ Time.
You miss the power of the present moment.
I’ve ruined too many evenings with my family because I checked my work email and saw something I thought I needed to address “right now.” Even if I didn’t physically act on it, I wasn’t being the attentive listener to my daughters or wife.
Being fully present with family or friends offers such a significant opportunity to recharge your mental and emotional energy after a chaotic day at work. Why would you want to risk losing it because of your need to “be in the know?”
If you’re currently struggling with how to handle work email at night or on weekends, here are some steps you can take to move in a more positive direction:
- Be honest about your reasons. Are you afraid of not looking like a team player or as ambitious as you should be if you aren’t reading and sending emails at night?
- Is it culture or policy? Is it an official expectation that you read work emails outside of work, or an implied one?
- Start the conversation. I assure you that you’re not alone in your frustration. And when you do initiate the discussion, talk in terms of priorities. Share with your team how important downtime is to you to renew your energy. I’m willing to wager you’ll see lots of heads nodding in agreement.
- Set boundaries. Whether it’s for yourself or your team, establish times when sending or responding to email is discouraged. To determine if an email is so important that it needs to be sent late at night, ask, “Is this something that you’d call to talk with me about at midnight?” If the answer is, “No,” maybe it should wait until tomorrow. Be respectful of other’s schedules.
- Be clear about an expectation of response. If you must send an email late at night, let your team know that you don’t expect a response by typing “NRN” (No response needed) at the end of the subject line.
Mathilde Bouvier, a manager with two young children, was one of the people interviewed for the article. Her comment, I think, sums up the issue pretty well: If I really wanted to, I could disconnect after 8 p.m. There is no real obligation to connect — it is self-created. It’s just that we don’t want to be outside of the loop.” Whether it’s self-created or an obligation in your world, it is your right to make a choice on how you handle (or don’t handle) this workplace issue.
What steps do you, your team, or your company need to take to address the issue of work emails at night or outside of expected work hours?