Telepressure: Why your after-hours emails are actually doing more harm than good

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These days, many believe that the only way to keep on top of work demands is by working beyond 5pm. The availability of smartphones and tablets has made it easy and common to check our emails anytime, anywhere, allowing them to slip their tentacles into our off-the-clock lives, subtly demanding evening responses and extending the work day indefinitely.

With more than a third of workers receiving after-hours emails from their supervisors, 9% during vacation and 6% during weekends, there have been calls by governments and industry leaders around the world to stop the encroachment of work into employees’ private lives.

And with good reason. While your after-hours emails may speed up corporate cultures, this continuous work connection comes at a price.

Here is a list of reasons why your after-hours emails are actually doing more harm than good:

1. Damage to company culture

The best leaders lead by example. If you’re working well after office hours, your staff will feel like they should be working too, and this isn’t good for you, your employees or company culture.

2. Negative consequences on your staff’s personal lives

A survey conducted by Good Technology found 68% of people check their work emails before 8am, 50% check it while in bed, 57% check their emails during family outings, and 38% regularly check their emails at the dinner table. This behaviour affects both your employees and their families, with much-valued family time and social interaction crowded by work tasks and emails. This can cause problems to pop up at home, which, as a result, creates resentment towards both the company, and you as an employer.

3. Health problems

Working around the clock thanks to the odd after-hours email can cause serious health problems for both you and your employees. According to a study published in the journal Chronobiology International, checking work emails at home, or taking calls from the boss on weekends could be detrimental to your employees’ health, possibly leading to musculoskeletal, psychological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems. The study found employees who worked in the evenings and on weekends were more likely to report insomnia, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and stomach problems. As an employer, this means more health-related absences from work, which, in the long term, is bad for business.

4. Being “always on” hurts results

When employees are constantly monitoring their emails and phones after work hours, they are missing essential down time their brains need. Studies show that for us to do our best work, we need breathing room to re-energise. Time away from work allows your staff to gather new ideas and fresh insights. If you’re always emailing your employees after hours, they’ll be robbed of this opportunity, significantly affecting productivity levels and end results.

5. Lower engagement

While leaders tend to believe in the theoretical advantages of downtime, many think it comes at a cost to achieving company objectives. This couldn’t be further from the truth, with an article by the New York Times suggesting that long work hours actually decrease both productivity and engagement. A frantic environment that includes answering emails at all hours doesn’t make your staff more productive. It just makes them busy, distracted and unmotivated to do their best.

So next time you’re laying in bed and suddenly remember a key task your team needs to complete, just take note of it and leave it for the morning. After all, they did invent a draft folder for a reason.

With over 20 years’ experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism,  Jo Scard is one of Australia’s foremost strategic advisers to corporates, not-for-profits and government.

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